By: Matt Rothman
Since they were six, Niko Benestad and Rylan Lujo of Marjory Stoneman Douglas baseball have been best friends.
The two do almost everything together and even share the same birthday. They’re also set to play college baseball for the 2024-25 season after announcing their commitment. They recently spent the last two years on the varsity baseball team, winning back-to-back State and National Championships.
Benestad officially announced his commitment to play baseball at the University of South Florida.
“It feels like such a great blessing and a great opportunity to pursue what I love to do and get a step farther in accomplishing my dream,” said Benestad.
Benestad started playing baseball at six and has played on the Hitmen Ultra, Florida Hurricanes, Canes Florida, TBT National, and the Original Florida Pokers 2024. Benestad has been on the varsity baseball team since freshman year. He is a lifetime .313 hitter with a home run and 28 RBIs, helping lead MSD to back-to-back State and National Championships.
For college, Benestad was hoping to find a school at the Division I level and remain in Florida. He also established a terrific relationship with the coaching staff and hopes to improve his strength during his final two years on varsity.
Benestad says he has built unbreakable bonds playing throughout those two championship seasons at Douglas.
“Playing there has taught me how to be a great teammate on and off the field and helped me get better every day with the competition at practice,” Benestad added. “Being surrounded by great talent for sure brings the best out of you, and it has been very fun doing it with my boys.”
Rylan will be playing baseball at the University of Dayton. He comes from a baseball family, as his grandfather, Rennie Stennett, won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. His older brother Rolando also played on the varsity baseball team and signed to play college baseball at Erskine College. Rylan says he has been his biggest inspiration and has shown him how to play the game the right way.
“It’s a big relief to know I’m playing baseball at the next level because I know not a lot of kids have the opportunity to play college baseball,” said Lujo. “Also feeling very happy and honored.”
Lujo hit .342 last year with 15 RBIs and 20 runs scored. He was previously named to the Diamond Prospect Media HS 2022 All-Uncommitted 1st Team, a part of the PBR Future Games, and was on the Original Florida Pokers. He also has played with the Hawks, Hitmen, Hurricanes, Canes, and TBT.
Immediately stepping on campus, Lujo was blown away by the facilities and always wanted to play on a turf field as a kid. His goal, though in the meantime is to continue to win rings with MSD.
The Eagles are set to begin their season in the Big-Eight Tournament in February as the top seed. They will face Coral Springs Charter, which features former Assistant Coach Max Boling making his head coaching debut with the Panthers.