Thursday, May 15, 2014
By Jeff Hartsell
West Ashley baseball players knelt in the outfield grass, waiting calmly for coach Mitch Miggenburg to deliver his postgame words of wisdom.
But as Miggenburg approached, the Wildcats turned with impeccable timing and mobbed their coach, celebrating the latest step in a history-making baseball season.
Behind the pitching of junior Anthony Vincelli, the visiting Wildcats edged Wando, 4-2, on Wednesday night to advance to the finals of the Class AAAA Lower State tournament for the first time.
West Ashley (23-6), which also won on Wando’s field for the first time, will travel to top-ranked Sumter on Friday to play for the Lower State title. The Wildcats will have to beat Sumter twice to earn a berth in the state finals. But with pitchers Jordan Merritt, a Citadel commitment, and Jonathan Sabo, last year’s All-Lowcountry player of the year, ready to go, West Ashley at least has a chance.
“I’m so excited and happy for West Ashley,” said Miggenburg, a former College of Charleston player. “Our kids have competed all season, and I was so proud of their effort tonight.”
Vincelli gave up a run in the first and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second, but then settled down and limited Wando (18-11) to one run the rest of the way. A visit to the mound from Miggenburg helped the fiery right-hander maintain his poise.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t feeling it,” said Vincelli, who struck out five and walked three. “But coach came out to the mound to settle me down. He said, ‘Don’t be scared, Anthony. You are the man for the job.’”
Said Miggenburg, “He’s an emotional kid and he was a little amped up. But once he got going, he settled in and threw strikes and competed all night.”
Wando errors helped West Ashley score all four of its runs.
“Every mistake we made cost us a run,” said Wando coach Dirk Thomas, whose team was eliminated from the playoffs. “We made mistakes, but to their credit they took advantage of every little thing we did wrong.”
West Ashley scored twice in the third inning with the help of a Wando error, with Tyrie Blalock slapping a run-scoring double.
An error and singles by J.C. Rodriguez and Caleb Goude loaded the bases for West Ashley with one out in the fourth, and Wando pitcher Harrison Smith walked Vincelli to force in a run for a 3-1 Wildcats lead. Warriors left fielder Andrew Lee prevented further damage with a diving catch of a Blalock liner.
The Warriors cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth on a walk, a wild pitch and RBI single from Owen Ravenel. But West Ashley got the run back in the sixth on a walk, a wild pitch, an error and a bloop single from Merritt.
In the Wando seventh, lead-off batter Ravenel hit a rocket down the first-base line that seemed ticketed for at least a double and probably a triple. But West Ashley first baseman Taylor Oden dove to his left and snared the hot shot after it bounced over the bag, and the Warriors went quietly after that.
“This win means a lot,” said Oden. “Wando beat us at the beginning of the playoffs, and now our series with them is even at 2-2 this season. And now, we go to Lower State.”