Bishop England squeezes past Aynor to advance to Class AAA baseball state title series
DANIEL ISLAND — Bill Collier sent Mike Darnell a subtle sign from across the diamond and now Bishop England is headed to state.
“That’s all on him,” said Darnell, the Bishops’ head coach of his first-base assistant. “He gave me the sign between the two of us for it and it was a great call.”
The Bishops loaded the bases with one out 14 innings into the Class AAA Lower State championship game. Collier wanted to end it and called to Darnell for the squeeze bunt.
“We got into an argument earlier in the game about a squeeze where I couldn’t see what he wanted,” Darnell said. “So I’m looking over there at him… Man, that was pretty awesome stuff.”
Geoffrey Gilbert began his takeoff from third base as Matthew McManus squared up. McManus’ bunt dove straight down into the clay and ricocheted back into the air. Jason Duke charged in from the mound but it was too late. Gilbert was already sliding into home. The Bishops were already celebrating.
Bishop England pulled off a 2-1 four-hour marathon win over Aynor Wednesday to earn its 10th Lower State title in the past 20 years. The Bishops will travel to Seneca for the opening game of the Class AAA state championship series on Saturday.
“I knew when I made contact that I got it down all right,” McManus said. “I saw Geoffrey coming and I knew it was over. It took us 14 innings but we got it done. We’re going to state.”
Bishop England managed just one run off its first 14 hits, leaving 16 runners stranded, 12 in scoring position. The Bishops could’ve ended the game in the seventh after loading the bases with one out. It was a precursor for what was to come. Bishop England left a runner in scoring position in each of the seven extra innings. Aynor had its own issues crossing home, stranding at least one in scoring position in six of the seven extras.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Darnell said. “Not when there were so many opportunities. Both teams had tons of opportunities. No one could get a two-out hit.”
Bishop England burned through four different pitchers. Gregory Sanders went the first five innings and Leo Albano handled the next five. Gilbert pitched the following two and forced a fly out with runners on second and third to end the 12th inning. McManus finished the final two, closing the 13th with a fly out with the bases loaded.
“If this doesn’t go our way, we have to play another one. Are we going to have enough life to play another game?” Darnell wondered as the innings wore on. “Our guys have just fought all year long.”
Walt Richardson lined an RBI single to left field to put Aynor ahead in the third inning. Gilbert answered for Bishop England in the bottom frame, driving a double into right to score Chris Dengler. Six different Bishops logged multiple hits as the Bishops made 63 plate appearances.
“I’ve got to tell you, my legs are juiced right now,” Gilbert admitted after scoring the winning run. “I’m going to sit in the ice bath for an hour.”
A few weeks ago, Collier taped a sign that read “2011” inside the Bishops’ dugout. It was to serve as a crisp reminder of the last time the Bishops won state.
Bishop England enters the state series riding a 12-game winning streak — a run that dates back to early April. Two more wins and the Bishops can update Collier’s sign. Maybe this time with an eight, to signify what would be the third-most state titles in state history.
“Districts are great. Lower State championships are great but here things are measured by state championships,” Darnell said. “Bishop England baseball, that’s just how it is. And for us to bump up one level this year (from AA to AAA) and now be playing for state again, that says a lot about these kids.”