West Ashley ace Jonathan Sabo peers in at the catcher with his glove covering his face, barely an inch between the top of the glove and the brim of his cap.
That's about how much margin for error Wildcat opponents have when facing Sabo, and West Florence High School came up woefully short of that standard Wednesday night in the District VII finals of the Class AAAA baseball playoffs.
West Florence had more errors (five) than hits (three) against Sabo, and West Ashley earned its first-ever berth in the Lower State final four with a 10-0 victory in six innings at West Ashley.
The Wildcats (21-5), winners of two straight Region 7-AAAA titles, will face Wando in the first round of the four-team Lower State tournament on Saturday. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Wando, the District VIII champ.
"Greatest day of my life," said Sabo, who gave up those three hits and struck out five while improving his record to 8-2. "We love the game and play our hearts out, try to give 100 percent every day."
West Ashley coach Mitch Miggenburg started pitcher Anthony Vincelli in Wednesday's first game, hoping to clinch the Wildcats' first district title without having to use Sabo, a 5-10 senior who also plays shortstop. But West Florence won the first game, 8-5, behind the pitching of William Goodwin and a two-run home run by Logan McRae.
That forced a second game, but Miggenburg was confident with Sabo, last year's Post and Courier All-Lowcountry player of the year, taking the mound.
"We were hoping to get by with one of our other guys, and Anthony's been really good for us this year," said Miggenburg. "We didn't come out and play the way we wanted to, but we still felt good about having Jonathan on the back end of this."
The Wildcats trailed 8-0 in the first game, but rallied for five runs in the seventh inning, the game ending with the potential tying run on deck.
That effort boosted confidence even more heading into the second game, and West Ashley gave Sabo an early lead with five runs in the first two innings.
"We took some momentum from that seventh inning," said Miggenburg, a former College of Charleston player in his seventh season at West Ashley. "We had been kind of flat and dead, and some of that seventh inning carried over to the second game."
The Wildcats opened the second game with three runs in the first inning as Tyrie Blalock singled and scored on Jordan Merritt's double. After a West Florence error on Sabo's hot shot to shortstop, Taylor Oden singled in a run and a third run scored on a double-play grounder.
In the second inning, West Ashley scored twice without benefit of a hit on four West Florence errors, an intentional walk to Sabo and a wild pitch.
That was more than enough for Sabo.
"Jonathan has competed for us all year long," Miggenburg said. "We know he's going to keep us in games, he's going to challenge hitters and throw strikes."
Merritt stroked an RBI single for a 6-0 lead in the fourth, and the Wildcats ended it with four runs in the sixth, including a two-run double by Sabo.
Now, the Wildcats enter uncharted waters in the Lower State playoffs. Wando and West Ashley split two games during the season.
"Everything we've asked of this team all year, they've done it," Miggenburg said. "They've risen to the occasion and I think they are ready for the challenge."
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