MOUNT PLEASANT — Wando moved within one win of the state title with a 5-2 victory over J.L. Mann in the Class AAAA baseball championship opener Monday night.
The Warriors (24-8) will travel to J.L. Mann in Greenville on Wednesday for Game 2 with a chance to close out the best-of-three championship series and win the first state title in program history.
“We’re halfway there,” Wando coach Dirk Thomas said. “You’ve got to win two. It doesn’t matter the order. You just have to win two games. This just puts us one game closer than they are.”
Senior Owen Ravenel went 2 for 3 with three clutch RBIs and a walk as the designated hitter in the No. 2 slot for the Warriors.
Wando left four runners stranded through the first four innings and entered the bottom of the fifth trailing, 2-0. The Warriors loaded the bases through their first three at-bats to set up Ravenel, who singled down the first-base line to score Max Fries. Noah LoCascio followed in the next at-bat with a single to left to bring home Hogan Kelly and Oliver Hill for a 3-2 Wando lead.
Wando was still gripping its one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth when Ravenel struck again, this time with a two-out, two-run shot down the right-field line.
“J.L. Mann was getting lucky here and there, and I felt like if we could put ourselves in the right spot, we could swing things our way,” Ravenel said. “Coach Thomas was giving me a hard time in batting practice because I was rolling everything over to the left side. They hung me a curveball way outside, so I just poked it into right field.”
Senior right-hander Jeff Gottesman earned the complete-game win for Wando, striking out nine and allowing one earned run off five hits and two walks through seven innings.
J.L Mann (25-5) put two on with the tying run at the plate with two outs in the seventh before Gottesman closed the win with his ninth strikeout. In three different innings, J.L Mann put two runners on base, one in scoring position, only to have Gottesman close the frame with a strikeout.
“I was impressed with how he finished when he had to and even more impressed how he kept us in it when it was 2-0,” Thomas said. “We were putting guys on base and weren’t coming through for him. That’s frustrating as a pitcher. But he kept his composure, kept us in it, and once we got the lead, you knew he wasn’t giving it up.”
Junior outfielder Cameron Jenson doubled in Joe Satterfield to give J.L. Mann a one-run lead in the second inning. Wando gave Mann its second run with an error in the fifth, overshooting an infield throw to first to allow Jonah Witt to score from second. Even with a two-run lead in the fifth, Patriots coach Brian Simpson figured his team would need more offense to seal the win.
“They got some big hits when they needed them, and it’s easy to lose focus when things don’t go your way,” Simpson said. “As good as Wando is, two runs are usually not going to be enough to beat them.”
Mann will roll out 6-5 senior left-hander Hank Nichols, a USC signee, on Wednesday. Future college teammates could collide as Wando is expected to start senior right-hander Harrison Smith, also a Gamecocks signee.
Should J.L Mann win Game 2, the championship series will be decided on a neutral field. River Bluff in Lexington is an early candidate to host Game 3.