BE baseball team brings home state championship trophy after emotional victory
Coach Mike Darnell watched with glee as his Bishop England High School baseball team swarmed the field Saturday afternoon in celebration of its Class AAA state championship.
The Bishops defeated Seneca, 4-2, in the third and deciding game of the Championship Series. After the Bishops returned home from Lexington High School, Darnell’s celebration turned somber.
He visited the grave of his father, Joe, who passed away in 2014. Many remember Joe as “Santa Joe” during the Christmas season at Northwoods Mall.
Darnell left his state championship medal at his father’s grave.
“I had been thinking about it, and my brother and his two sons were at the game,” Darnell said. “He and I shared a moment, and when he said Dad would have been proud, we cried like babies. I told him I was going to put the medal on Dad’s grave. My Dad and Mom (Debbie) were very supportive of our athletic careers, from rec to high school to college. We both played football and baseball, so sports was what our family was about.”
It was Darnell’s fourth state championship at the school, but first since his father passed away. Darnell coached seven years at Bishop England before taking the Cardinal Newman job in 2007. He was 149-43 in his first stint at BE and won three state titles. He returned to BE for the 2012 season.
The Bishops battled adversity all year. They were 5-6 at one point of the season, but never quit. It was the same Saturday as the Bishops plated three runs in the top of the sixth to erase a 2-1 deficit.
“This team never seemed to panic,” Darnell said. “We had a good bit of adversity throughout the year, but they never let it affect them. The amount of confidence they have in each other is tremendous.”
The Bishops’ record early in the season was slanted because of a tough schedule.
“We have always tried to play as tough a schedule as we can put together,” Darnell said. “Playing in the IP Classic was an honor and we learned what not to do in our two losses there. We faced some very good pitching throughout the year which is something we tried to use to our advantage from a mental aspect.”
Shawn Runey, who pitched well in Game 1 of the series, was the winning pitcher. He got stronger as the game wore on and provided some great senior leadership.
“We went in to the season not really knowing what we wanted to do with Shawn,” Darnell said. “He was our everyday relief guy at the beginning of the year and took some lumps because he didn’t understand how to do that job. Eventually he was consistent enough for us that we moved him to our No. 1 starter position.”
The Bishops put together a three-run sixth inning thanks to some talented players who will be back next year.
Junior Leo Albano reached on an error and went to third on a double by sophomore Chris Dengler. Albano scored on a wild pitch to make it a 2-2 game. Juniors Will Bastian and Matthew McManus both collected RBI doubles to plate the other runs in the deciding inning.
“We felt we really had to make something happen that inning or we might not have another chance like that,” Darnell said. “Fortunately we were able to get some good swings during that inning when we needed them the most.”
The victory gave the Bishops a 24-9 record. Darnell is 114-66 in his second go-round at BE and is 263-109 in his career at the Daniel Island-based school.
Runey and Riley Carrigan are the only seniors who had significant playing time in 2017. So, don’t be surprised to see the Bishops favored to win their ninth state title in baseball.
“Expectations will be very high,” Darnell said.