Cardinal Newman capped its best season in two decades with a dominating 8-2 victoryTuesday night against Ben Lippen to sweep the SCISA 3A championship series 2-0 and give the Cardinals their first baseball title since 1998.
First-year coach Charles Assey hugged every player before the trophy presentation and couldn’t fully envision this moment when he took over the program last June.
“It feels good, and it’s all about these kids. I’ve been in a lot of college dugouts and 5A high school dugouts, so I didn’t know what to expect when I came over and took the job,” he said. “I knew they were here last year, knew I had a little bit of talent, but from taking the job and coming over, I think it was three days later we met in the weight room in June and there were about 30 guys standing at the front door. They’ve bought in every step of the way.”
It was a rocky beginning as the Cardinals started the season 6-5 before winning 18 of their final 20 games to finish 24-7.
“I told them if they stayed the course and rode the ship out, I felt like it would help them out,” Assey said. “I preached if we could play good baseball from spring break on down and keep ringing he bell, they would start believing, and special things happened.”
It was a second straight impressive performance on the mound that helped Cardinal Newman improve to 4-0 against the Falcons this season.
Sophomore Myles Hedgecock, who transferred from A.C. Flora in November, pitched a complete-game four-hitter with five strikeouts and two walks. He retired 11 in a row at one point.
“He’s been good for us all year,” Assey said. “It was sort of an early Christmas present for us when he showed up in November from A.C. Flora. He’s worked hard. He’s a strike-thrower with movement on his ball. He just loves the moment.”
It helped that the offense staked Hedgecock to a 3-0 lead before he took the mound. Five singles in the first inning led to RBIs by AJ DePalma, Simon Penso and Jake Rehling.
“It was so helpful,” the right-hander said. “It gave me so much confidence. I knew all I had to do was throw strikes.”
The Cardinals added a single run in the second and fifth. Tanner Garrison delivered an RBI single in the second and Rehling scored on an error in the fifth. A three-run sixth made it 8-0 when Gage Jeffcoat, Penso and Jake Tanner drove in runs to round out the scoring.
Cardinal Newman finished with 15 hits, all singles. Rehling and Quinn O’Connor led the attack with three hits apiece as eight of the nine batters recorded a hit and all nine reached base at least once.
The victory also capped a special year for Assey and his wife Megan. Megan is the girls basketball coach at Spring Valley and the Vikings claimed the SCHSL Class 5A state championship in early March. The couple is also expecting their second child in nine weeks.
“I kind of teared up thinking of me changing jobs and Megan doing what she’s doing and she’s seven months pregnant now,” Assay said. “I step back sometimes and think of the time we devout to what we do, we depend on a lot of people to let us do it. It’s special, I can’t sugarcoat that.”