EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Bryce Mangene hustles out of the batter’s box every time he hits a baseball.
“You never know what can happen,” he said.
The Rancocas Valley Regional senior beat out a routine groundball to shortstop to extend an inning and help propel the 13th-seeded Red Devils to a 4-2 win over fourth-seeded Egg Harbor Township in the first round of the South Jersey Group IV playoffs Monday afternoon.
Will Vergantino followed Mangene’s infield hit with a two-run double to give Rancocas a two-run lead in the top of the seventh inning. Mangene finished off his complete-game pitching effort by getting the game’s final three outs in the bottom of the seventh.
“An old coach of mine said, ‘It’s the little things that make the difference in big games,’” Mangene said.
Rancocas Valley (8-7) is no ordinary No. 13 seed with Mangene on the mound. The University of Pennsylvania recruit is one of South Jersey’s top pitchers. He struck out six and did not walk a batter.
“We told the kids it was going to be tough,” EHT coach Bryan Carmichael said.
Mangene and EHT starter Jordan Sweeney each gave up two runs in the first inning. For EHT, Trey Henry scored on a delayed steal of home and Angel Murray hit an RBI single.
But that was it for the scoring until the final inning.
Both pitchers dominated innings two through six. Sweeney did not allow a hit during that stretch. Mangene allowed leadoff singles in the second and fifth innings, but EHT could not take advantage.
“I think we grinded out some at-bats early in the game,” Carmichael said. “I don’t know if (Mangene) got better as the game went on or we got away from the game plan of what we wanted to do. You have to find a way to come up with that two-out hit. We had a couple of opportunities, and we couldn’t get the job done.”
Rancocas did get the key hit it needed.
Mangene stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on second in the top of the seventh. He sprinted hard from the moment the ball left his bat and started rolling toward shortstop.
“As soon as I hit the bag, I knew I was safe,” he said. “I knew I beat the throw. It’s a great feeling.”
Vergantino was in the midst of a game to forget before the seventh inning. He had struck out in his previous three at-bats.
“I had to stay out of my head going into my last at-bat,” he said. “Getting in the box, I was thinking about forget about all mechanics and forget about all prior at-bats. Just go up there and get it done. I saw a pitch up and in — a fastball — and I hit it.”
Vergantino launched a high fly ball to left field that dropped just in front of the fence.
“Off the bat, I felt like I got under it a little bit,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Maybe this left fielder is going to get a beat on it.’ But it felt good when it landed and (drove) the two guys in.”
Rancocas advances to Friday’s quarterfinal against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round matchup between No. 12 seed Kingsway Regional and fifth-seeded Lenape.
Meanwhile, the loss left EHT (15-6) stunned. The Eagles reached the S.J. Group IV semifinals each of the past two seasons and were expected to challenge for sectional title this spring.
“Expectations were high,” Carmichael said, “and they always will be high in this program. That’s part of our culture. These guys are obviously upset. They expect to contend for a Group IV title year in and year out. That’s the way you want it. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Rancocas Valley 200 000 2—4 4 2
EHT 200 000 0—2 6 1
2B: Rancocas Valley, Vergantino
WP: Mangene LP: Sweeney