Jack Mangene was 11 years old when he last hit a home run. He remembers the crack of the Little League-sized bat and recalls watching it sail dead center, right toward his mother who was looking on just beyond the fence.
But when Mangene sent a shot over the right-field wall Friday afternoon to jump-start St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s offense, his mom wasn’t there to catch it.
“Nope,” Mangene said with a smile, before pointing down up the first-base line. “She was sitting right over there.”
Mangene’s blast — the Wolves’ first home run of the season — was the catalyst for an eight-run offensive outburst as SJCA ousted Blacklick Valley 12-6 in the first round of the District 6 Class A baseball playoffs.
The No. 3-seeded Wolves (11-4) face the winner of No. 2 Homer-Center and No. 7 Conemaugh Valley on Tuesday at 4 p.m. SJCA would host Conemaugh Valley, if the Bluejays win on Saturday.
Wherever they play, the Wolves hope the offense follows. SJCA tallied 11 hits, including two doubles — one by Bryce Herman, the other coming from Dylan Broderick — and a stand-up triple by Nate Mellott.
And then of course, there was Mangene’s long ball.
SJCA led Blacklick Valley 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the third when the lefty-swinging Mangene stepped into the box — and he wasted no time separating the two teams even further. The sophomore belted a first-pitch breaking ball, tucking it just inside the right-field foul pole.
Wolves coach Greg Herman said he was surprised to see the ball leave the yard.
His teammates? Not so much.
“As soon as I saw that ball go up, I knew it was going out,” Broderick said. “That kind of turned the game around.”
Bryce Herman, who had a nice view from the on-deck circle, added: “Oh, I knew it, too.”
As for the guy rounding the bases, Mangene star ted his trot as soon as he made contact. He wasn’t totally sure it would clear the wall, but he had hope.
“I’m not a power hitter,” Mangene said with a laugh. “I’m that, ‘Poke it over the third baseman and hope to get to second base,’ kind of guy. But, I mean, that was a nice swing.”
And it gave the Wolves confidence moving forward. SJCA scored three runs in the fourth and fifth innings and tacked on two more in the sixth. Three errors and four wild pitches in that span by the Vikings certainly helped, but it was SJCA’s timely hitting and patience that put the game out of reach.
A line drive single by Matt Steyers in the fourth frame proved pivotal, advancing Zane Thornburg to third. Both scored on the next at-bat thanks to a fielding error. In the fifth, a two-out double down the left-field line by Broderick plated two, and the next inning, SJCA walked three times to set up a couple runs.
And it all comes back to Mangene’s first home run since Little League days.
“That got things rolling,” Greg Herman said. “It opened the floodgates.”
And who knows? Maybe Mangene can do it again on Tuesday.