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Viggiano’s patience pays off for Strath Haven

HAVERFORD >> Friday’s season opener between Strath Haven and Haverford School wasn’t going to be the prettiest of affairs, what with a hectic week of piecing together practices and a chilly day on the Fords’ turf.

So instead of waiting for a pitcher to stitch together a magnificent outing or for a hot hitter to carry the day, the talking points were always going to focus on more granular aspects of grit and toughness.

On that account, the Panthers came out ahead, recovering from a deficit to sneak away with an 8-7 win.

Anthony Viggiano was the key player late, walking with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh to push across the go-ahead run and pitching the last two innings to preserve the win.

The Panthers, who surged ahead 3-0, trailed 5-3 after a Fords five-spot in the third inning, then 7-4 after Isaiah Winikur’s two-run bomb to center in the fifth.

In a game that featured four homers and nine extra-base hits, Viggiano’s patience at the plate made the difference. Pat Toal, who escaped a jam in the sixth with a fly out, surrendered the lead in the seventh on Brady Mutz’s RBI on a mishandled grounder to first base.

Toal exited after loading the bases with an infield single and a hit by pitch, relieved by sophomore Eric Hoyt. The lefty’s first three deliveries missed the strike zone, leaving Viggiano to wait for his pitch.

“I just let him keep throwing pitches at me,” Viggiano said. “Once he threw a strike, my approach was anything that’s in the strike zone that’s a fastball, I’m going to go after it. Anything that’s an off-speed pitch, I’m going to leave it. Fortunately, he threw a ball at me and got on base and drove in the run to get the lead.”

Viggiano handled matters in the bottom half of the seventh, working around David Hogarth’s double with a groundout and a strikeout to clinch the victory.

Lineup-wise, the game had the raggedness of a nonleague opener, but the play didn’t always reflect that. The game was light on mistakes — Strath Haven pitchers didn’t issue a walk, for instance — despite each team using four pitchers. And the bats were lively from the get-go.

Brady Mutz made the most of his first high school at-bat, the sophomore catcher launching a two-run home run in the second inning to stake the Panthers to an early lead. Evan Atsaves followed with a two-run double to make it 3-0 Haven.

“Just going up there with the best approach, trying to put the ball in play at the big part of the field,” Mutz said. “I’m just looking to drive in a run.”

Haverford School got going in the third. Hogarth split the left-center gap with a booming triple to drive in two, then Justin Meyer followed with a three-run homer the opposite way toward the short porch in right to make it 5-3.

Atsaves pinged a solo job in the fourth to claw Haven within one, but Winikur’s line-drive smash to deep center that one-hopped across Lancaster Avenue restored the three-run edge.

The chill in the air made for short shelf-lives for pitchers. Haven starter Andrew Robinson glided through two innings before running into trouble in the third; he exited in time for Will Carey to serve up Meyer’s homer.

Haverford starter Grady Nance made it through three innings, allowing six hits. Reliever Tommy Bagnell tired in his third inning of work, before Toal entered.

The Fords Friday deployed three pitchers that saw limited work a year ago, two making varsity debuts. With a veteran lineup that has benefited from older and wiser pitching staffs the last couple of years, the roles are suddenly reversed.

“It’s just helping them grow,” said Meyer, a Richmond commit. “Our infield, we’re all upperclassmen and can be those veterans. We have to hold their hand a little bit and let them get to this varsity level and have them develop and get back to our level to what we need to win as a team.”

Offense doesn’t seem an issue on either side. Meyer scored twice. Hogarth doubled twice and drove in two.

Haven had no problems in the offensive department either. Atsaves drove in three with his three hits, while Casey Rosier reached base four times, scoring twice and sparking the seventh-inning rally with a walk and a stolen base.

In other nonleague games:

Chichester 3, Penncrest 2 >> Jason Riberio’s RBI single in the top of the fifth scored Marcus Williams, breaking the tie and earning the Eagles a victory over the Lions.

Matt Dwyer drove in two runs with a double in the fourth in support of winning pitcher Aaron Smith. Penncrest’s runs came via a two-run homer from Sam Freedman in the eventful fourth inning.

Kennett 6, Haverford 0 >> The Fords were limited to three hits — singles by Dylan Resnick, Nick deFeo and Chris Trainor — and done in by a five-run third inning aided by an error.

Friends Select 11, Academy Park 1 >> Taylor Moors doubled and Zach Cleary tripled, but nine errors doomed the Knights.

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