Heading south

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Sam Vincenzo’s passion is baseball.

That passion will take him to Virginia Saturday as the former St. Clairsville High School lefthander will join the Staunton Braves of the Valley Baseball League.

“I’m pretty excited,” Vincenzo said earlier this week. “It will be a good opportunity for me to go down there and expand my resume. It will also give me a chance to pitch against some good competition, be seen by some people and see what happens from there.”

The Braves are coached by former Buckeye Local and Fairmont State standout George Laase, who relishes the opportunity to help “valley boys” out.

“Back when I was growing up people didn’t have the connections that they do now,” Laase noted. “I promised my dad that if I ever got the chance to help a valley boy out, I’d do it.

“We were really close to getting Sam for the entire season, but for various reasons he wanted to stay around home,” Laase added. “We had a roster spot open up and I asked him if he was still interested in coming down, and he said yes.”

Staunton is in the midst of a three-team battle for first place in the Southern Division of the 12-team VBL. The regular season is quickly winding down, as the playoffs begin July 28.

“He’ll get a start before the end of the season,” Laase said of Vincenzo, who will be a sophomore at Potomac State University this fall. “It’s kind of like a tryout for next season, but we’ll give him a shot and go from there.

“This opportunity can only bolster his resume for further opportunities,” Laase added. “We’re looking for a No. 5 starter.”

Prior to joining Staunton, the southpaw helped lead Maynard to its first Ohio Valley Baseball League championship in more than two decades.

He won the semifinal clincher against the top-seeded Wheeling Cardinals, and also hurled a three-hitter in game two of the championship series against No. 3 Lafferty.

“Sam is a real competitor,” Maynard manager Laney Simone Sr. said. “This is a really good opportunity for a really good kid.”

As a freshman at Potomac State, which is located in Keyser, W.Va., Vincenzo burst onto the scene with a superb 8-1 record. He lost his first decision of the season in relief to University of South Carolina-Sumter, 5-4, but then reeled off eight consecutive wins.

Included in that stretch was a five-inning perfect game against Westmoreland County Community College when he struck out seven at Golden Park, home of the Catamounts, in a 10-0 victory.

Other notable victories included the winner’s bracket game of the Division I, Region XX Tournament, and the loser’s bracket final of the Eastern District Tournament.

“Coach Laase has always been a good friend of my family,” the 6-3, 160-pounder allowed. “He’s always been one to help valley guys if he can. He gave me the opportunity to come down there. I’m thrilled to death and blessed for it.

“I just want to try and do my best against Division I competition,” he said.

During his first year of college baseball, Vincenzo fashioned a 3.06 ERA. He fanned 52 batters in just 64.2 innings of work (7.24/game) and walked 18. He appeared in 13 games for the 40-16 Catamounts, starting 10 and recording six complete games, which ranked 29th nationwide among JUCO schools. His two shutouts ranked 34th and his eight wins were 38th.

The VBL consists of 12 teams located throughout the Shenandoah Valley with rosters consisting of the best collegiate baseball players throughout the country. The league is currently divided between Northern and Southern division teams that play a 44-game schedule, beginning in late May or early June with playoffs beginning in the last week of July and extending into early August. The top four teams from each division make up the playoff field.

The Northern Division includes the Aldie Senators, Charles Town (W.Va.) Cannons, Front Royal Cardinals, Strasburg Express, Winchester Royals and Woodstock River Bandits. The Southern Division includes the Covington Lumberjacks, Harrisonburg Turks, New Market Rebels, Rockbridge Rapids, Staunton Braves and Waynesboro Generals.

Vincenzo won’t be the only valley player in the league as Weirton Madonna’s Eddie Nogay, who plays collegiately at Washington & Jefferson, is a pitcher on the Rockbridge Rapids’ roster. Tyler Engle, a former Fort Frye and Ohio State product, is the Covington Lumberjacks’ manager, while Wheeling Jesuit University infielder Pat Ammar, of Broadview Hts., Ohio, plays for the Charles Town Cannons.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com