BASEBALL: With Boston College-Miami series complete, Stiegler ’20 and Wanger ’19 keep postseason hopes alive with ACC teams
While Benny Wanger ’19 did not make the trip after undergoing a small operation to remove loose bodies from his elbow, Alex Stiegler ’20 pitched the Eagles to a victory game three on Sunday afternoon despite giving up six runs.
Courtesy of Boston College Athletics
Pitcher Alex Stiegler ’20 and utility player Benny Wanger ’19, two former Yale baseball teammates, have not shared the same field together since the 2019 spring athletic season.
Two graduate transfers and one global health crisis later, Yale fans had hoped that they would be able to witness the two pitchers meet on the field together again, though this time in two separate dugouts. But it was not to be. On Friday, Stiegler’s Boston College Eagles (19–22, 8–19 ACC) started a three-game series with Wanger’s University of Miami Hurricanes (24–15, 15–14 ACC) in Boston. The ACC matchup was supposed to be a reunion that would pit the two former Yale baseball teammates against each other, but Wanger injured himself last month and had a “small” operation to remove loose bodies from his elbow, he told the News.
While Wanger did not play, Stiegler pitched BC to a victorious game three on Sunday afternoon despite giving up six runs, and the Eagles ended the weekend with a 2–1 series win.
“I’ll be back next week and ready to go for whatever’s next,” Wanger said in a Sunday night phone call. “It was good to see [Stiegler] do well even though it was against my own team. So it was a little bit of a conflict of interest there. But it was funny because I pitched all my teammates during the whole year, and it was funny to see how Stiegs fared against them.”
Stiegler started the rubber game on Sunday looking to secure a series win at home. The Texan ended up winning the game 11–6 and overcame six earned runs, five of which came in the third inning.
Wanger, meanwhile, stayed behind in Miami last weekend, despite growing up in Newton, Massachusetts. His loose body removal procedure is common in baseball, given that the arm is not designed to throw a ball as fast as collegiate and professional players often do. San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell and Boston Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi have both undergone the procedure in the last few seasons.
“Warming up, I didn’t feel great,” Stiegler said about his start. “I knew it was going to have to kind of be a gritty outing, and then got into the second or third inning I kind of realized I was going to have to beat Miami and I was going to have to beat the umpires. … I’ll take the win with not the ideal circumstances every once in a while.”
Stiegler’s season with BC
Stiegler, a former team captain for the Bulldogs who earned First Team All-Ivy honors with 76 innings pitched, 76 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA during his last full season of baseball as a junior, received an extra year of NCAA eligibility when the coronavirus canceled his senior season in 2020. He found a home as a graduate transfer at Boston College, and in his first three outings with the Eagles, Stiegler appeared to have picked up right where his junior self left off, tallying 13 strikeouts in eight innings pitched with a 1.08 ERA to boot.
The quality of Stiegler’s next three outings dropped a bit, however, as he went on to concede a total of 12 earned runs, causing his ERA to jump to 7.31. In the six appearances the right-hander made since, Stiegler pitched at least six innings in three outings and conceded more than three total runs in only one.
“I think a lot of it is baseball IQ and then I think command too,” Stiegler said when asked about how he has improved throughout the season. “Really going back to basics, just like fastball accuracy is so important in the ACC. You can’t miss with your fastball because any kid in the conference is able to put it over the fence.”
He entered the last week of April and the series with Miami coming off what was perhaps his best start as an Eagle against Notre Dame, a game in which he let just one run cross home plate in seven total innings of work to go along with three strikeouts and zero walks.
The Eagles’ win over Miami marked the team’s first series win since March. After Sunday’s start, Stiegler ranks second on the team with 56.2 innings pitched this season.
Wanger’s strong start in Miami put on pause
At Yale, Wanger showcased the ability to both pitch and hit at the collegiate level. During his first three years wearing the Blue and White, he earned All-Ivy First Team honors as both a relief pitcher and designated hitter, as well as Second Team honors as a first baseman. Showing no signs of slowing down entering his fourth and final year, a torn left hamstring four games into Wanger’s 2019 campaign required season-ending surgery and was a bitter conclusion to his Yale career — but the senior season off granted him an extra year of NCAA eligibility at the same time.
He played a pandemic-shortened season at the University of Southern California, and his strong start, along with the blanket NCAA eligibility all spring athletes received in 2020, allowed him to transfer again to Miami. In the 13 games that Wanger appeared in as the Trojans’ closer and designated hitter last year, he batted a team-high .410 average, which ranked fifth in the Pac-12 that year, and drove in eight runs. Wanger was just as dominant on the mound as he was behind the plate, tallying three saves in 6.1 innings pitched with a spotless 0.00 ERA, striking out eight in the process.
In his debut series for the Hurricanes against the then-No. 1 Florida Gators, Wanger closed out a 13-inning, come-from-behind victory with an electric two innings of relief work, while also scoring the eventual winning run after being hit by a pitch in the 13th. In the following three appearances he made in the month of February, Wanger accumulated 2.1 more innings of work to go along with a 4.15 ERA.
“I was struggling a little bit with my fastball command in the season, and I think it was because of kind of protecting my elbow so I’m excited to be back,” Wanger said about his progress throughout the season.
However, because of his injury, Miami has utilized Wanger as a bullpen weapon much more sparingly in the months of March and April. The Massachusetts native has made just one appearance on the mound that saw only 0.2 innings of hitless pitching, but he told the News he looks to be back next week in time for the 2021 ACC Baseball Championship later this month.
“They’ve definitely set an awesome example in showing fellow athletes here at Yale they can find success at any level and wherever they may decide to continue their careers,” current Yale baseball catcher and captain Cal Christofori ’21 said. “[Wanger] and [Stiegler] were awesome players here [at Yale], and I’m not shocked by what they have accomplished. Hopefully there’s a long line of Ivy League athletes that can follow in their footsteps during the time of this pandemic.”
The 2021 ACC Baseball Championship begins May 25 in Charlotte, North Carolina.