With former and current Saints in attendance, Santa Fe College baseball coach Johnny Wiggs reached another milestone.
On Monday, the Saints defeated visiting Daytona State College, 6-1, giving Wiggs his 500th win as the Saints’ head coach.
Former SF baseball coach Harry Tholen, who retired in 2010 after serving as the school’s first baseball coach, said it was a big day for the “veteran coach.”
“He’s taken this program to new heights with class, and he cares about his players,” said Tholen, who led the Saints to a 526-423 overall record during his 22 years as head coach, including the school’s first state baseball title and JUCO World Series appearance in 1985.
With the victory, the 16-year head coach now has a record of 500-230 for a winning percentage of .684.
“I tried to get this job for a long time, I would keep my eye out for when Coach Tholen was going to retire,” Wiggs said smiling, referring to his predecessor. “This was a goal to get back to Gainesville. My wife was from here, of course I played here [for UF], so this is sort of a dream come true. This is what I always wanted to do, and this is where I wanted to do it, and to be able to be here long enough to have the success and win 500 games here is pretty cool.”
Wiggs has also won nine Mid-Florida Conference regular season titles, advanced to the FCSAA State/Region 8 Tournament 11 times and won two FCSAA State Championships.
His 2009 team was his best team, finishing runner-up at the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“He’s a first-class coach, first-class person,” said former Santa Fe College Athletic Director Jim Keites, who hired Wiggs in July 2006. “He makes all of his players better people, better players, and success follows that formula.”
His current AD echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve only been here for 16 of those wins, but I can tell you he’s a tremendous coach,” said Greg McVey. “He understands how to develop student-athletes and we’re very fortunate to have him. I hope to have him for a few more years as well. But he’s just a great man and I’m happy to be his AD.”
It was almost fitting that a left-handed pitcher helped set the tone for the day.
Freshman Trent Becker (5-2), who excelled at three sports at Trenton, tossed eight innings and allowed just one run on five hits. He walked three and struck out five.
“He’s been a strike thrower for us all year,” said Wiggs, the former left-handed pitcher who helped lead UF to its first College World Series appearance back in 1988. “We didn’t make any errors. I always tell these guys that if we don’t make any errors, we’ve got a really good opportunity to win.”
The Saints (16-13, 4-4 Mid-Florida Conference) took advantage of several Falcon mistakes.
In the bottom of the third, freshman Jevin Relaford singled with two outs, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored the first run of the game on a wild pitch.
In the fifth with the score tied 1-1, SF scored two runs on just one hit.
Daytona State (13-10, 1-8) walked two batters and hit a batter in the inning.
Freshman Tyler Shelnut walked with the bases loaded and freshman Gabriel Esquivel hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Relaford, giving the Saints a 3-1 lead.
The Saints added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth on RBI sacrifice flies by freshmen Zeb Marquis and Zeth Rodriguez for a 5-1 lead.
Wiggs became the second area coach to reach a milestone victory in the past two days. Now, he’ll go for another one on Wednesday when the Saints travel to Daytona State.
Wiggs has a total of 699 career victories as a head coach.
“All it means is that I’ve done this for a while now,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good players and a lot of good assistant coaches. That makes my job that much easier.”