WINTHROP — Mario Meucci figured it wouldn’t be a bad time for him to go the other way, if the opportunity arose.

Momentum and the scoreboard were going the other way when Winthrop’s senior third baseman stepped into the batter’s box to start the bottom of the sixth inning of Saturday’s Western Class C baseball semifinal against Monmouth. But on the first pitch from Monmouth starter Hunter Richardson, Meucci got the pitch he was hoping for and Meucci smacked an opposite field triple that immediately eased the pain of squandering a six-run lead in the top half of the inning. Dakota Carter drove him home with a groundout to short that gave the Ramblers a 9-8 win.

No. 2 Winthrop (16-2) advanced to face No. 8 St. Dominic (14-5) in the regional final at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at St. Joseph’s College.

“I knew he was going to pitch me outside. He pitched me outside twice the first at-bat,” Meucci said. “I’ve just been learning all year to take it to right field on the outside pitch.”

Meucci also tripled in that first at-bat and singled to the opposite field to drive in a run in Winthrop’s four-run third. He went 3-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored.

“Mario, to his credit, this is our third game with (Winthrop) and I haven’t seen him hit the ball to right field, and what does he do? He hits the ball to right field,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “We had a plan to get him out and he squashed our plan. He did a great job. We tried off-speed away, he hit that. If you try fastballs away, he hits those.”

“It wouldn’t have happened last year. He would have been pulling it to left,” Winthrop coach Marc Fortin said. “We finally got him to take the pitch and go to right and it’s worked out well for him. I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s worked hard all year. He’s hit the ball a ton.”

Winthrop put together four hits in the third and three in the fifth during four-run innings to build an 8-2 lead. Three Monmouth errors also helped, but the Mustangs weren’t going to give the game away.

“Our kids came back down 8-2 and said ‘We’re not done yet,'” Palleschi said. “To tie it up, I thought our kids did a great job today.”

Monmouth came roaring back against Winthrop starter Ben Allen in the sixth. A southpaw, Allen was hit by a pitch in his left elbow and fouled another pitch off his foot earlier in the game. That pounding and the heat seemed to wear him out as his pitch count approached triple digits.

The Mustangs (11-8) took advantage, sending 10 men to the plate while getting RBI singles by Avery Pomerleau and Nick Dovinsky, an RBI groundout by Gage Cote and a two-run triple by Chandler Harris that tied the game. It also forced Fortin to replace Allen with sophomore Jacob Hickey with two out and the go-ahead run at third.

“I really thought we were cruising, the way it was going. I didn’t anticipate having to take Ben out,” Fortin said. “We haven’t used Jake against a high-powered team like this all season. But Jacob’s a gamer.”

Hickey, who is the Ramblers’ No. 3 starter and hadn’t worked in relief all season, got Richardson to fly out to right to keep the game knotted at 8-8.

“I was a little nervous. I came in and tried to calm myself down, tried to throw a couple of early strikes, get ahead in the count and then work from there. I knew I had a great defense behind me,” Hickey said.

Hickey returned for the seventh and got the first two on a fly out and strikeout, then allowed a single to Tom Small before getting Nick Sanborn to ground out to first to end it.

Hickey and Adam Hachey both went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Ramblers. Pomerleau went 3-for-3 with two runs scored for the Mustangs, who won’t lose any seniors to graduation.

“It was a good year. I thought we had a playoff team,” Palleschi said. “I thought we had some good pitching coming in, and any time you have good pitching, you can win games. You can win the close games. When it gets up around seven, eight runs in a game, we knew that that’s not a game that we favor. That’s the most runs we’ve given up all year. We were only giving up three-and-a-half a game.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33