LAKE CITY, S.C. — Matt Apicella wanted to be a lawyer after college, and after one year of teaching and coaching at Lake City, he continue his studies.
That was the original plan, anyway.
Apicella never left Lake City, and he’s now the 2017 Morning News Baseball Coach of the Year. His Class 3A Panthers’ region and district titles were the fruition of four previous years of building.
Whether it was as part of Lake City High School or even Lake City Junior Legion, Apicella kept his players together and they became more than just brothers.
They became good ball players.
“Definitely, staying healthy and getting Jalen Barr back was a huge addition to the team,” Apicella said of Barr after Barr missed the 2016 season because of a football injury (Barr, also the South Team Offensive MVP in the North-South all-star football game, has signed to play football at The Citadel). “He was a missing piece in 2016, so being able to put him back in the lineup, the kid had 41 huge hits. A boost for the team, overall.”
Apicella’s Panthers finished the season 23-8 after going 15-11 last year. Lake City was 11-13 in 2014 and 10-12 in ’15.
“It’s good to see the fruits of your labor,” said Apicella, an all-state pitcher/catcher at Shadyside (Ohio) High School. “We spent a lot of time with the boys from the time they were 12 years old and started coaching them in junior legion. We just had them year round and chemistry was built among the kids and parents and coaches.
“When kids know you care, they’ll walk through fire for you.”
Apicella, who has been the Panthers’ coach since 2010, arrived in Lake City in 2001 and was an assistant under Greg Street and then Jason Cook (Street is now an assistant principal at Airport, and Cook is now principal at East Clarendon).
As Lake City’s coach since 2010 when Lake City won district. In 2011, the Panthers went on to win region in Class 2A.
But there’s something different about overseeing a region championship from its foundation on up.
“I liked building the relationships with the kids and watching them grow athletically and being a part of their lives and seeing those kids grow up into responsible young people,” said Apicella, whose team also won a Mingo Bay Classic championsihp. “I’ve always enjoyed that part of it.”
Ever the coach, though, Apicella is quick to spread credit to his assistants: Michael Clark, Jamison Estep, Casey Davis and Trey Parker.
“It’s a complete team effort,” Apicella said. “Those guys work like dogs. They never complained. Anything that pops in my mind, as far as weekend work or anything, they came through for us. They are a big part of the program. And, the relationships they built with the kids are right in line with my vision for the program.”