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Fireflies End Historic Season with Winning Record

October 12, 2023

This year, the Columbia Fireflies did something they have never done in franchise history—they finished the year above .500. Accumulating a 66-65 record across 131 games, the Fireflies jumped out to a fantastic start this year behind a ridiculous pitching unit. The year started with a rotation of David Sandlin,

This year, the Columbia Fireflies did something they have never done in franchise history—they finished the year above .500. Accumulating a 66-65 record across 131 games, the Fireflies jumped out to a fantastic start this year behind a ridiculous pitching unit.

The year started with a rotation of David Sandlin, Ben Kudrna, Frank Mozzicato, Shane Panzini, Ryan Ramsey, Mauricio Veliz and Steven Zobac, who led the way to the club’s 3.19 ERA in the first half of the season, the best ERA in all of Minor League Baseball.

Not only was the team phenomenal on a macro scale, but they also set a host of individual-game franchise records over the course of the first half. Mozzicato punched out 13 Fayetteville Woodpeckers April 18 at Segra Park, setting down Tony Dibrell’s previous franchise mark of 11, which was recorded April 26, 2018 against the Charleston RiverDogs. The southpaw’s balmy numbers started early, as he struck out the second-though-eighth batters that he faced in the game that ended on a walk-off bunt and throwing error from Omar Hernandez. In addition to that, Columbia also broke their single-game strikeout record only a few days prior to that. Sandlin started the game, spinning five frames and whiffing nine hitters before he passed the ball to Zobac. The righty wrung up all six batters he faced before Samuel Valerio struck out a pair in the eighth and Eduardo Herrera retired all three batters in the ninth via the strikeout. All-in-all, it gave Columbia 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game for the first time in franchise history.

In this circumstance, it’s also important to talk about some of the career-best records that this team set. The bullpen was absolutely stellar this season, and it all started with a big-three in the pen. John McMillon, Cooper McKeehan and Ben Sears anchored the back of the best pitching units in the Carolina League to start the season. McMillon only pitched in nine games in Columbia this season, going 4-4 in save opportunities before getting the promotion to Quad Cities and, eventually the Majors, becoming the first Fireflies player to go from Soda City to the Show in one year.

After that, both Cooper McKeehan and Ben Sears played out of their minds prior to being promoted to Quad Cities. McKeehan was 11-12 in save opportunities, setting the second-most saves in a single season in franchise history for Columbia behind a 1.08 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. McKeehan’s 1.08 ERA was the lowest ERA for a Carolina League pitcher who has thrown at least 50 innings since Corbin Burnes recorded a 1.05 ERA in 60 innings across 10 starts for the Carolina Mudcats in 2017. While holding the second-most saves in Fireflies history, he was also able to etch eight wins, just two shy of the Fireflies franchise record of 10, set by Jordan Humphrey. Sears also recorded a top-10 franchise mark in saves, tying Luis Barroso with nine saves in 11 opportunities this year.

The three high schoolers, Mozzicato, Kudrna and Panzini, who joined the club half-way through the 2022 season, all graduated to Quad Cities during the season, but Mozzicato got to take home a special mark for Columbia. The seventh selection of the 2021 draft struck out 85 hitters in 56.1 innings this season, which gave him 174 career strikeouts in the neon and navy, dethroning Tony Dibrell for the most punchouts in Fireflies history.

Finally, Ryan Ramsey made franchise history, spinning 30.2-consecutive innings without allowing a run, surpassing Adonis Uceta’s previous franchise mark of 29.1 that was set in 2017.

Pitching wasn’t the only story of the season though. The bats paced their way to eight walk-off winners, including the club’s second walk-off grand slam. First baseman Brett Squires did the honors September 2 in game two of a doubleheader sweep against the Delmarva Shorebirds. It was fitting that it was Brett Squires who hit the grand slam as he led the Fireflies in nearly every offensive category this season and cracked the top-10 in hits, homers, RBI, total bases and stolen bases this season.

There were a few mind-blowing performances that stuck out at the plate this season, David Hollie had a four homer day and a three home run game against the Augusta GreenJackets April 30 that propelled the way to the Fireflies first Carolina League Player of the Week award of the season. Austin Charles and Trevor Werner were both able to earn a Player of the Week award before the end of the season. Werner posted video game numbers down the stretch, hitting .354 in 34 games in Columbia while homering eight times and driving in 36 RBI. The Texas A&M product had a 1.158 OPS in the circuit.

Jean Ramirez hit the Fireflies first inside-the-park homer since Mark Vientos cycled the bases July 12, 2019 this April against the Augusta GreenJackets to earn his first home run of the season. Meanwhile, Squires became the first Fireflies player to homer in three-consecutive games since Ramirez did so last season. Those two are the only pair to accomplish that feat for Columbia and they both shared a dugout for the bulk of the summer.

We also saw the next wave of Fireflies make their Major League debuts this season. This year, Allan Winans, John McMillon, Ryder Ryan, Ronnie Mauricio and Tyler Cropley made their Major League debuts, bringing Columbia's total to 24 Major Leaguers since the club moved to the Soda City in 2016. McMillon became the first Fireflies player to play for the Fireflies and a Major League team in the same season.

All-in-all, it was a fantastic season, with some incredible moments that 219,277 fans were able to witness over 61 games at Segra Park during the 2023 campaign. Fans were able to witness the Fireflies largest come-from-behind victory against the Pelicans May 2, as the team trailed 6-0 and 8-3 at different points, but won on a walk-off blast from Erick Pena to cap off the ninth frame. Fans were treated to the first pre-game concert in Fireflies history on Faith and Family night this season and, of course, the fans were able to watch the Fireflies while they were in first place for 32-consecutive games, the longest-such stretch in franchise history.

What will next year hold? There’s only one way to find out. Follow along for updates on the new season at