By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — A rebuilding baseball team begins to turn the corner when it learns how to bounce back from tough losses and put them in the review mirror.
Earlier this month, Ocean City lost 8-2 to Egg Harbor Township, but rebounded with big wins over Mainland Regional and Cedar Creek to keep its hold on first place in the Cape-Atlantic League’s National Conference. But on Wednesday, the Red Raiders got tripped up in a 5-4 road loss to Oakcrest. They bounced back in fine fashion on Friday afternoon, using a 10-run outburst in the third inning to cruise to a 13-3 win over Oakcrest in the second matchup with the Falcons in three days.
The win allowed Ocean City (10-8, 8-2) to keep a one-game lead on Mainland and Absegami in the loss column in the CAL National standings. More importantly, it gives the Red Raiders some confidence heading into the final week of regular-season games before the playoffs begin.
Senior Nate McCallum had a decent start on the mound, but Oakcrest (14-9, 5-5) scored a couple of early runs to take a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the second.
Jailen Heard doubled and scored on an Alec Rodriguez sacrifice fly in the first, and Jonny Dodson drove in a run in the second on an infield single — the 100th hit of his career — as the Falcons took a 2-1 lead. Oakcrest plated another run on an infield error to extend its lead to 3-1.
Ocean City cut the deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the second inning when Colton Ulmer scored on a wild pitch, and the Red Raiders exploded for 10 runs in the third to take a 12-3 lead and blow the game wide open.
“I had 76 pitches, and I threw a little bit Tuesday,” McCallum said of coach Craig Mensinger’s decision to lift him after one batter in the fourth. “I couldn’t really find the strike zone early on. I was kind of dancing all around it.”
McCallum didn’t need to pitch much after that third inning outburst, however, as the Red Raiders had the game firmly in control.
Isaac Robertson got things started off with a single to right field off Oakcrest starter Jack Markley, and a walk and an error on a potential sacrifice bunt plated Robertson with the tying run. That’s when things started getting off track for the Falcons. A walk to Ulmer loaded the bases, and Anthony Campbell was hit by a pitch to force in the go-ahead run as Ocean City took a 4-3 lead. Markley was lifted in favor of Andrew Powell, but Brandon Lashley drew a walk to force in another run before Matt Fumo drilled a two-run double to center field to make it 7-3. Robertson and Dan Nunan added bases-loaded walks as the lead reached 9-3, and after Parker Bristol drove in a run on a fielder’s choice, McCallum helped himself out with a two-run double to left-center field.
“It felt good to have everybody on the bench cheering. We haven’t been talking it up the past couple of games, and that helped a lot today. It gives us some momentum going into next week,” McCallum said. “The playoffs are coming up soon, so we definitely want to be making every play we can and hitting the ball. Our confidence is up.”
“That was great. I think that was our highest scoring inning all year and that’s nice to have. April was a little shaky, but we’re starting to pull everything together. If we keep pulling it together, I think we’ll be in good shape for the playoffs,” said fellow senior Matt Lashley. “I think the talent is there, the biggest thing is we have to play as a team. When we play as a team, we can win games. It’s as simple as that.”
Brandon, the younger Lashley, came on to pitch three scoreless innings for the Red Raiders, and Frank Piernikoski laced an RBI single to right in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the game via the 10-run rule.
“This was definitely a good game. We need to keep playing like this and coming together as a team,” Matt Lashley said. “It was nice to come back and beat them at home. We’re piecing things together now, and when guys get subbed in and they come through, that’s great.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN