By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Occasionally, Major League Baseball players take a day off, and many times that day off just happens to coincide with a really good starting pitcher taking the mound. Wednesday afternoon would have been a good day to take the day off for EHT or St. Augustine Prep hitters, because Jordan Sweeney and Kevin Eaise were dealing.
Sweeney, the standout EHT sophomore, and Eaise, a junior for the Hermits, traded zeroes until the seventh inning, when Prep rallied for a pair of runs with two outs to steal a 2-0 win on the Eagles’ home field.
With wins over Vineland and EHT in its past two games, the Hermits (12-4, 7-1) — who will play in the Diamond Classic on Saturday against Haddonfield at Washington Township High School — moved into first place in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference, one game ahead of Vineland (13-4, 8-2) in the loss column. The Eagles (13-4, 5-3) slipped into third place in the conference race.
The Hermits had a few chances to score early in the game, but Sweeney was able to work out of trouble in the second and fourth innings. In the fifth, Prep loaded the bases, but Cole Vanderslice was cut down at home trying to score on a wild pitch after a strikeout. St. Augustine finally got to Sweeney in the seventh despite the first two batters going down rather quietly.
It looked as though the Eagles might have a chance to win the game in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the seventh, but after those two quick outs, Jake Catalano squirted a single up the middle to keep the top of the seventh alive. Greg Elfreth then flared a single to left and Josh Hood followed with a sharp single to left, but Catalano wasn’t able to score. That brought up Eaise with a chance to help himself out.
“We’ve been doing this the whole year. We seem to always wait until the last minute (to score runs). It’s a little stressful. Sweeney was dealing and it was a tough game. I just wanted to come through because I didn’t earlier in the game,” Eaise said. “That’s what he’s been doing all year, and the other guys have been getting on base in front of me. I thought Josh gave us a run there, but I knew I had to step up and get that run in.”
Eaise did just that, lacing a single to left to put Prep up 1-0. Eagles coach Bryan Carmichael decided to go to the bullpen then, but reliever Drew Hickman walked Jack Billings to force in another run before getting out of the jam. Vanderslice came on in relief in the seventh and shut the door, getting three quick outs.
“Even when we are down, we’re still pretty confident because we know one hit can change everything and we can rally with two outs,” said Prep catcher Nick Lonetto.
“We tried to limit the damage. Credit to them, they did that all with two outs. We got two quick outs and then the put together four straight singles. Obviously, with bases loaded and two outs, and pitch-count wise he was at 101 pitches, it was time to turn it over,” Carmichael explained. “We had our top three pitchers available today. For me to come out here and say Jordan was going to throw 6 2/3 innings today, I would say that’s probably a stretch. But, to his credit, he came out and competed. I don’t necessarily think he was running out of gas. He got those two quick outs and then they had that dribbler through the middle. But give credit to them, they did everything they could to push a run across.”
Egg Harbor Township had its best chance to score in the third, loading the bases on a single by Andrew Fowler, a walk to Sweeney and a walk to Nick Milhan, but Eaise was able to get Connor Agostino to bounce into a fielder’s choice to keep the game scoreless.
“I knew they were a good team, and they played really well. I didn’t have fastball command pretty much the whole game, but the slider came up big. That was working for me. We knew this was going to be a good game. They play us tough every year and we knew this was going to be a test for what we have coming up later in the week,” Eaise said. “All these teams are good and are going to battle, so we just have to come out and battle every game and hopefully keep pulling out close wins against these good teams.”
“Early on, (Eaise) was struggling to get his fastball over for a strike, but as he settled down he was able to get his cutter over for strikes,” Lonetto said. “Since he was having trouble with the fastball, we decided to go with the cutter more because for some reason he throws that for a strike more consistently.”
Lonetto said the Hermits just had to be patient against Sweeney, who is emerging as one of the top pitchers in the Cape-Atlantic League in just his second varsity season.
“Early on, he was getting all of us. His pitch count was low, so we knew we would have to face him the whole game,” Lonetto said. “We just had to bear down in the last inning. Going into the seventh inning, we had to take more pitches because we had to make him work more. We were giving at-bats away too easily.”
Carmichael said his team will take a lesson from this loss.
“I’ve told these guys from Day One, we will be as successful as our bats allow us to be. Today, we only had two hits, and you’re not going to win too many baseball games with just two hits. I thought we did a good job putting the ball in play, but credit to those guys for making the plays. We put the ball in play, we just didn’t square the ball up very well today. But it’s something we’ll work on and we’ll learn from it. We have a lot of baseball still left in front of us. Here we are at May 10, and I still don’t think this team has played its best baseball yet,” he said. “It was a good baseball game. We went against a good arm today. I don’t know what his velo was, but I thought we battled in there. We just have to find a way to string a couple of hits together. They did that and we didn’t.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN