By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Holy Spirit won a state championship two years ago, when the current seniors were sophomores. The Spartans made an incredible run through the playoffs despite entering with a sub-.500 record. Now, all those sophomores are seniors, and they are hoping to cap their careers with perhaps another trophy.
They have a chance to win a trophy before the state playoffs even begin this year, as Spirit, winner of seven straight games, was selected as one of the six at-large teams in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic — the premier baseball tournament in South Jersey.
“We’re very excited. We were looking forward to it all day,” Spartans coach Steve Normane said. “Sitting at 15-3, we figured we had a pretty good shot, but you never know because there are only six at-large bids throughout all of South Jersey. So, obviously, there are some pretty good teams. We were just crossing our fingers and saying our prayers.”
The tournament features 10 teams currently leading their conference, who get the automatic bids, and six at-large bids to round out the field of 16. The Cape-Atlantic League, despite going to three conferences this year, has just two automatic bids and those went to Vineland and St. Joseph. For purposes of the Diamond selection, some teams in the CAL National are grouped in with CAL American teams, while the others are grouped in with CAL United teams. In effect, the CAL National’s leading team — in this case Ocean City — isn’t eligible for an automatic bid.
That left several teams, such as Ocean City (7-7), Mainland (10-4), St. Augustine Prep (11-4), Holy Spirit (15-3) and Egg Harbor Township (12-3) battling for at-large invitations. Only two CAL teams, Spirit and St. Augustine, were selected. Holy Spirit will take on Hammonton on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the second game at Hammonton, right after Audubon vs. Gloucester Catholic at 10:30 a.m. The Hermits will take on Haddonfield at Washington Township High School at 1 p.m., following the host Minutemen vs. St. Joseph, which begins at 10:30 a.m..
The games at Maple Shade feature the host team vs. Bishop Eustace at 10:30 a.m. followed by Eastern vs. Vineland at 1 p.m. Games at Deptford feature Haddon Heights vs. Shawnee at 10:30 a.m. followed by Cherry Hill West vs. Cinnaminson at 1 p.m.
Quarterfinals begin Saturday, May 20, with the semifinals and finals on Sunday, May 21. The championship game is played at Eastern Regional High School at 5 p.m. on May 21. Last season, Eastern took down Gloucester Catholic, 6-1, to win the championship.
Normane said his Holy Spirit players were on edge all afternoon, wanting to know if they had made the cut.
“I sent out a text to our team, and there were some pretty good reactions. We actually practiced today in the afternoon, and they kept asking, ‘when do we find out?’ I wasn’t sure. I knew it got announced at 6 p.m., but I wasn’t sure if we would be notified before,” Normane said. “We found out at 6 p.m. on Twitter just like everybody else.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN