By NICK KOSKO
LINWOOD — With the playoffs just two days away, Egg Harbor Township and Mainland didn’t have anything to play for at the home diamond of the Mustangs on Tuesday. However, considering the Eagles and Mustangs are local rivals and both high seeds in their respective playoff brackets, pride was on the line Tuesday afternoon.
After an eight-run first inning for EHT, the Eagles hung on for an 11-6 victory to remain undefeated. The Eagles (17-0), who went 24-1 last season, now have won 40 of their last 41 games, with their only loss coming in the 2016 Group 4 state championship game.
The Eagles are known for having a lot of talented, versatile players who can pitch or play great defense, and also hit. Tori Szrom is the prime example. Szrom, who pitched a solid seven innings for a complete game, tossed seven strikeouts and gave Mustangs batters fits all day long. She also drove in three runs off hits in the third and seventh innings.
Head coach Mary Dunlap, despite having her Eagles playing in what was referred to as a tune-up game, said she felt Szrom set the pace inside the circle, and backed it up in the batter’s box.
“We made some fundamental mistakes throughout, but we know how easily correctable they are,” Dunlap said. “Tori is very confident on the mound and one of her greatest strengths is to stay poised and get those outs even after giving up a run. She pitched well today.”
It wasn’t so easy for Szrom in the beginning. With a big cushion, Szrom gave up a two-run home run to Gab Monzo in the third inning that cut the lead 10-4, as Mainland seemed to gain some much-needed momentum. Junior Bailey Arena chipped in with a 4-for-4 day at the plate for Mainland (15-5).
Szrom bounced back, however. She gave up just two runs the rest of the way and forced a lot of pop-ups in addition to her strikeouts.
“I felt okay and I wanted it to take it one pitch at a time,” Szrom said. “They got to me a little early, but I was able to switch things up and go from there. I can never get discouraged when they get hits because they are all going to get hits. I just have to settle down whenever it happens and get back into my groove.”
Center fielder Emily MacNeil drove in two runs, good for second on the team. There was just one hit that eluded her. After earning two hits in the first inning, MacNeil had multiple chances to get one more, which would have earned her career hit No. 100.
She will just have to wait until the first round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs on Thursday. As the Eagles flash their No. 1 seeding against Jackson, Dunlap felt it was important to use the rivalry game against Mainland as a way to prepare for the postseason.
“We always take it one game at a time, but I thought this was a great way to prepare for the playoffs,” Dunlap said. “Mainland has been — and always will be — a rival. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, we are always ready to play Mainland. I thought this game was actually good for both of us today in order to get ready for the postseason. I’m glad we had a really competitive game before the playoffs because that gets us ready.”
With a target on their backs, EHT seems primed for another deep playoff run in the month of May.
“Today was all about pride but we wanted to go out there to win,” Szrom said. “The playoffs are our next step, but we want to be able to go one step at a time and end with a win.”
Follow Nick Kosko on Twitter @nickkosko59