Looking at the schedule, it was another close loss for the Millville baseball team on Tuesday, a 9-8 defeat at the hands of Cape-Atlantic League-American Division rival Egg Harbor. It is the fourth straight loss for the Thunderbolts, three of which came by a single run with the other by just a two-run margin.
Yet this one was different.
Egg Harbor (10-3, 4-2 division) built a 9-0 lead through four and a half innings, only to see Millville storm back with eight runs over the final three innings. University of North Carolina commit and projected MLB Draft pick Buddy Kennedy stood at the plate with the tying and winning runs on base. Kennedy already blasted a line drive home run and a RBI-single in the previous innings. An epic comeback victory appeared within grasp. Yet, Eagles reliever Drew Hickman got the blue-chip prospect to fly out to right field on the first pitch and Egg Harbor hung on for the win.
However, if it is possible, the defeat Tuesday could have an unseen benefit.
"I think it feels different than the previous losses," Millville coach Roy Hallenbecksaid. "We've had a few bad days in a row. This one got real bad, real fast. I was really happy to see how our guys responded to that. When you're playing a close game, you're battling all the way through. You're fighting all the way through. A game like today, it gave our guys a chance to let up and they didn't. I'm proud of that."
Cory Kessler earned the win for Egg Harbor by allowing just three runs over five innings of work. Egg Harbor's Jordan Sweeney went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two RBI while reaching base in all four plate appearances. Clean-up hitter Cory Smith had two hits, two RBI and two runs scored as well.
"Our hitting is what we expected to be our strength, but we've also been playing really good defense and pitching well," said Sweeney. "Now that the hitting is finally getting there and coming around, we feel like we'll be dangerous in the playoffs."
Millville began its rally in the fifth with Kennedy's solo shot and a two-run homer by Nick Grotti. It then loaded the bases with nobody out to begin the bottom of the sixth before a RBI walk by Hunter Sibley and RBI single by Kennedy made it 9-5. But Egg Harbor reliever Mike Dodd induced an inning-ending double play ground ball to minimize the damage. In the seventh, Millville put its first two runners on base. After a sacrifice fly and a RBI double from Tyler Ramos, Sibley reached on an error that scored another Millville run to make it 9-8 and bring Kennedy to the plate.
"I was just trying to hit the outside part of the plate, because I know he can drive basically everything else, and make him (fly out to right field)," said Hickman, a senior who has been a starting pitcher the last two seasons, but did pitch in relief during his sophomore year. "This wins means a lot for us. I think the last six years we’ve been 1-12 against (Millville). Coach (Bryan Carmichael) let us know that before the year, so we've been wanting to get some wins back."
Egg Harbor scored single runs in each of the first three innings and Kessler managed to work around Thunderbolt base runners in Millville's first three at-bats. Kessler got a key strikeout to end the bottom of the third after Millville loaded the bases with three singles.
The Eagles kept the momentum and broke things open with three runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings. Smith had a two-run single in the top of the fourth, followed by an RBI single by Connor Agostino. In the fifth inning, Robbie Petracci roped an RBI double, which was followed by Sweeney's two-run double — his second two-bagger of the game.
Egg Harbor plays three games in the next three days beginning Wednesday with Oakcrest (9-6). Millville (6-6, 3-4) looks to snap its now four-game losing streak Wednesday against Buena (8-7).0