BILL LECONEY, The Current Newspapers The Press of Atlantic City
MULLICA HILL — The magic ran out for the Egg Harbor Township High School baseball team Tuesday, as the Eagles’ season ended in a 2-0 loss to top-seed Clearview Regional in a South Jersey Group IV semifinal.
But it wasn’t a magic formula that allowed the 12th-seeded Eagles to stay alive in the Group IV playoff chase well past their presumed expiration date.
“Our whole motto was, we were playing with house money, and we had nothing to lose,” said Bryan Carmichael. “We had opportunities today, we just didn’t capitalize.”
Clearview will play for the South Jersey title Friday against seventh-seeded Millville.
EHT senior Brandon Riggs allowed only one hit through the first four innings in a battle with Clearview right-hander Ryan Lauk.
Riggs walked the first batter he faced in the fifth and, after an infield throwing error and stolen base put two runners in scoring position, Clearview’s Steve Schanne broke the scoreless tie with a bloop single. The Pioneers scored a second run on another EHT error.
“You can’t do anything about it, it’s just baseball,” Riggs said. “A hit’s a hit, it doesn’t matter where it goes. They just hit it in the right spot at the right time.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles managed only two hits and struck out eight times against Lauk. Their best chance came in the sixth inning, as Andrew Fowler led off with a single and Ryan Baruffi walked. But pinch-runner Brady Kessler was forced out at third on a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, and Baruffi was thrown out trying to steal third.
In the seventh, Antonio Carballo led off with a single, but Lauk stranded him there with a strikeout, flyout and groundout.
“It was a tough one. We ran into a good arm today,” Carmichael said. “I told (Lauk) afterwards, ‘That’s a good baseball team you just shut down today.’ To hold us to two hits, the way we’ve been doing things the last month, that’s impressive. That’s baseball. They were just a little better than us.
“We were aggressive on the base paths, and some people might question me about that. But we were trying to win a baseball game, we were trying to make things happen. Kudos to (Clearview), they made the plays. They were one play better than us today.”
The Eagles had reached the semifinal round with back-to-back wins on the road against higher seeds Williamstown and Cherokee, the latter coming with extra-inning drama on a two-run home run by freshman Ryan Sweeney.
After a tough 3-6 start, the Eagles got a much-needed “attitude adjustment,” according to senior Nick Pera, and turned their season around with a late seven-game winning streak. They reached the sectional semifinal round for the first time in 16 years competing as a Group IV school.
“Everybody changed the way they looked at things, and we started playing and pulling for one another,” Pera said.
Pera will continue his academic and baseball career at Rutgers-Camden. “It went by pretty fast,” he said of his high school career. “I wish there was more to go. I wish I had more time here. I had a lot of fun for four years.”
“I love this team,” said Riggs, who will attend Penn State-Harrisburg in the fall. “We always fight, it doesn’t matter what the score is. We had a tough start, we could have packed it up and had a ‘wash’ season, but we didn’t do that. We just kept on fighting all the way through.”
Carmichael said the team will lose 11 seniors to graduation, including Riggs, Pera, Baruffi, Andrew Holmes and Luke Elwell.
“Every one of them contributed in some way this year, and every one of them will be missed,” Carmichael said. “I’m proud of every one of our kids, especially the senior class for buying in to what my coaching staff and I have asked them to do. They believe in what we’re doing. We’ve come a long way from where we first started, six years ago. To be battling the No. 1 seed in a 2-0 game on their home field ... That’s impressive.
“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Carmichael said. “By no means is there a sour taste in my mouth. No one expected us to be here, but we made the best of it. We went down swinging, and that’s high school baseball.”
Egg Harbor Township 000 000 0—0 2 1
Clearview Regional 000 020 0—2 6 1
WP—Lauk 8k. LP—Riggs 4k.