BILL LECONEY, The Current Newspapers The Press of Atlantic City
MARLTON — Leave it to an unflappable freshman to strike one of the most dramatic blows in Egg Harbor Township High School baseball history.
The 12th-seeded Eagles pulled off their second straight playoff upset to advance to the sectional semifinals for the first time in school history. They will face top seed Clearview Regional on Tuesday in Mullica Hill. Clearview beat Toms River North 2-0 in another quarterfinal Thursday.
“I was just looking for a fastball and just trying to hit it hard somewhere, and it just went out,” Sweeney said. “We never give up. Anything’s possible with our team.”
The Eagles had to rally twice in this game. They scratched across a go-ahead run in the eighth inning on Nick Pera’s RBI single against Cherokee’s big left-handed ace, Chris Snyder, a pro prospect.
The Eagles thought they had won the game in the bottom of the eighth on a bang-bang play at the plate, but instead of that being the final out, it allowed Cherokee to tie the game and send it to another inning.
EHT’s Dante DiPalma hit a solo home run and a game-tying single in the fifth. He also led off the eighth inning with an infield single to ignite that rally. Andrew Holmes had three hits for the Eagles, and starting pitcher Drew Hickman battled into the fifth.
“We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, and that’s the way we play,” said Holmes, a senior. “There were polls on Twitter that had (Cherokee) 87 percent winning over us. We’ve played so many good teams this year and battled with all of them. We started out the season really poor, but we went on a seven-game winning streak with our backs against the wall. We might not have made the playoffs without that, but we just find a way to win, always.”
After beating No. 5 Williamstown in a first-round game this week, EHT (15-8) had another big hill to climb against No. 4 Cherokee.
It was a back-and-forth game with plenty of clutch hits and big defensive plays. EHT rallied from an early four-run deficit, then scored six in the second, capped by Holmes’ two-run single.
DiPalma’s solo home run gave the Eagles a three-run lead, but the Chiefs rallied with four runs in the fourth inning to take the lead. DiPalma’s single scored Holmes with the tying run in the EHT fourth, setting the stage for the final dramatics.
“That big lefty they threw (Snyder), he’s their dude, and we battled with him. Our kids weren’t intimated by him,” EHT coach Bryan Carmichael said. “Our kids were just so resilient today. We could have easily packed it in when it was 4-0 and said, ‘We don’t belong with these guys, and that’s what some (EHT) teams in the past may have done. These guys turn around and put a six-spot on the board, and they battle and battle.
“We’re scrappy, that’s the best way I can describe it,” he added. “I appreciate these kids so much because they’ve bought in to what the coaching staff is trying to teach, and it’s a pleasure to watch. When the wheels are in motion, it’s fun to watch.”