By DAVE O'SULLIVAN
ATLANTIC CITY -- Coming into the 2017 state playoffs, the Egg Harbor Township baseball team wanted another shot at Clearview Regional, the team that bounced the Eagles from the postseason a year ago. The Eagles will get that opportunity thanks to some big hits from Connor Agostino and Kyle Transue, and an efficient pitching outing from Drew Hickman in a crisp 4-0 win over Kingsway on Wednesday at the Chelsea Heights turf field.
Hickman wasn't overpowering, registering just four strikeouts in seven innings, but peppered the strike zone and allowed just two hits, one walk and one hit batsman. He also got some solid defense from right fielder Robbie Petracci, who made a diving grab on a low liner in the second, and shortstop Andrew Fowler, who gobbled up many of the ground-ball outs Hickman induced.
"I just wanted to pound the strike zone. We played them twice earlier in the year, so I knew what they had. We've been doing a great job defensively. This is probably our best defensive year in a long time, and I just needed to let them work. Fowler is having a heck of a year, making all the plays. There was a game a couple of weeks ago where he made two plays and I was just like, 'wow.' He's been really good," Hickman said. "I knew I didn't have to overpower anybody. Pitching to contact is an easy thing to do, and I just let my fielders do the work."
"Drew was pounding the strike zone all game. His fastball was on, and he was spotting that really well. And when he needed his curveball, he located that pitch well," said senior catcher Dante DiPalma. "I didn't have to worry about wild pitches or anything. I just set up where I wanted the pitch, and he hit the spots."
The second-seeded Eagles advance into the quarterfinals, where they will face No. 7 Clearview, which dispatched 10th-seeded Williamstown with a 6-3 victory on Tuesday afternoon.
Egg Harbor Township took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Fowler scored on a booming double to left-center by Agostino, who had a pair of doubles in the game. The Eagles then loaded the bases on walks to Nick Milhan and Transue, but Kingsway pitcher Mike Baisiello fanned DiPalma to get out of the jam.
Transue came up in a big spot in the third and delivered when he drilled a two-run double to left, scoring Jordan Sweeney and Agostino to make it 3-0.
"It was a 3-0 count and I knew he was going to throw a fastball right down the middle. In batting practice the past couple of days I've been hitting really well," Transue said. "Usually, I look over to see if (coach Bryan Carmichael) gives me the take sign. He didn't, so I was swinging."
EHT tacked on another run on an RBI single to left from DiPalma, and Hickman did the rest. He allowed just one hit and four base runners over his final four innings of work.
"He had great defense behind him today, and he was throwing great. He threw a lot of ground balls, which made it easy on us," said Transue, the Eagles' third baseman.
"We're playing really well," Hickman added. "This senior class has been playing together since we were about 7 years old, so we've been waiting for this time."
Three of the top four seeds are still alive, with No. 1 Eastern and No. 4 Rancocas Valley each advancing in the other side of the bracket. But EHT is playing with confidence and the Eagles believe they can match up with anybody in one of the toughest brackets in the state.
"We have so much energy, and that's really helping us," DiPalma said.
We're playing great right now. This is a team I know can win," Transue added. "We haven't played our best baseball yet, like coach Carmichael has been saying. We just need to keep polishing things and getting better."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays