Posted on May 9, 2016
To say the Eagles were highly motivated to beat rival Mainland Regional goes without saying.
Brandon Riggs pitched a complete game shutout, allowing four hits and striking out four, and Ryan Baruffi broke a scoreless tie with a two-run double in the fifth inning to lead the Eagles to an 8-0 win over Mainland.
Jordan Sweeney hit a solo home run and Nick Milhan and Andrew Holmes also had RBI hits for EHT, which hadn’t played in nine days because of the recent inclement weather.
The win over the two-time defending South Jersey Group III champion was huge for the Eagles in terms of NJSIAA power points earned. They came into their 15th game, the number needed for playoff eligibility, as the No. 16 seed in the South Jersey Group IV playoff race, but should move up several spots with Monday’s win, their sixth straight after a 3-6 start.
“This was a great turning point, not only for me but for the whole team,” said Riggs, who was the tough-luck loser in a 3-0 loss to Mainland last month. “We had a rough start at the beginning of the season, so this was a huge win for us. I took it almost as a playoff game. We had to survive it and win.”
Riggs, a senior, dueled Mainland starter Cornelius Masterson through four scoreless innings, getting out of mild trouble in the third.
Sweeney opened the EHT fifth with a single and went to third on a one-hop double off the fence by Kyle Transue. After Andrew Fowler walked to load the bases, Baruffi ripped a line drive double to left to plate two runs. Another run scored on a groundout by Nick Pera, and Baruffi came home on a wild pitch to make it 4-0.
“I had a couple tough at-bats earlier as the leadoff batter, trying to grind out the pitcher a little bit,” Baruffi said. “I knew with the runners on I had to get aggressive, and when I got an early in the count fastball, I had to do something with it. It was definitely my biggest hit this year.”
Milhan hit an RBI double in the fifth, and the Eagles (9-6) added threw more in the sixth on Sweeney’s home run, an infield error and an RBI single by Holmes.
EHT coach Bryan Carmichael said he challenged his team when it was 3-6 and in need of an attitude adjustment to salvage its season. The Eagles had won five straight, including a tournament championship at West Deptford, before shutting it down for more than a week because of the rain-soaked fields.
“We hadn’t even practiced since Friday,” Carmichael said. “We came out with an Opening Day attitude. We knew there was a bunch of power points on the line, and these guys responded.
“Brandon Riggs was 0-3 with three saves this season, but he’s pitched great in every game. I’m glad we were able to get him a victory today.”
It wasn’t lost on seniors Riggs, Baruffi, Holmes and others that this was their last chance to beat Mainland, EHT’s traditional top rival.
“It’s been a big thing ever since freshman year,” Riggs said. “It’s been my main goal, to beat them.”
“This game was marked on my calendar for a couple weeks now,” Baruffi said. “Everybody was up and ready to go, and it was just about everybody stepping up and doing their job. It’s a great rivalry. I’m glad to come out on top in this one.”
The Eagles face Vineland, Holy Spirit and Atlantic City later this week before finding out early next week where they will land in the Group IV playoff seedings. Monday’s win certainly makes that wait much more bearable.
“Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen,” Carmichael said. “It’s a wide open field this year. Anybody can win it, from one to 16, and we feel like we have as good a chance as anybody.”