Pinelands Baseball Team Scores First Divisional Win of New Season

By DAVID BIGGY | Apr 11, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands starter Noah Dean fires to the plate during the Wildcats’ 3-2 victory over Barnegat on April 5.

At this time of year, especially with the weather still blustery and cool, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the potential of a high school baseball team. Following the Pinelands Regional contest against Shore Conference Class B South foe Barnegat on April 5, it was very much up in the air just how good either squad might be four weeks from now.

“I believe we’re going far this season,” said junior pitcher Noah Dean, who tossed his first three innings of the season during the Wildcats’ 3-2 victory over the Bengals. “We’re a strong team. We have a lot of talented players and a good pitching staff. We’re solid defensively. We just have to hit the ball more consistently.”

Of course, trying to hit the ball when it’s barely 40 degrees with a 30-degree wind chill isn’t the easiest thing to do, and the Wildcats didn’t generate much offense throughout the game, scattering seven hits. The Bengals were less productive, tallying four hits off Dean and Sean O’Rourke, who picked up the save with four innings of solid relief.

However, runs were produced, mainly because the pitchers had a tough time gripping the ball and tossed a bunch of wild pitches. Anthony Diaz led off the game by reaching on an error and scored after Barnegat starter Liam Corbett misfired to the plate several times while walking the next two batters, Nick Rapallo and O’Rourke. Fortunately, Corbett was able to strike out the next three to keep the deficit at 1-0.

After Dean got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, the Bengal got on the scoreboard in the third, when a one-out walk to Lukas Torres ultimately resulted in him scoring on a wild pitch to tie the game going into the fourth.

Billy Crawford led off the Pinelands fourth with a walk, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Bobby LeFevre, and scored when Bryce O’Rourke reached on an error. Diaz then singled to center field to score O’Rourke from second, making it 3-1.

After Sean O’Rourke fanned five of the first seven batters he faced during the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, the Bengals mustered a run in the sixth when Tyler Sudam led off with a double to center, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout off the bat of Corbett.

The Bengals (0-3) had the tying run on second base in the seventh, but a game-ending double play gave the Wildcats their first win of the new season.

“I have this neon green undershirt I started wearing last year, so I brought it back this year,” said O’Rourke, who ended up striking out six with no walks. “My mom got it for me as a birthday present, and it’s kind of like my lucky charm now.”

Despite an opening-day, 4-3 loss to Central, the win over Barnegat had a bit more importance to it, given it was a divisional victory.

“I just wanted to come in and do my job to get us the win,” O’Rourke said. “This was a big win right off the bat, because we’re going after B South this season. Our goal is to win the division and this was the start of that. It was huge to set the tone for the rest of the season. The Central game was a wake-up call for us. It made us realize that we are beatable and we have to play every game like it’s a big one.”

Fortunately, the season is only a week old and there’s plenty more baseball to play. Still, Dean said he and his teammates need to get things working well sooner rather than later because the next seven weeks will go by fast.

“We can’t make errors, and we have to hit our spots when we’re pitching,” he said. “We have to do the job with the bats. We have to do all the little things right. But we’re confident that we’ll start playing better.”

Unfortunately, the Wildcats (1-2) took a hit to their plans of winning B South the next day during a 7-5, extra-inning loss to Manchester, after the Hawks scored twice in the top of the eighth to grab the win. Peter Hammond threw 6 1/3 solid innings, scattering nine hits with three earned runs, a pair of walks and five strikeouts on 96 pitches.

Trailing 4-3 heading into the seventh, the Hawks scored twice to grab the lead, but Pinelands bounced back with a run in the bottom of the seventh to tie it , 5-5. The Wildcats managed 13 hits, as Dean went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, Hammond went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Diaz and Rapallo each went 2-for-5.

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