IT'S A BEAUTIFUL day to get out and watch some baseball, so here's a look at the South Jersey title games being played today (all games begin at 4 p.m.).
Lenape at Toms River North
The top two teams advanced to this final, but they certainly took different paths in doing so.
Top-seeded Toms River North had little trouble in moving on, posting a 7-2 win over Cherry Hill West and then thumping Cherry Hill East, 20-10, on Tuesday.
Lenape, the No. 2 seed, made two major comebacks to reach the finals, scoring in the bottom of the seventh inning in each game to get the win.
Playing No. 10 Mainland last week, Lenape's Ryan Laval knocked in Kevin Crook with a single in the bottom of the seventh to secure the 7-6 win. Lenape trailed 5-0, and still was behind by 5-2 entering the bottom of the sixth.
Then on Tuesday, the Indians scored four times in the last inning to steal a 6-5 win against sixth-seeded Toms River South. Derek Johnson, Dan Scalia and Brian Black all knocked in runs in that decisive inning, the other coming via a Toms River South error.
There seems to be something special going on here for coach Phil Fiore's club. On Wednesday, the Indians clinched the Olympic Conference American Division with a 5-4 win over Washington Township. The Indians are 20-4 and have won five in a row.
Coach Ted Schelmay's Mariners (22-4) have been ranked in the top five of the state pretty much all season. Staff ace Zach Brebner could get the start for the Mariners.
Prediction: Lenape 7, Toms River North 6, in extra innings, of course.
Clearview at Timber Creek
Clearview is, without a doubt, the talk of the tournament. The Pioneers (14-9) have climbed through the bracket from their No. 9-seeding and upset No. 8 Delsea in the first round, then shocked top-seeded Shawnee in the quarterfinals before trimming 13th-seeded Cumberland, 2-1, on Tuesday.
The Pioneers have been getting terrific pitching throughout the tournament as they have allowed a total of eight runs in their three wins.
Sean Taylor, who went six strong innings in his start against Shawnee, and Mike Hand, who got the win in relief against Shawnee and went the distance against Cumberland, have been the horses for coach Rocco Cornacchia.
Timber Creek (13-6) has been doing some imitation of the Phillies' offense lately, scoring 34 runs over the past four games. A balanced offense has been key for the second-seeded Chargers during the tournament. If they can start hitting early against Clearview, they will pile up some runs.
Prediction: Most Cinderella stories eventually come to an end. But not this one. Clearview 4, Timber Creek 3.
Buena at Audubon
Audubon (14-7) is one of the best hitting teams in the area, as the fifth-seeded Green Wave averages more than eight runs a game. Shortstop and No. 3 hitter Steve Rizzo and sophomore pitcher Wade Gies have been hammering the ball all season, particularly in the tournament, and leadoff hitter Zach Fadio has been setting the table for them all season. Coach Rich Horan doesn't just rely on his offense, however. Gies, who is 6-2, probably will get the start in this one. The Audubon defense is led by Rizzo and second baseman Kyle Urban.
Sixth-seeded Buena (17-8) has gotten two pitching gems in the tournament from Mike Ney in advancing to the title game. In the past two games, the 6-2, 160-pound senior has struck out 19 and allowed only five runs.
Prediction: Audubon 7, Buena 3. Rizzo, the perfect team player, is too good offensively and defensively to let his team lose.
Pitman at Maple Shade
To be the best, you have to beat the best. Second-seeded Pitman (18-5) certainly did that on Tuesday with its 3-1 win over Pennsville. The Eagles had won the previous six Group 1 titles before Pitman used the pitching of Rob Cressman and some terrific defense to put an end to not only Pennsville's run, but to the coaching career of Ryan Wood.
"We've been a hitting team all year, but in the playoffs, when things get a little tighter, our defense has certainly shined so far," coach Gene Reid said of his Panthers, and it's certainly true. Cressman, a junior, has picked up both wins, allowing only one run in each game. It helps that he has stellar fielding, including catcher Kevin Briggs. Pitman, with the ultrahyper Reid jumping and shouting from near the dugout, is very fundamentally sound.
The Panthers will have to be to beat top-seed Maple Shade (16-3), which is seeking its first sectional crown since 1982. The Wildcats have gotten good pitching all year from Chris Szymczak, who won the semifinal game over Gloucester and also drove in two runs. Interestingly, the Wildcats' three lowest-scoring games, in which they produced zero, one and three runs, were their only losses. In their 16 wins, they have put up an average of more than 10 a game.
Prediction: A higher-scoring game than most will expect. We'll say Maple Shade 7, Pitman 5.
Noticed a hospital band on the wrist of Pennsville coach Ryan Wood the other day during his team's game at Pitman. Turns out his wife gave birth to their fourth child that day. Though his team lost the game, it had to be a stellar day for Wood. *