OFTEN TIMES WHEN watching the Haddon Township offense, one can only shake a head or shrug shoulders and think: When it rains, it pours.
As threatening storm clouds approached Township's home field, and with the South Jersey Group 2 title game scoreless heading into the bottom of the fourth, the Hawks started their customary hitting barrage. Over their next two at-bats and in about 45 minutes of time, Township rained hits all over the field and secured a five-inning, 10-0 mercy rule win over Cinnaminson, just before the rain and thunder and lightning poured over the area.
"They started playing with a little confidence at the plate and they're a good hitting team," said Cinnaminson coach Kevin Merrill, whose young team fell to 19-6. "They've done it all year long. They've had big inning after big inning after big inning to a lot of teams. To their credit, they hit the ball. They can flat out hit the ball."
Yesterday, in front of a huge crowd, it took Township a little time to do it, but once it did, stopping it was hopeless.
"We hit the ball hard every game," said shortstop and nine-hitter Matt Donaldson. "We can put up runs. Even in our first two playoff games we put up 15 and 12. When we started to hit the ball the last couple of innings, we started to get it going."
The teams moved through the first four innings as if they were rushing to get to a prom. Part of it was due to anxious hitting, some may have been the impending weather. Most of it, however, was due to the good pitching from starting pitchers Trevor Sotell (Cinnaminson) and Township's Tyler Smith.
Then came the bottom of the fourth.
After Ryan Easterday (single), Frank Trautz (walk) and Rich Porreca (infield single) got on to load the bases, eight-hitter Bill Joyce singled to left for a 1-0 lead. The way the game was going, that run may have held up for the rest of the game. Turns out, it was just the beginning of yet another Hawks onslaught.
Donaldson, who hasn't seen many at-bats this season, laced a full-count pitch off the bottom of the fence in left for a double that scored two more. Mike McGee, Ian Lindsay, Smith and Easterday would each knock in runs later in the inning, which produced 13 batters and seven runs.
"I don't really get to bat that much because I get DH'd for," said Donaldson, who finished the day 2-for-3. "But I've been hitting the ball hard in practice and in the last couple of games. He threw me a little 3-2 curveball. It kind of hung up there a little bit and I hit it hard."
Which is kind of the theme of the Hawks, who improved to 23-4 and won their second sectional title (the other coming in 1979).
"Everybody's hitting the ball well right now," said Township coach Dave Dale. "I mean, Matt Donaldson hasn't hit a ball that far in his life. A lot of these kids, I've DH'd for in spots, I've pinch-hit them in spots and I haven't had one complaint. They've accepted their role, whatever it might be, and it's paid off."
After taking the 7-0 lead, Smith shut down the Pirates in order in the top of the fifth, and as the rain started to fall, the Township players and fans were fully aware that three more runs would end it.
With the way the Hawks have been swinging, it was almost a foregone conclusion. They had scored 116 runs in their last eight wins (14.5 average).
Engel got a one-out single and advanced to third on a stolen base and throwing error. He was brought in on a single by McGee, who then advanced to second on a bobble in right. With two outs, Smith scored McGee with a single. Easterday then followed with a blast to left-center that bounced up against the fence and scored the 10th and winning run.
No confirmation whether someone upstairs is a Hawks fan, but a loud roar of thunder accompanied the winning run.
As much as the hitting contributed to the win, Smith was masterful on the mound, allowing only one hit, while striking out seven in his five-inning, complete-game gig.
"I had my changeup working today," said Smith, who also went 2-for-3 with two RBI. "I was going back and forth between that and my fastball. It worked for me today."
As did the offense, which, after getting two hits in the first three innings, exploded for 11 over the final two to win the team's fourth game in as many days.
"They're hot, there's no reason not to play," said Dale. "We've been lucky that our starters have gone deep pretty much every game so we can play two, three, four games in a row.
"I was a little worried early on because we hadn't played in a tight game in a while. We've talked about it, but we haven't had a lot of practice time to work on [playing small ball]. You never expect to score the way we've been scoring, but they're playing with the utmost confidence now. I just kind of stand out of the way, write the lineup and let it go from there."
A recipe for a championship. *