One pitch proved to be the difference on a warm afternoon for Audubon High School's baseball team.
That's a difficult point for an analytical mind to comprehend, but, in the end, that was the game-changer yesterday in the Green Wave's 4-2 win over host Haddon Township in a South Jersey Group 2 semifinal game. Audubon, which has now won 13 of 14, will play Buena, a 4-1 winner over Woodstown, in the South Jersey final on Friday.
That wouldn't be the case if not for one pitch.
"[Ryan Easterday] made one mistake and it hurt us," Township coach Doug Richardson said. "We wanted it up again. He got too much of the plate 0-2.
"He pitched an unbelievable game for us, and he has done that for us all season long. It's a shame it comes down to that pitch, but that's baseball."
Over the first 5 1/2 innings, neither offense had many answers for Easterday and his Audubon counterpart, starter Kevin Kraemer.
Until Haddon Township came to the plate in the sixth, only one runner had reached third, as both coaches preached patience. Township scored a pair of runs in the inning to take a 2-0 lead, and Easterday, who struck out 11 over eight innings, cruised into the seventh primed for a shutout.
"We tell these kids from Day 1 to never give up," Audubon coach Rich Horan said. "They've bought in to it. This is high school baseball, and anything can happen when you put the ball in play."
Designated hitter Tom Dyer led off the seventh with a single through the left side on a 1-2 count and went to second on a wild pitch. After a strikeout, Tyler Urban singled up the middle on a fastball to pull Audubon within 2-1. After another strikeout, Audubon's No. 9 hitter, junior Chris Borgesi, stepped to the plate and quickly fell behind 0-2.
"I was thinking he was going to come with another fastball," said Borgesi, who swung wildly at an eye-high fastball to fall into the predicament. "I didn't look for the curve. I looked for another fastball up."
Instead, he got a fastball down the pipe and singled into right to keep the inning and game going.
"That's their No. 9 hitter and you could feel the momentum change, once it went back to the top of the lineup," Richardson conceded.
John Flacco's single tied the game at 2-2, and, even though Township got out of the inning, this game looked earmarked for an Audubon win.
Audubon went to reliever Wade Geis, who many thought would start the game, for the final two innings, and Haddon Township mustered a pair of baserunners, but nothing more.
"Kevin earned the start," Horan said of his sophomore starter, who struck out eight in six innings. "He's pitched in relief the last few games and he earned a chance to start today. You look at the game he pitched, and you can see that he more than went pitch-for-pitch with Easterday."
Easterday stayed in the game to start the eighth, and Audubon chipped away. Brian Flacco reached on an infield single. Geis, the Wave's cleanup hitter, reached on a bunt down the first-base line in which he almost left the baseline. Dyer sacrificed both runners over and, after a strikeout, Urban had his second chance at stardom on the afternoon.
"The at-bat before this one, I hit a fastball for a single," Urban said. "I was looking for a curve, because I knew and he knew I hit a fastball in the seventh. I got my pitch."
Urban's single scored a pair of runs and set the stage for Friday's South Jersey title game. *
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