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Sam Carchidi: A salute to Pennsville

In Journalism 101, you are taught to accentuate the winners, not the losers, when covering a sporting event. Well, duh.

In Journalism 101, you are taught to accentuate the winners, not the losers, when covering a sporting event.

Well, duh.

But, with all due respect to Jack Gillespie - the great professor I took for as many courses as possible during my days at Glassboro State College in the 1970s - this is time for an exception.

This is time to salute the losers, the Pennsville Eagles, for their remarkable six-year run in the NJSIAA baseball playoffs.

The Eagles dropped a 3-1 decision to Pitman Tuesday in a South Jersey Group 1 semifinal, thus ending a string of six straight sectional titles - one shy of the area record, set by Cherry Hill West from 1987 to 1993.

Pitman avenged a pair of regular-season losses and ended Pennsville's streak of 18 consecutive playoff wins in South Jersey, dating to 2002.

Think about that. Eighteen consecutive wins in the pressure-packed playoffs, where it's one loss and you go home.

And it's even more remarkable when you consider that baseball is the most fickle of scholastic sports. More poorly seeded teams win titles in baseball than in any other sport. There are numerous reasons, including the fact that a great pitcher can neutralize a great team. Another factor: There's more luck in baseball - hard-hit balls that are smacked right at fielders - than in other sports.

Put it all together and it's downright amazing that Pennsville was able to survive for six straight years.

"Baseball is the one sport where being the better team doesn't mean you win," Ryan "Woody" Wood said yesterday, one day after his final game as Pennsville's coach. "During the run, we beat teams that were better than us. There were a number of games where we were on the ropes or playing a team that was flat-out better than us and, somehow, our kids found ways to win. It's been impressive. It blows my mind to win 18 in a row."

Before the season, Wood told his team he would step down after the year; that's the same thing he told the Pennsville basketball team before the 2007-08 season.

Wood is resigning to spend more time with his family, which grew Tuesday when his wife gave birth to Marley, the couple's fourth child - all under the age of 4.

Since the birth of his third child 1½ years ago, Wood has been on an unpaid family medical leave from his job as a Pennsville health and physical-education teacher.

"He was able to stay home with the kids during the day - while his wife got her career started as an attorney - and coach at night [or late in the afternoon]," Pennsville athletic director Jamy Thomas said. "But he's going to go back in the classroom in September, and he knew he had to give something up."

He is stepping down as the baseball and basketball head coach - being replaced by Matt O'Brien and Kevin Mulhern, respectively - while remaining as a football assistant.

"I can't give it all up. I need to do something," Wood said. "But there's a huge difference in responsibility in being a head coach or an assistant as far as the time you put in with the meetings and dinners and paperwork."

Thomas said Pennsville's six-year run as a baseball champion had a lot to do with Wood (career record: 172-50 in eight years) and with the town's devotion to baseball.

"When you see the dedication and time the kids put in, it's a testament to what they do all year long - not just March to May, but June to March," the athletic director said.

During the off-season, it's not unusual to see the town's elementary schools filled with youth baseball players doing drills at night with their coaches.

"Kids in this town have a real liking for baseball, and they put the time in," Thomas said. "These are grade-school and middle-school kids, and our [high school] kids are playing Legion in the summer and fall ball. There's really a commitment to baseball."

"Whatever I ask the kids to do they always try to do," Wood said. "I'm not in a situation where we have attitude problems or have to convince the kids to do things. The kids have been the greatest."

Which is why, even after a rare loss in the NJSIAA tournament, we are saluting Pennsville.