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Maple Shade beats Pitman in sectional baseball final

It was the top of the seventh. Pitman trailed by one run with two outs but had the bases loaded.

It was the top of the seventh. Pitman trailed by one run with two outs but had the bases loaded.

The Pitman faithful, clad in orange and black, chanted "Two-out rally!" and stomped the silver bleachers. The blue-and-yellow-wearing Maple Shade fans yelled for "One more out!" and squeezed tighter together.

Between these dueling crowds stood Maple Shade pitcher Christian Rahman and Pitman's No. 5 hitter, Mike Healy.

The top-seeded Maple Shade Wildcats gritted their teeth and, just like their fans demanded, found that last out, squeezing past No. 2 Pitman, 5-4, in this South Jersey Group 1 sectional final at Maple Shade.

It was the Wildcats' first sectional title since 1982. They won without coach Mike "Buster" Webb, who was not present for yesterday's game. Assistant coach Justin Lazzery took over. No reason was given for Webb's absence.

Maple Shade (18-4) will face Robbinsville, winner of the Central Jersey Group 1 final over Florence, in the state semifinals on Tuesday.

Pitman had entered its final at-bat trailing by 5-3. After Rahman retired the first batter, Pitman's Steve Schuler singled. Rahman then picked up his ninth strikeout.

The Panthers' Rob Cressman drove a long double to center field, scoring Schuler.

Rahman walked Pitman's next batter, Jay Pogue. Then clean-up hitter Kevin Gibbs drove a grounder deep in the hole. Only a solid play by Wildcats shortstop Jerry Esposito held all runners.

And there it was: the setup. Healy strode to the plate, restrapping his black batting gloves.

"I wanted to be up there," said Healy, who was hitting .470 going into the game.

He swung through the first pitch.

The count moved to 3-1. Rahman threw a curve that he was "a little bit" worried would catch too much of the plate. As the ball approached, Healy said he thought he had gotten a good pitch to hit.

"The second it came off my bat, I knew I'd gotten it solid, but I knew I'd gotten under it just slightly," he said.

"Right when it came off the bat, I knew it was going more up than out," Rahman said.

The ball landed in a Maple Shade glove. The Wildcats piled between the mound and second base, celebrating their first sectional title in 26 years.

Pitman 100 200 1 - 4

Maple Shade 102 011 x - 5

WP: Christian Rahman (7-1). LP: Jay Pogue (2-2). 2B: P–Rob Cressman; MS–Chris Szymczak, Jason Strobel. HR: MS–Szymczak.