When his seniors were sophomores, Cherry Hill West baseball coach Dan McMaster took them to watch a Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic doubleheader at Maple Shade.
"They set their sights on it," McMaster said.
Two years later, the Lions hope to do more than watch the prestigious 16-team tournament. They hope to play in it.
Cherry Hill West made its case for an at-large berth to the 39-year-old tournament on Friday with an impressive, 12-7 victory over host Paul VI in an Olympic Conference interdivision game.
Winning pitcher Andrew Fisher and catcher Zack Renna, a pair of seniors, each drove in three runs as Cherry Hill West (12-5) notched its fourth victory in a row and fifth in six games.
"We want to get in the Diamond," said Renna, who delivered a two-run double in the fifth and an RBI single in the seventh. "We've never been there in our careers. It's a big goal for us."
The loss was costly for Paul VI (11-5). The Eagles would have clinched the Olympic National's automatic berth to the Diamond Classic with a victory.
But Paul VI's loss meant that Bishop Eustace would receive the automatic bid. Paul VI could earn an at-large bid, but the Eagles likely stand in line behind Cherry Hill West.
"We were just not sharp early in the game," Paul VI coach Pat Fisher said. "We spent a lot of energy coming back, and that came back to haunt us. They really hit the ball hard late in the game."
Senior second baseman Ned Kerr hit two doubles and a home run for Paul VI, which rapped seven extra-base hits.
"That's such a well-coached and good-hitting team," McMaster said of Paul VI. "We knew this was a tough place to come in and play."
Cherry Hill West broke a 4-4 tie with three runs in the fifth as Fisher drove in one with a groundout and Renna jumped on the first pitch to rip a two-run double into the gap in left-center field.
"Everybody was hitting," Renna said. "One guy hits, it makes everybody hit."
The Lions broke the game open with a four-spot in the seventh as Renna had an RBI single, Anthony Canavatchel had an RBI double, and Brad Machinski drove in another run with a sacrifice fly.
"There are so many quality teams," McMaster said of his team's chances for an at-large berth to the Diamond Classic. "But these guys wanted to prove they belonged, and that's what they've been working toward."
Cherry Hill West 310 031 4 - 12 10 1
Paul VI 201 111 1 - 7 13 1
WP: Andrew Fisher. LP: Mike Campisiano. 2B: CHW–Andrew Fisher 2, A.J. Wright, Zack Renna, Anthony Canavatchel; PVI–Ned Kerr 2, Brian Almand, Shawn Gooch, Zac Schuyler. HR: PVI–Ned Kerr, Brian Almand.
See and hear from Cherry Hill West catcher Zack Renna.