By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — If Buena Regional High pitcher Joey Kurtz was getting an hourly wage for his efforts on the mound with the Chiefs, he wouldn’t have made much money on Wednesday afternoon during the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament semifinals.
The post-graduate player sliced his way through the Egg Harbor Township lineup, scattering eight hits, striking out eight and allowing just one run as Buena, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, cruised to a 6-1 win over No. 5 EHT. The game lasted just one hour, 40 minutes, as Kurtz had everybody home in time for dinner.
Kurtz didn’t do it alone though, he had help from an offense that rapped out 12 hits and mounted a four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth, and he got a huge lift from center fielder Charlie Saglimbeni, who made the play of the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Fifth-seeded Egg Harbor Township was trailing 2-1 and had a runner on second. A base hit up the middle looked as though it would tie the game, but Saglimbeni came up firing and gunned the runner down at the plate to end the inning.
No. 1 Buena then rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth to salt the game away, and Kurtz allowed just one hit in the top of the seventh to nail it down.
“I lost my mind, I started jumping all around, screaming,” Kurtz said of Saglimbeni’s throw to the plate. “When something like that happens it gives you so much momentum. I think that’s the main reason we put up four (runs) in the sixth inning, because of that play. He makes those plays all the time. When it was hit, I went to back up home and I thought he might score, but when I saw (George) come up with it cleanly I knew he had him.”
“Every day, that’s what we work on in practice, our throws to each base,” Saglimbeni said. “I’ve just been waiting for that one moment to make a play. I go straight to four (home plate), always. That’s just how I play. I knew he was out. That was a huge confidence booster for us.”
Buena coach Tom Carney said that’s why the Chiefs drill defensive plays like that every day in practice. Although, admittedly, he never thought it would work out so beautifully in such a big spot. Saglimbeni’s threw a one-hopper to the plate, catcher Ryley Betts fielded it cleanly and applied the tag, and it was inning over — and EHT’s CAL hopes over.
“It sounds like he’s making it up (when he says he makes those plays all the time) but we drill that every day. Just a few to each base so we don’t kill their arms, but I said it jokingly to the guys, ‘I guarantee when he gets a chance in a game he’s not going to be able to do it.’ But sure enough, he got his one chance all year and he put it right on a dime,” Carney said. “And that was a big spot. The momentum goes right into their dugout if he doesn’t make that throw. That was huge. That won’t show up in the box score, but I think that was the difference in the game. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Aidan Carano started the sixth-inning rally off with a one-out single to left and after a single by Austin Wokock, Carano scored on a wild pitch to put Buena up, 3-1. Carano went 2-for-3 with a run scored while his brother, Tre Carano, went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
“My first at-bat, getting started with a hit is always good because I know I have guys behind me who can him me in. I know when I get on base I have a really good chance to score,” Tre Carano said.
Two batters later, Tre Carano laced an RBI single to plate Wokock and push the lead to 4-1, and Betts followed with a run scoring single up the middle to make it 5-1. The Chiefs made it 6-1 when Tre Carano scored on a fielder’s choice.
Meanwhile, Kurtz was dealing all game long with his fastball and trademark sweeping slider that gave Eagles hitters fits all day. He only had trouble with Jacob Cagna and Joey Velardi, who combined for five of EHT’s eight hits. The Eagles’ only run came in the top of the fifth on an RBI groundout by Jay Salsbery.
“All my pitches were working. I was just trying to throw strikes, let them hit it, and that seemed to work,” Kurtz said.
“Even when he’s under duress with guys in scoring position, he keeps his cool,” Kearney said of Kurtz, who is committed to play college baseball at Goldey Beacom in Delaware. “That’s what beat him last year was between the ears. It wasn’t a physical thing. This year, he’s so much more mature and he’s able to calm himself down and not get too anxious.”
Buena, which has been fighting for respect throughout the season, now gets its chance on a big stage when the Chiefs host rival Vineland on Friday at 4 p.m. with the league title on the line before the state playoffs begin next week. The No. 3 Fighting Clan beat No. 2 St. Augustine Prep, 5-3, on Wednesday behind big offensive days from Yenuelle Rodriguez and Yoan Feliz, who combined for five hits and three RBIs.
“This means a lot. We’ve been challenging ourselves all year. We were supposed to play Vineland last Friday but it got cancelled and that’s the game — Buena vs. Vineland — we wanted that, now we have it. It means a lot. We want to make a statement,” Kurtz said. “We’ve been playing baseball with each other since we were 7 years old, through travel ball. We’ve been best friends ever since, year ‘round, playing Wiffle ball, hanging out every single day. Getting this far in our last season together means a lot.”
Added Saglimbeni, “this is what we’ve been working on, playing as a team and now beating some really good teams. That’s what we’ve been working toward.”
Carney said he doesn’t believe the moment will be too big for his team.
“This whole group of kids — I’ve been coaching since 1988 and I don’t think I’ve had a calmer group of guys,” he said. “You don’t hear us saying anything between innings, we don’t do anything of that cheering crap, we just play the game. And I like that. The results come about when you prove you’re a good player, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”
What’s next: Cape-Atlantic League Tournament Championship, Friday at 4 p.m., Vineland at Buena.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays