By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — Van Patten is just a sophomore at Holy Spirit High School, but already he’s had to do a lot of growing up. His father, Mark, battled colon cancer for several years before passing away last fall, and each time the crafty lefty steps on the mound he things of his father, and the rather succinct advice he would give Van before each game — don’t suck.
Not only did Patten not suck on Wednesday at the Last Dance World Series Ocean City Regional, he pitched his Baseball Performance Center Spartans past a very strong Egg Harbor Township lineup, 4-3, and possibly into position to advance to next week’s single elimination rounds. The Last Dance features 222 teams statewide with 16 regionals, and only one team from each region will advance to next week. The Spartans are now the only 2-0 team in the six-team regional and will advance with a win over Ocean City on Thursday night at 7 at 5th and Bay in Ocean City.
Patten was touched up for a couple runs early on, but his team fought back and repaid his grit and determination when center fielder Trevor Cohen drove home Ethan Coursey with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh to give the Spartans a walk-off victory. Holy Spirit was planning to dedicate their 2020 season to not only Patten’s father, but also legendary former football coach Bill Walsh, who also died last fall, after a long battle with ALS.
“Before the game I had chills, knowing he was starting. This whole season was not only for coach Walsh, but we have this M.P. on our hats, and I told him before the game, ‘whatever you do, don’t do it for us, don’t do it for you. You know who to do it for. Do it for your dad,'” said senior catcher Justin Jimenez. “He’s a fighter and he can pitch his butt off, that’s for sure. He is one of our younger guys and he’s not a flame thrower, so I had to use my knowledge of the game and how I catch him and how he pitches. We knew we’d have to throw a lot of junk.”
“My mindset is everything that happened is in the past and all that matters is the next pitch. That next pitch is what kept me going, and that next-pitch mentality is what got me through this game. We came out on top and that’s what matters most,” said Patten, who went the distance and struck out six. “Every single time I came into the dugout, I said, ‘what’s my pitch count? I want to keep going.’ I wanted to make sure I could keep going because nothing felt better than stepping out onto the mound and do what I was doing.”
Egg Harbor Township (1-1) got off to an early 2-0 lead as Tristin Trivers drove home a run with a squeeze bunt and Ethan Dodd followed with an RBI single to center. Holy Spirit had all kinds of trouble getting to EHT starter Frankie Wright until the fifth, when the Spartans plated three runs to take a 3-2 lead. The rally was highlighted by Cohen’s two-run double in the gap in right-center. But EHT knotted the game at 3 in the seventh thanks to an RBI single from freshman Justin Sweeney, the younger brother of former EHT star and current Rutgers player Jordan Sweeney, who was on hand as the first-base coach.
But Patten was able to get out of the inning with a pop-out and strikeout, setting up Cohen’s heroics in the bottom of the seventh, off Sweeney — a future teammate as both have committed to Rutgers.
Coursey started the rally with a single and took second on a passed ball, then a walk to Tyler Armstrong and a bunt single by C.J. Egrie loaded the bases with no outs. A couple of pitches later, the game was over with Cohen’s sacrifice fly.
“He gave me the first pitch outside and I don’t really like the outside pitches, so I let it go. He gave me another one, I swung and fouled it off, and then I was sitting on some sort of offspeed. But he threw me an outside fastball again and I just drilled it to left field. I was just trying to get somebody in. I was trying to sacrifice myself to get somebody in to win the game,” said Cohen, who quarterbacked Holy Spirit’s football team to a state championship in December. “I just trusted myself and my swing that I could put something in the gap, something to get that run in.”
“I was texting him last night and I said, ‘hey, we want a ring. Let’s go get this ring. I know you want to have two, and I know for sure, as a senior, I want one,'” Jimenez said of Cohen. “It was a big bummer (when the season got cancelled). Brandon and I, and the other seniors, we talked and we cried, and we knew we were going to come in here with a championship mindset. We knew what we had to do, and we’re fighting now.”
Cohen said he and the Spartans didn’t mind that teams like EHT and Ocean City might have been favored to win this regional coming in.
“I love being overlooked. I love that under-the-radar stuff. We’re a team that we’re going to beat people, we’re going to hit the ball hard and we’re going to make plays to win games.”
Patten’s job in this tournament — at least for this week — is done, and he said he was glad he got the opportunity to make his dad proud at least once this season.
“I’ve got this quote written on my cap and it says, ‘don’t suck.’ It’s kind of ironic motivation, and I’ve always kept that mindset,” he said. “I do my best not to suck, and once again we came out on top. He’d be saying I could have done better, jokingly. He’d be proud of me, and that’s what makes me feel the best.”
What’s next: Holy Spirit takes on Ocean City at 7 p.m. on Thursday night in the final round of pool play. If Spirit wins, it advances automatically to next week’s single elimination portion of the tournament. A win by Ocean City would create a tiebreaker scenario with multiple teams with 2-1 records.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays