By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
SOMERS POINT — The Atlantic Shore 15-year-old all-stars won the Babe Ruth World Series last year as 14-year-olds, and in this year’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship A-Shore jumped out to a 4-0 lead on visiting Millville in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday night. It looked as though A-Shore would roll to another championship, something the program has gotten used to since its run of dominance began in 2011. The situation was looking bleak for Millville.
Enter Logan Musey.
Musey came on in relief of Nick Buonadonna and recorded a strikeout to end a first inning that saw RBIs from Ben Hoag, Ben Funk and Nick Wagner, and in the top of the second Millville responded with a 5-run outburst. Buonadonna — whose brother, Dom, was the ace of the Millville High staff this spring and is a Binghamton University recruit — made up for his rough start on the hill by blasting a two-run homer to left in the fourth that gave Millville a 7-6 lead. That was the turning point, as Millville never trailed again and won, 10-7, to punch its ticket to the Babe Ruth World Series, which begins on Aug. 7 in Bismarck, N.D. Millville had lost to Atlantic Shore earlier in the tournament, but returned the favor when it counted most.
“He’s a very good player. He’s always had my back, he’s a very good varsity pitcher, and he really had my back today,” Buonadonna said of Musey. “This feels amazing. We’ve been waiting since 8 years old to even win districts, and now we’re in the World Series. It’s surreal. We really wanted this since Day One. We knew we were going to have to face (Atlantic Shore) a bunch and they are a really good team. We just came out and played a little bit better today. This is so crazy. I’m at a loss for words. Our mindset is to win each game one at a time, keep playing Millville baseball, and hopefully win it all.”
Fehrle Field was packed with a standing-room only crowd that witnessed a see-saw battle featuring some of the best up-and-coming high school sophomores and juniors, some of whom already have made impacts on their respective varsity teams and some who no doubt will next spring. Millville coach Alex Ramos said he was impressed with the crowd size, and that his players fed off the intensity of the Millville faithful.
“I’m speechless. I’m just so excited for these kids. Now we have a lot of work to do to get ready for the world series. We’re representing the whole Mid-Atlantic region, so it’s exciting. We’re just going to take it one game at a time, and the main thing is to just have fun. What really helped us win this regional is the kids were having a blast. We had the radio going in pregame, they had this swag that no matter what hit them in the face, they were going to bounce back the next inning. This is an unbelievable moment,” Ramos said. “The kids, the parents, the coaches, we all went on social media asking for support because this is history to us. We’ve never been to a world series before, so this is something new to us. We started rough in the first inning, but one thing I always tell these kids is they have to take it one inning at a time and they have to believe in each other. They are like family. A lot of these kids have been together since they were 8 years old. At 15 years old, it’s amazing for them, especially beating the defending World Series champion. It was a challenge. But I think with all the people coming down here from Millville, it almost gave us sort of a home-field advantage. It had that feeling that we were home, so thanks to the fans for coming down here.”
Austin Jacquet got Millville on the board with an RBI single against Holy Spirit rising sophomore Trevor Cohen to cut the lead to 4-1 in the second, and Millville rallied for four more runs to take a 5-4 lead. Blake Ramos’ RBI double to left tied the game at 4 and the go-ahead run scored on an error, but Atlantic Shore tied the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the inning on an RBI groundout from Cohen. In the third, A-Shore took a 6-5 lead when Hoag walked and eventually scored on a passed ball, but then Buonadonna’s shot in the fourth gave Millville the lead for good. Millville tacked on two more runs in that inning on an error and a sacrifice fly from Edgar Ramos to extend the lead to 9-6, and Musey went to work from there. In the final three innings he allowed just two base runners — a solo home run by Wagner and a single in the seventh by Mark Elliott.
“You can see they hit the ball, so I was working cutters, working the ball in and out. I came in with the mindset that I had to shut it down right here. I sort of did and held them a little bit, and really had to shut them down at the end. I told everyone on the team that we need to win this, that we’re going to North Dakota. It’s very cool. We had to win two games before this one, too, but that kind of took the pressure off of us and we could just play hard,” Musey said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 7 years old; Little League, travel ball, all that stuff. I knew that we were going to the World Series. I had no doubt.”
“We had a strategy going into the game to go with Nick. Nick, Logan and Blake (Ramos) are our aces and Nick had yet to pitch in the regionals, so the goal was to go with Nick, but when the kids bounced back with five runs in the second inning, Musey was like, ‘coach, give me the rock. I’m ready.’ He’s a great kid. I’ve watched him play since he was 7 years old and seen him do some amazing things, so I believed in him,” coach Ramos said. “The one thing I always tell the kids is to believe in each other. The goal was to win this regional.”
Buonadonna said he didn’t think his shot to left was going to clear the fence when he hit it.
“Honestly, I didn’t know it was gone,” he said. “I got up there and knew I had to redeem myself because I had a bad start. That’s my first home run on a big field, so it’s awesome. We didn’t think we would make it this far, 90 percent of us are hurt in some way and we’ve just been battling. This team is a bunch of dogs, it’s crazy.”
Millville had something extra special to play for. Vic Merritt, a longtime coach in the program, passed away in December, and the team hung a T-shirt on the dugout fence that read “#battleforvic.” It was clear coach Merritt was on the minds of the coaches and players.
“Vic coached me when I was 6 years old. I’ve known him my whole life,” Buonadonna said. “His son played on my older brother’s baseball teams forever, and he recently passed away in December from cancer.”
Added coach Ramos, “Vic Merritt was one of our Babe Ruth coaches, God bless him, he passed away from cancer and we always carry him in our hearts. We had the T-shirt (hanging on the dugout fence) and coach (Todd) Buonadonna said we need to win this for Vic. The kids felt that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays