By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The Group 3 state championship game at Bob DeMeo Field at Veterans Park between Ocean City and Pascack Valley took nearly four hours on Sunday afternoon in 90-plus degree heat and humidity. It took 14 innings. Three of the five pitchers used by both teams didn’t factor into the decision, and all three toss more than 80 pitches. The game began at 11 a.m. under bright, sunny skies after being rain delayed from Saturday night, and by 2 in the afternoon players, coaches, fans, reporters — everyone in attendance — was beginning to wilt in the summer heat.
As Ocean City coach Andrew Bristol said, “this was a war of attrition.”
Both teams slogged through seven innings of scoreless baseball after Ocean City tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Each team was begging for a mistake, a break, something to go their way. The Red Raiders and Panthers both needed a hero, and they continued to search up and down their lineups as the innings wore on.
The unlikeliest of heroes emerged for Ocean City in the top of the 14 inning, as senior third baseman Jack Perry — who came into the game as one of the least known players in the starting lineup — laid down a perfect safety squeeze bunt that scored James Mancini with what would prove to be the winning run. Reliever Duke McCarron — Ocean City’s third pitcher of the day — nailed down the 3-2 victory by retiring the Panthers in order in the bottom of the 14, including a game-ending 4-3 double play turned by senior second baseman Ben Hoag.
The Red Raiders collapsed upon each other at the mound, mostly out of exhaustion, but also the exuberance of winning the first baseball state championship in school history.
Perry also had a huge hit in the top of the sixth, ripping an RBI double down the left-field line to score McCarron with the tying run as Ocean City knotted the game, 2-2, which eventually set up seven extra innings.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t even describe this feeling. It hasn’t set in yet. It’s awesome. I was nervous, and just trying to stay confident. I didn’t have the best season, but that didn’t matter (in that moment). All that matters is I came to play today, and did my job. Our team fought hard, it was such a long game, the pitching was solid, as always, and it feels great to come out on top,” Perry said. “Toward the end it became all mental. All of us were physically dead, but it was 100 percent mental. It was a long fight, but it worked out for the best for us. This was always the main goal. We always knew we had the talent, we just had to put it together, work hard as a team. Coach (Andrew) Bristol and this great coaching staff led us through this.”
“It’s a brutally hot day out here and obviously everyone was tired, everyone was feeling it. I just had to persevere like everyone else. I couldn’t complain about it because I wasn’t going to come out of this game, for sure. You just have to battle through the heat and find a way to scratch across a couple runs, like we did today, to come out with the win,” said Joe Repetti, who caught all 14 innings for the Red Raiders. “There was talk in the dugout that this game was never going to end, but we put one across there, got a great bunt there from Jack Perry. We scratched across a run to take a victory and it’s a great feeling. Jack has been a great fielder for us this whole year and (in the playoffs) he’s come around with the bat, he had two RBIs today. He’s a great kid. I’ve known him all my life, and to see him perform like that in this kind of atmosphere is just awesome.”
“If there’s a team that can do this, with the pitching we had, it didn’t even phase us pitching-wise. It was the fatigue. It became a war of attrition with the heat and the pressure and the stress. The pitching was the last thing I even worried about because I know we’re built for pitching. It was just could we find a way to get a run,” coach Bristol said. “Sometimes, when you win championships it’s the guys you least expect to do it, doing it. And today it was Jack Perry. I always had faith in him. He’s in the lineup for a reason. You believe in your kids and you have to make them believe in themselves. Jack Perry believed in himself, his teammates believe in him, and he came through. Today was his day.”
Ocean City (20-7) had a chance to blow Pascack Valley (24-6) out of the water in the top of the first, but managed just one run after loading the bases against Panthers starter Anthony Sodano. Ben Hoag singled with one out, then a two-out double by Matt Nunan was followed by walks to Repetti and Mancini, the second of which chased home Hoag with the game’s first run. But Pascack Valley first baseman Zach Traina made a diving catch on a pop-up down the right-field line to help Sodano escape the jam, and in the bottom of the first Charlie Saul launched a solo home run off Ocean City starter Gannon Brady to tie the game, 1-1. As the zeroes began to pile up after that it became apparent both teams were in for a long pitchers’ duel.
The second-through-fifth innings were scoreless on both sides, as were the seventh-through-13th. But both teams were fully prepared in terms of pitching. Brady threw 98 pitches in 5 2/3 innings while Nunan tossed another 72 in 4 2/3 innings before giving way to McCarron in the bottom of the 11th. Cole Porter was tremendous in relief of Sodano for Pascack Valley, giving up just three hits and two walks in eight innings of work. In all, there were 398 pitches thrown and only 12 combined hits.
“To have four Division I commits on your team, all of whom can throw strikes and get people out, is outstanding,” Repetti said. “We had Gannon go quite a few innings, then Nunan, then McCarron, and we even had (Tom) Finnegan ready to go. He was warming up in the pen. Having all those weapons, you go into every game super confident you’re going to win.”
Mancini led off the top of the 14th with a walk, then raced to second on a wild pitch and went to third when the throw skipped into center field. Porter then got McCarron to ground out to a drawn-in infield for the first out, but Perry followed with the bunt single that proved to be the difference. Porter eventually worked out of the jam with a couple of groundouts, and Pascack Valley put the tying run at first with a walk to lead off the bottom of the 14th. But McCarron got a strikeout then induced a game-ending double play, setting off an exhausted pandemonium at the pitcher’s mound.
“Going out with a win was what we wanted to do this year. You never want to see tears at the end of a loss in the playoffs, so to be able to win this last game and be happy on this last day of the baseball season — and my Ocean City High School career — that’s a great feeling,” said Repetti, who also was the starting quarterback in football and a starting guard on the basketball team. “To finally actually win a state championship is a great way to conclude my career at Ocean City.”
“It’s starting to sink in now. I’m just so proud of these guys, so proud of my coaches, so proud for the town of Ocean City, to be able to come home with a state championship. It’s been 20-something years with these guys. I think about me and Craig (Mensinger, Ocean City’s former head coach) and all the assistants who have been around for a while. It’s all this work we’ve put into it, and it’s so selfless. We do it for these kids, and to see the smiles on their faces, it’s incredible. When you’re a teacher, all you want to see is your kids be better than you. And for these kids to walk out of their high school careers as seniors with a state championship — and the younger kids to now have that on their resume — we read a quote last week that said, ‘win together today, walk together forever.’ And forever these guys will be remembered in the folklore of Ocean City baseball. That will hit them sometime, someday soon,” Bristol said. “They are just great young guys. They have a huge future ahead of them as men. Baseball is just a part of that. They are going to be great men, and it shows in the way they battle, it shows in the way they pick each other up. There’s never a down moment with these kids. They pick each other up. They are kids who love the game, and for them to finally have something like this and to walk together forever it something very special.”
Perry had just nine RBIs this whole season, but he picked a perfect time for the only game in his entire career with more than one RBI. He may not have had a robust batting average in his only season of varsity baseball, but he’s walking away with a state championship ring.
“I’ll remember this forever,” he dais. “This was the best game of my life. Ocean City history.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays