By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — West Deptford is a working class township in Gloucester County, and when you’re an athlete growing up there you’re expected to play with a sense of pride for the name on the front of the jersey and in those black-and-Kelly green colors. Wearing that uniform means you don’t care who you’re up against — it can be a bigger school, a fancy school, a Catholic school. Little Group 2 West Deptford doesn’t care what an opponent’s resume says or what the number is in front of that team’s ranking. The Eagles just come to beat you, plain and simple, and if you want to beat them you better kick them while they are down and don’t give them even a shred of opportunity.
The opportunities were running thin for No. 13 West Deptford against fourth-seeded and host Egg Harbor Township on Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the 47th Annual Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, as EHT senior right-hander Ethan Dodd was mowing West Deptford down to the tune of nine strikeouts in five-plus innings. But West Deptford got an opportunity against EHT’s bullpen, and it wasn’t about to let that go by the wayside.
West Deptford racked up eight runs in the sixth and seventh innings, wiping out a 6-2 deficit and storming to a shocking 10-8 victory over previously undefeated EHT, which came into South Jersey’s premier tournament boasting a sparkling 11-0 record. The big blow was a booming 3-run home run in the top of the seventh off the bat of sophomore outfielder Dan Marraffa that gave West Deptford the lead for good, 8-7. West Deptford advances to face the winner of Thursday’s matchup between Eastern and Gloucester Catholic.
“This was a big win on the road, what we needed,” Marraffa said. “We knew we needed runs. We were down, we hadn’t been hitting in the early innings, so we just had to come out and swing the bats. He blew by me with two fastballs, so I knew he was going to come with that again — it was a little high and outside but it fell where I wanted it to be. I felt like it had a little chance (to get out).”
“Dan is a sophomore who had good size and works really hard at hitting, and today it paid off for him. From the left side there, he doesn’t try to do too much. With two strikes, just staying short right there, it was a big spot and you can’t ask for anything more,” said West Deptford coach John Oehler. “I knew he moved around alright in the outfield and he swung the bat OK for the seven practices we had, but we saw him a little bit in the cages this winter and he had a great preseason for us and was really driving the baseball. He’s been our three-hole hitter for the last four or five games because he’s proved himself.”
“He’s leading the team in home runs and that’s just what he does. He has a great swing, a great approach at the plate, and he just gets the job done,” said junior shortstop Nick Tomasetto. “He’s a mature hitter for his age. He’ll bounce back after a couple bad at-bats, clear his mind and go attack the baseball.”
Marraffa’s dinger was part of a five-run seventh that gave West Deptford a 10-7 lead, and Shea McKenna, on in relief of starter Alec Roselli, did enough to close the door and seal the victory in the bottom of the seventh.
“We started the first inning by letting up two runs and were down 6-2, but we fight — that’s our team right there. Whenever we are down, we’re not going to give up,” Tomasetto said. “We had nothing to lose. That’s a great team over there, we just wanted to play our (brand of) baseball and see what happens.”
Everything was going right early for EHT (11-1), which came in as the No. 10 team in the state according to the nj.com weekly Top 20 poll. Justin Sweeney ripped a two-run single in the bottom of the first and after West Deptford (9-3-1) tied the game at 2 in the top of the third, EHT took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning before scoring twice more in the fourth and once again in the fifth to take a 6-2 lead. Dodd departed in the top of the sixth after Tomasetto stroked an RBI double to get West Deptford to within 6-3, and by the time that inning was over West Deptford had shaved the deficit all the way down to 6-5. Frank Wright blasted a solo home run leading off the bottom of the sixth but in the seventh is when things unraveled for EHT.
Aaron Greaber and Brian Gallagher both singled before Marraffa’s three-run drive to left-center, and later in the inning Tomasetto scored on an error and Cole Ambrosius ripped an RBI single to left to push West Deptford’s lead to 10-7.
“To be able to step up right there in a huge spot, Dan Marraffa with a three-run home run with two strikes on him, it’s just huge for a sophomore to be able to do that. And then to tack on some more, keep hitting that inning, it was huge,” Oehler said. “Shea did a great job for us there at the end just kind of holding them to where they were. It was a dogfight. Both teams came out to play, it was a great baseball game, a great environment, and I’m just glad we came out on top.”
“We just have a bunch of hitters, there’s nothing much to it. We’re all aggressive at the dish, we take our hitting very seriously at practice, and we just look to beat teams with our hitting,” Tomasetto added. “Going into the second half of the season this is going to be great for us, knowing we can play this type of baseball even without our full roster. Hitting is contagious, so when one kid gets on base we keep following that up and good things happen when you put the ball in play.”
Coming into the Diamond Classic, West Deptford’s only losses had come at the hands of South Jersey powers Bishop Eustace and Gloucester Catholic, as well as a 9-3 setback against Sterling.
“Every year in our first meeting I tell the guys we’re want to try to play the best teams that we can because that’s the only way you can become the best,” Oehler said. “To be able to do what we did the (Colonial) conference, that’s what got us here, and we’ve played some really good teams. Playing Bishop Eustace, Gloucester Catholic — that leaks into today and I felt that helped (our guys) a lot. It was a great day for the program, a great day for our guys, now it’s on to Round 2.”
“We came into the tournament underrated, so we knew we needed to come in, swing the bats, pitch the ball, field, do everything correctly, and that’s what we did and came out with the win,” Marraffa added. “We just needed to swing the bats. When we don’t start hitting, our team gets down a little bit, but we found the momentum, found the energy and kept it going. It feels great.”
What’s next: West Deptford hosts Gateway on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Egg Harbor Township hosts Hammonton on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays