By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Mainland Regional softball coach Brian Smith expected junior third baseman Denver Obermeyer to be a key cog at the top of his lineup this season. But out of the gate, the 5-foot-9 third baseman struggled, and Smith chose to drop her from the No. 2 spot in the order down to fifth. Late in the season, Obermeyer began to catch fire, so when the playoffs began Smith decided to move her back up to the second spot.
Obermeyer rewarded her coach’s confidence on Tuesday afternoon with a huge game in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 3 tournament, going 2-for-4 with a home run, run scored and a game-high four RBIs to lead No. 10 Mainland to a 6-4 upset win over seventh-seeded Hammonton in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. It was the third time this season the Mustangs topped the Blue Devils.
Mainland (10-10, 5-7 Cape-Atlantic League American) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI double by Joslyn Adams and a bloop single over shortstop by Olivia Hull, but Obermeyer delivered the big blows in the third and fourth innings. In the top of the third, she launched a home run to deep left field that clanged off the backstop of the junior varsity field, and in the fourth she worked a 3-2 count before blooping a two-run single to left that pushed Mainland’s lead to 6-0.
“I definitely had a rough start to the season and I had to make an adjustment later on. I knew I had to help my team out, especially if we wanted to make it far in the postseason. Getting moved up to second in the lineup, I knew I had to get the job done. Sending one deep and getting in those runs was really vital in this game,” Obermeyer said. “I started at second, then I dropped down to five or six because I wasn’t doing too well. But then about a week and a half ago I moved back up to second. After seeing our No. 1 hitter (Rayna Molina) succeed and the game gets going and we’re all fired up, it makes it easier for all of us to get pumped up.”
She didn’t come right out and say she knew it was gone once it left the bat, but everybody in attendance knew it was a no-doubt home run.
“I didn’t really see it all the way but apparently it went pretty deep,” Obermeyer said. “Everybody was really hyped, and I think that lead really got the whole team outrageous and fired up. I think that’s what made us get more runs.”
“Denver had a really tough opening to the year. She really struggled, she was just out of her head, out of whack. So we dropped her down in the lineup to let her kind of figure things out,” coach Smith explained. “And she’s been working hard. We moved her back to the No. 2 spot because she can do a lot of things. In the first inning, she got a bunt down to move Rayna to second base. So she’s very versatile as a batter. Obviously, her second time up, she crushed that ball. But I told her I was most impressed with her third at-bat because it was a 3-and-2 count with runners at second and third, and just getting the ball, putting it in play, dropping it in front of the left fielder — those were two huge runs for us to pick up in that situation with two outs. She’s been working her tail off, and she’s always positive.”
Obermeyer is hitting just .226 on the year, but has eight home runs, 15 runs scored and 24 RBIs. Her final two RBIs of the day Tuesday proved to be crucial, as Hammonton (8-13, 3-9 CAL American) rallied for two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth before Bella D’Agostino was able to shut the door with a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh. She allowed five hits and struck out seven while working around seven walks and two hit batsman. She was able to work out of two bases-loaded jams, giving up just two runs in those situations while leaving six runners stranded.
“Bella is close to 400 strikeouts (in her career) and she’s been doing a great job,” Obermeyer said. “Sometimes she likes to scare us — she likes to throw three balls then strike the batter out. But she’s really been doing a great job succeeding throughout the season.”
“Bella did a great job battling today,” Smith said. “And we played solid defense today. We made all the plays behind her.”
Mainland advances to take on Moorestown, a 5-0 winner over Timber Creek in the opening round, on Friday. The winner gets either No. 3 Delsea or No. 6 Cherry Hill West in the semifinals next Wednesday. Smith said he likes his team’s chances based on the way the Mustangs have been playing. They are 10-10, but since a loss to Ocean City on May 9, Mainland has gone 7-2.
“What I said in the (post-game) meeting was that early in the year we were losing these games. We were folding at the end and things would go wrong, and we would let the game get away from us. But what we’ve been doing in these last two weeks is we’ve been finishing games,” he said. “They’ve been toughing it out and holding the lead — and that’s what we’ve talked about all year, quality teams finish games. We faced a little adversity, they put pressure on us. Give credit to Hammonton, they are a quality squad and we knew that. It’s tough to win three games against a good team, and we did that this year. It was a little bit heart-pounding. I would have liked a few more runs there to make it a little easier on me, but the girls did an outstanding job finishing the game.
“We’ve really been playing well, so we feel confident. We believe in ourselves,” Smith added. “I know Moorestown is the No. 2 seed so obviously they are a quality team, but we feel like we can beat anyone in this bracket. So, we’re going to be positive. We’re coming off an upset of Hammonton, so our energy is high. We feel we have the talent.”
What’s next: No. 10 Mainland at No. 2 Moorestown in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. Hammonton’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays