By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — The Buena Blue Dawgs began the 2021 summer baseball season with a championship, winning the prestigious Bridgeton Invitational Tournament before even playing their first game in the inaugural season of the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League. The Dawgs are looking to cap their summer with another title, and they took a big step toward that on Monday night at Melini Park.

Buena, the No. 2 seed in the SJSSBL playoffs, walked off with a 1-0 win over third-seeded Ocean City Water Dogs at Bruno Melini Park in the eighth inning thanks to a one-out, bases-loaded bloop single down the left-field line by 2020 Buena Regional High graduate Jimmy Kurtz, who now plays for Mercer County College. That hit capped a night that saw four pitchers — two from each team — match zeroes for seven-and-a-half innings. Kurtz’s clutch hit made a winner out of Anthony Maselli of Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland, who twirled three innings of shutout ball in relief of starter Andrew Slade. Slade allowed just three hits through five innings.

“I had a rough came with two strikeouts, but a spot like that is what you live for. It’s about the heart, especially when you are struggling like that,” said Kurtz, who’s RBI single drove in Marco Rios with the winning run. “You have to come up there and get a big hit for you team to get a win. Slade came out and was dealing and Maselli was great in relief.”

Jackson Vanesko, a recent St. Augustine Prep graduate and Bryant University commit, was mowing the Blue Dawgs down in relief of Ocean City star Gannon Brady, but in the bottom of the eighth Rios led off with a single to right. Buena catcher Jake Guglielmi drew a one-out walk and after a wild pitch Ocean City elected to intentionally walk former Major League catcher Johnny Monell Jr., who played several years in the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. That loaded the bases, setting the stage for Kurtz’s heroics.

The teams square off in Ocean City tonight at 7 at 5th & Bay in the second game of the three-game series. The winner takes on either No. 1 South Jersey Surf or No. 4 Northfield Cardinals. The Cardinals scored a 6-1 win over the Surf in Game 1 of that series on Monday night at Birch Grove Park, where all three games (if necessary) will be played.

“That was a fun game to watch, and I was watching it the whole way through. Slade was shoving it and I didn’t want to be that guy who comes in and gives up a run after his performance. My main focus was just trying to keep it there so we could walk it off there at the end,” said Maselli, who struck out the side in the top of the eighth. “My fastball has a little cut to it and on the days when I do have the feel for my slider I can throw a lot of strikes. That’s when I’m really at my best. Tonight it was kind of all over the place. I threw a few sliders for strikes. I like to rip the ball.”

Buena (22-6) had a couple of chances to get on the scoreboard in regulation, loading the bases in the second and fourth innings, but each time Brady was able to wiggle out of the jam with a strikeout. Ocean City (18-8) never really could get anything going against either Slade or Maselli.

“I just did my job and tried to win every pitch. They beat me the first time I pitched against them — we lost 5-3 and I kind of blew it in one inning — but I knew today I had to mix up my pitches and have a better approach. I talked to Jake before the game and said, ‘hey, let’s mix it up, more fastballs one inning, mix in more off-speed the next.’ I was more confident in my pitches and trusted my defense and they made a bunch of plays,” Slade said. “It’s awesome to have a catcher like (Guglielmi) who I pitched to for four years in high school. I have so much confidence in him, especially if I throw a dirt ball I know I can trust him. And he can trust me. We have a strong connection.”

The Blue Dawgs were in jubilant spirits following the win, and rightfully so — they are now just one win away from playing in next week’s 5-game championship series, which begins on Monday, Aug. 2.

“This is a great league. It’s very good competition coming off of college ball. I didn’t get a senior year (of high school) because of Covid, but seeing all the good competition we get here — there are a lot of good college arms, some good high school arms going to big-time schools,” Kurtz said. “Even on our team we have guys like Johnny, who played in the Major Leagues, and being able to talk to him and pick his brain, all that experience and talent can really help your game out.”

“This is fun, it’s good baseball,” Slade added. “Every game is going to be tight, like this one was, but that’s why we’re here. We’re all college athletes, just doing our thing, balling out in summer league and staying fresh for school. It’s a lot of fun and some really good competition. Every time we played them (in the regular season) the games were decided by a run or two, and the same thing here tonight. It’s a great league, I love it.

Maselli, a 2017 Highland High graduate, said he has taken quite a liking to the Blue Dawgs.

“I played with a couple of these guys at Cumberland and they welcomed me in real nice,” he said. “These kids are really cool; I’ll be back next summer, that’s for sure. This team is really fun.”

What’s next: Buena at Ocean City, tonight, 7 p.m. at 5th & Bay. Buena leads the best-of-3 series 1-0.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays