By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Some may have thought that the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League Championship Series would come down to pitching. The No. 2 Buena Blue Dawgs came in with guys such as Denny Brady — who last year was pitching in AA minor leagues with the Los Angeles Angels, as well as Dante Coia, Luis Sauri, Joey Kurtz and Andrew Slade, and the defending champion South Jersey Surf counted with the likes of Cole Vanderslice (Villanova), Carson Denham (Arcadia) and Kyle Transue (Virginia Tech).
The Surf had a team ERA of less than 3.00 coming into the best-of-5 series, and a WHIP of less than 1.5 — which means not a lot of guys were getting on base against them. And Brady was nearly unhittable, allowing just six earned runs all year while striking out 52 batters in 32 innings. Buena’s pitching staff finished the season with nearly 200 strikeouts and an ERA just above 3.00.
But it was the South Jersey Surf’s offense that stole the show. The Surf were shut down by Brady in Buena’s 5-3 Game 1 victory, but after that the Surf were unstoppable. They beat Buena in three straight games to win their second straight championship in the league that formed in 2021, and it’s safe to say now that the Surf are the team to beat going forward.
The Surf scored a 9-3 win in game 2, then blanked the Blue Dawgs 10-0 in five innings in the critical Game 3. They wrapped things up with a jaw-dropping performance last Thursday night as they racked up eight runs in the top of the seventh inning to blow open a 6-5 game and ultimately win 14-7 to clinch the series. They finished the season 25-4, with only Buena, the Northfield Cardinals and Ventnor Bay Sox able to score victories against the Surf in the 11-team league.
“We knew going into this year we were the team to beat and we had a target on our back, and we love that kind of stuff. We feed on that kind of energy. It brings out our competitiveness,” said Logan Petty, a first baseman and outfielder and former Mainland Regional High standout who recently committed to Arcadia University after playing at Atlantic Cape Community College. “It was super fun, and I loved playing against Buena because they bring out the best in us.”
“The first game, going against Brady, we knew it was going to be a tough one,” said catcher Dante DiPalma, an Egg Harbor Township High graduate. “We were thinking if we could sneak a win against Brady the rest of the series would be — not a breeze, but definitely we’d have a great chance. Our bats came alive, and we really hit the long ball.”
The Surf jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of Game 4 on Thursday night, but Buena rallied back to within 4-3 before Jake Guglielmi blasted a two-run homer to give the Blue Dawgs a 5-4 lead. But the Surf tied the game at 5, then Monny Strickland blasted a solo home run to deep left-center to give the Surf the lead for good at 6-5 in the sixth inning.
Then Petty led off the seventh with a home run to right to push the lead to 7-5, and later in the inning Williamstown High product Caden Dulin crushed a grand slam to give the Surf a commanding 13-5 lead.
Petty had been scuffling toward the end of the season, but hitting a home run off Brady in the Game 1 loss seemed to have sparked him, to say the least. He finished the four-game series going 9-for-13 with three home runs, four doubles and 10 RBIs as the Surf outscored Buena 33-10 in the final three games.
“Right before the championship series I was struggling really badly. My swing wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I got back to getting on my grind with BPC (Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville) and going there every morning, working on the little things and executing. It all translates from those morning workouts to the games at night. I had all the confidence in the world. That was my biggest struggle when I was slumping, was my confidence,” Petty said. “Honestly, right when we got into the championship series we saw Denny and he threw really well. He got me on two good at-bats, but then I homered off him (in the seventh inning) and that brought my confidence completely back. I finally said, ‘hey, let’s have a short memory and whatever happens in an at-bat, wash it away and let’s go. Let’s get the confidence back.’”
“He was in his head toward the end of the year, but all of a sudden he just locked in and was seeing the ball so well,” DiPalma said. “I can’t believe it. I was like, ‘do you feel alright?’ I don’t know how I’d feel if I hit three or four home runs in a four-game series. He was just locked in. He felt good in that one swing (against Brady) and was able to keep repeating that. He was a big part of the reason we won this.”
Now, most of the players will head off to college to begin their fall seasons. Some will return to high school for offseason workouts or other sports, and still others will simply return to work, their college baseball careers over.
“It was really nice to be able to play with these guys again this summer and repeat as champions. (Our offense) talks a lot about this team. We feed off each other’s energy. It’s funny with the age range between everybody, but we’ve meshed so well since the first game. It was a really exciting season. These guys can hit the baseball,” Petty said. “It’s awesome. My spring got cut short because of stomach surgery and I fell into a hole where I was really upset, but I knew that wasn’t going to stop me. It was a setback, but I got on my grind again, and I’m excited that I didn’t give up.”
Added DiPalma, “this is great. The first year was awesome, but now winning it back-to-back, now people know we are the team to beat. We’ll enjoy it and enjoy the whole offseason until next summer.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays