With the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League’s regular season in the books, it’s time to take a quick look at the playoff picture. The South Jersey Surf, coached by former Major League Baseball player Jeff Ball, won the championship in the first two years of the league’s existence and made a late run this year to garner the No. 2 spot in the 10-team playoffs.
Here’s how it works, a little bit like the NBA. The last two teams — Egg Harbor Township (5-14) and Somers Point (5-16) were eliminated from the playoffs, and Nos. 7-10 battle it out in tonight’s play-in round (single elimination) to determine the eight-team field. Beginning on Tuesday night, the four higher seeds will host the four lower seeds in best-of-3 series. Next week will feature the semifinals, also best-of-3, with a best-of-5 championship series slated to begin Monday, July 31.
Here’s a quick look at tonight’s play-in matchups:
No. 7 Egg Harbor City Knights (11-10) vs. No. 10 Galloway Mustangs (7-14), 7:45 p.m. at Gabriel Field in Egg Harbor City: The Knights finished up the regular season pretty strong. Following a 13-3 loss against Margate on July 10, The Knights responded with an 8-6 win over Northfield and after getting swept in two games by Absecon, EHC finished out with a pair of wins, against the Surf and Egg Harbor Township, to move into the No. 7 slot. The Knights can hit, but Galloway can pitch. Getting rained out on Sunday night helped most teams in terms of their pitching, and certainly the Mustangs fall into that category. The big question will be can they score enough to overtake the Knights.
No. 9 Ventnor Bay Sox (8-13) at No. 8 Buena Blue Dawgs, (11-11) 7:30 p.m. at Bruno Melini Park in Buena: The Blue Dawgs don’t have that dominant pitching they had the last two years when they were runners up to the Surf, so it’s going to be a much different challenge for Jim Kurtz’s crew this time around. But Buena — which has won five of its last seven — typically is pretty good defensively, has speed and some pretty scrappy hitters. Ventnor has guys like former Pleasantville stars Sleighter Suriel and Alejandro Rosado, and they love to hit dingers and score runs. Don’t be too surprised if this is a high scoring game, as Ventnor can put up runs in bunches.
Quarterfinals, beginning Tuesday (Game 1 at higher seed, Game 2 at lower seed, if-necessary Game 3 back at higher seed’s home field)
Buena/Ventnor winner at No. 1 Margate (17-5): Either team will have quite a challenge trying to knock off this year’s regular-season champion. The Hurricanes — long a stalwart in the now-defunct Atlantic County Baseball League — are looking to return to past glory as they take on a new league as the SJSSBL’s newest expansion team. Former Mainland High and Monmouth University star Jason Law has guided the Hurricanes to an impressive season that has included six straight wins of late. Their offense has been doing damage all season, as the Canes have scored eight runs or more 12 times in 22 games. To beat Margate, you have to find a way to keep that lineup in check.
Egg Harbor City/Galloway winner at South Jersey Surf (15-7) at Birch Grove Park in Northfield: The Surf are two-time defending league champions for a reason — they have talent and know how two win close games. They are 8-3 this year in games decided by three runs or less and always have solid pitching to run out there in the playoffs. The biggest question mark for the Surf is can they out-hit somebody if they need to in a high-scoring game.
No. 6 Ocean City Water Dogs (12-10) at No. 3 Northfield Cardinals: The Water Dogs have been on a nice roll late in the season, winning four of their last five to close out the regular season, including wins over Margate and Buena. These teams played right before the July 4 holiday with Northfield coming away with a 6-2 victory. Northfield has some pop in its lineup with guys like Chase Swan, Nathan Turner and Cole Fowler, but Ocean City definitely has the pitching that can win a short series with guys like C.J. Furey, Gannon Brady, Ben Foote and Tommy Lex.
No. 5 Absecon Outlaws (12-10) at No. 4 Hammonton Hot Shots (13-9): These teams just played on Thursday with Hammonton coming away with a 3-1 win at the lake. Neither team is really a juggernaut offensively but each has some pretty good pitching that could carry the day in a short series. Hammonton won three straight to close out the regular season after a tough four-game losing streak, so maybe the Hot Shots are getting hot at the right time.