With just two weeks left in the regular season, teams in the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League are jockeying for position in terms of the playoff seeding, and some teams are trending in the right direction. The objective for any team is to avoid the play-in round on Sunday, July 17, which is a single elimination matchup between the Nos. 7 and 10 teams and the Nos. 8 and 9 teams to determine the final two spots in the eight-team playoffs — much like what the NBA has gone to.
There are 11 teams in the league, with the 11th-place team not making the playoffs. That means Nos. 7-10 must win a play-in game, then turn around the next day and begin the Best-of-3 quarterfinals. In that round, No. 1 plays No. 8, No. 2 plays No. 7, etc.
The South Jersey Surf — last year’s league champion during the inaugural season — have been on cruise control since a season-opening loss against the Buena Blue Dawgs. The Surf (13-1) have won 13 straight and taken control of first place in the 21-game regular-season schedule. Last week, Zach Steiger and Kyle Transue combined for 13 strikeouts in a 3-2 win over Egg Harbor Township, and on Wednesday night former St. Augustine Prep star Cole Vanderslice shut down Hammonton with eight strikeouts.
Buena is hot on the Surf’s heels, however, as a 3-2 win over Somers Point last week put the Blue Dawgs at 10-4.
After that, it’s like musical chairs as teams will try to secure their playoff seedings during the next 10 days or so. Hammonton has been on a roll, winning three of its last four after starting the season 3-6. Included in the Hot Shots’ hot streak was a 6-3 win over Absecon, currently in third place along with the Northfield Cardinals. The Ventnor Bay Sox have also turned it on lately, going 4-2 in their last six games after a tough 2-5 start. Last Wednesday, the Bay Sox got two hits and four RBIs combined from Sleighter Suriel (Pleasantville) and Omar Hernandez (Absegami), as well as three hits from Billy Wheatley (Absegami) and three hits and two runs from Angel Murray (EHT) to take down the Ocean City Water Dogs 11-1. Suriel leads the team with 10 RBIs while Murray has a team-high 10 runs scored.
KEEP GRINDING: The Somers Point Captains don’t have a great record at 2-12, but eight of their 12 losses have come by three runs or less. The Captains have kept plugging along, however, and their persistence paid off on Friday night in a 10-8, extra-innings win over Egg Harbor City. Lukas Englert — a 17-year-old from Mainland who has had multiple brain surgeries during his lift to try to eradicate a tumor — had his first multi-hit game on the season and tacked on his first RBI to help the Captains’ cause. The Captains have also gotten a monster season from outfielder Mike Blackiston, a Deptford High School and Salem County College product who is hitting .387 with a 1.526 OPS, six home runs and 15 RBIs. He’s also scored 15 runs, walked nine times and stolen five bases. He also came on to pitch three innings of relief to get the win over the Knights.
BROTHERS REUNITED: Tonight will be a special day for the Ocean City Water Dogs when they host Egg Harbor City at 7 p.m. at 5th & Bay. Pitcher C.J. Furey, a junior at St. Augustine Prep, will be throwing to his older brother, Brian, who is briefly home from the Naval Academy. Brian was a former standout catcher at St. Augustine Prep and currently is a sophomore at the Academy. Their mother, Christine, swam for Rutgers and their uncle, Robert McLaughlin, was a member of the Naval Academy’s Class of 1961.
STANDINGS: 1. South Jersey Surf (13-1). 2. Buena Blue Dawgs (10-4). 3. Northfield Cardinals (9-6); Absecon Outlaws (9-6). 5. Ocean City Water Dogs (8-6). 6. Egg Harbor Township Eagles (7-8). 7. Ventnor Bay Sox (6-7); Hammonton Hot Shots (6-7). 9. Galloway Mustangs (4-8). 10. Egg Harbor City Knights (2-11). 11. Somers Point Captains (2-12).
GAMES TO WATCH: Tonight features a big matchup between Egg Harbor Township and the host Northfield Cardinals. Northfield can take over sole possession of third place with a win and a victory by Galloway over Absecon, also tonight. On Wednesday night it’s the battle for Northfield bragging rights, as the Surf (based out of Northfield) host the Cardinals at Birch Grove Park at 7 p.m. The week closes out with a couple of games that could have playoff seeding implications, as on Thursday Absecon visits the Surf at Birch Grove Park, and on Friday Hammonton travels to Ocean City.