By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

NORTHFIELD — The South Jersey Surf won 20 games during the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League regular season, and did so on the strength of very good pitching and an offense that could put up runs in bunches. The Surf were stymied in Game 1 of the league semifinals on Monday night as Northfield Cardinals righty Ethan Dodd twirled a gem, leading his team to a 6-1 victory and a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-3 series.

The top-seeded Surf got back to what they do best on Tuesday night at Birch Grove Park, evening the series with a convincing 16-1 victory over the No. 4 Cardinals, evening the series at 1-1. The decisive Game 3 is tonight at 7 at Birch Grove Park, with the Surf as the home team. The winner advances to next week’s best-of-5 championship series against either No. 2 Buena or No. 3 Ocean City. Ocean City evened up that series at 1-1 on Tuesday night behind some outstanding pitching from recent Holy Spirit graduate Jayden Shertel. Game 3 is tonight at 7 at Bruno Melini Park in Buena.

The Surf (23-4) jumped out to a hot start on Tuesday night, racking up five runs in the top of the first inning. That was plenty for 2019 Egg Harbor Township graduate Collin McLaughlin, who went 4 2/3 innings of hitless ball to record the win.

“I tried my best out there, tried to fill up the zone as much as I could. I had more walks than I should have, but the goal was to just pound it in there,” McLaughlin said. “My team did well early, gave me a good five-run lead in the first and felt way more comfortable out there.

“That was definitely good, it made things easier on me so I could just try to fill up the zone and work on my stuff.”

The Surf didn’t exactly knock the ball all over the park early on, but did take advantage of some wildness by the Cardinals’ pitching staff. In the first inning, the Surf scored five runs on just two hits, but were helped out by five walks and a hit batsman. Nick Atohi started things off by flaring an RBI single down the right-field line and Logan Petty followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0. A sacrifice fly by Justin Maniero pushed the lead to 3-0 and bases loaded walks to Omar Hernandez and Colin Lombardo gave the Surf a 5-0 lead.

The Surf then poured it on in the top of the third, rallying for nine runs. The big blow was a two-run single by Lombardo that made it 8-1, and Sam Daggers, Atohi and Hernandez added RBI singles to make it 13-1.

McLaughlin struggled with his command at times but still did enough to quiet the Cardinals’ bats before giving way to A.J. Hansen, who faced just one batter to get the final out in the fifth.

“I’m really confident in this team, it’s a real good bunch of guys, we work hard and we’re all pretty close. We’re hungry. Last game we lost and we hadn’t lost to them all season, so we were like, ‘OK, it’s time to buckle down and get this win,'” McLaughlin said. “I think our success has really come from our pitching. Our pitching has been dominant. We have about a 60 or 70 run differential overall, which is by far the most in the league, and if we keep pitching the way we have been there’s no doubt we can go all the way.”

What’s next: South Jersey Surf vs. Northfield Cardinals, tonight, 7 p.m. at Birch Grove Park. Winner advances to the SJSSBL Championships Series, which begins Aug. 2.

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