By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
NORTHFIELD — Matt McIntire just graduated from Williamstown High School about a month ago, and here he was Saturday night at Birch Grove Park involved in the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League’s Home Run Derby as the representative of the Absecon Outlaws.
He said that before the event he was thinking he better hit at least one home run so he didn’t embarrass himself.
McIntire put on a show nearly as good as Joe Gallagher’s total of 49 in last year’s inaugural event, and McIntire needed every single one of those 45 dingers as the home run he hit on his final swing gave him a 14-13 win over Egg Harbor City’s Matt Rivera in the championship round.
“I knew it was going to come down to the wire. I finished my timeout with six home runs and I didn’t know if I had anything left in me, as tired as I was,” McIntire said. “When I hit the 13th it took a little weight off my shoulders because I knew at least we would go to a swing-off. I knew I had about five seconds left, I put everything I had into that last one and hit it out to right field right below the scoreboard. It was awesome. Amazing.”
Last year, Gallagher had to go into a swing-off after the championship round to finally outlast Ventnor’s Dom Boselli, and this year’s derby was shaping up to go to another swing-off before McIntire got hot in the final minute. Each batter got two minutes per round with one timeout allowed, and McIntire took his finals timeout with a little more than a minute to go and with just six home runs to his credit.
Rivera had belted 13 in his two-minute finals round, which meant McIntire needed at least seven in the final 60 seconds just to tie. It wasn’t going to be easy, as fatigue was setting in quickly.
“This was my first time and I had no clue what I was going to do today. My goal was to just hit one and not embarrass myself. The first round, I came out and hit 12 and I thought, ‘that’s amazing.’ I was hoping that number would hold because there were some beasts in this thing. I had no clue what was going to happen,” he said. “In the second round I hit 19 and I knew that was good enough (to get me into the finals), and in the last round, I got to go second. Thirteen was a really good number for (Rivera) but I knew I had a shot going into the finals because I had hit 12 in the first round and 19 (in the semifinals). So, I just had to take my time and connect.”
The home runs started coming in quick succession in the final 30 seconds, and just before the buzzer sounded — on his final swing — McIntire launched the winning home run to right-center field.
Said McIntire, “this stands as one of the top moments of my baseball career, for sure, first home run derby, and to win it and get this awesome bat — this is amazing.”
Rivera — a former Holy Spirit High standout who currently plays at Ball State University in Indiana — finished second and had a three-round total of 35 home runs. The other semifinalists were Denny Brady of the Buena Blue Dawgs, who finished with 21 homers, and Mike Tallarida of the Egg Harbor Township Eagles, who had a two-round total of 26.
In all, there were 11 contestants, one from each of the league’s teams. Here’s how they finished: 1. Matt McIntire (Absecon) 45. 2. Matt Rivera (Egg Harbor City) 35. 3. Mike Tallarida (EHT) 26. 4. Denny Brady (Buena) 21. 5. Caden Dulin (South Jersey Surf) 8. 6. Julian Costa (Northfield) 5. 7 (tie) Mike Blackiston (Somers Point), Mark Elliott (Ocean City), Dan Gavlick (Hammonton) 4. 10. (tie) Andre Boyer (Galloway), Omar Hernandez (Ventnor) 3.
NOTES: Prior to the home run derby, a junior home run derby was held for 12U players, and that was won by Somers Point 12-year-old Dom DeLuca. … The All-Star Game was won by Team Ball over Team Keelan, 3-2, with Joey Kurtz of the Buena Blue Dawgs earning MVP honors with a scoreless ninth inning save that featured a pair of strikeouts. … The SJSSBL playoffs resume Monday night with No. 4 Northfield vs. No. 1 South Jersey Surf at Birch Grove Park in Northfield at 7 p.m., and No. 3 Absecon visiting No. 2 Buena.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays