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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton falls to Margate in semis


Dan Russoman/THG. Hammonton second baseman Connor VanDine eludes Margate’s Monny Strickland as he records an out during the opening game of last week’s semifinal playoff series.

MARGATE—For most of the 2023 South Jersey South Shore Baseball League (SJSSBL) season, the Hammonton Hot Shots could boast of having perhaps the best pitching staff in the league.


Hammonton’s staff had depth and talent and was a huge factor in why the team had overcome a late season slump to earn the fourth seed in the SJSSBL playoffs and an opening-round series victory against Absecon.


But after taking the first game of last week’s best-of-three semifinal series against top-seeded Margate, Hammonton’s pitcher were battered for 14 runs in the final two games as the Hurricanes fought back to oust the Hot Shots and advance to this week’s championship series against Northfield.


“Margate is a really good team and they hit the ball. It’s not a surprise that they can score a bunch of runs. There are a lot of professional hitters over there and they have a really good approach at the plate. We’ve felt all season that we had the strongest and deepest staff in the league, and they’re the guys who got us here, but when you play Margate, you can’t make even the smallest mistake because they’ll make it hurt,” Hammonton manager Sam Rodio Jr. said.


In the decisive third game of the series, Margate touched Hammonton starter Josh Wagner for four runs, then added three more off relievers Pete Berenato and Lucas Hampel.


“Josh [Wagner] has been an ace for us all year, but they were able to string together a few hits and knock him out of the game,” Rodio said.


While Margate was putting balls in play and scoring runs off Hammonton pitching, the Hurricanes starters will keeping the Hot Shots bats quiet, especially in the last two games of the series.


“That’s the story. I mean, you can pitch as well as you want but you have to hit the ball and score runs to win games and we didn’t do a very good job of that,” Rodio said.


In the loss, Dan Gavlick belted a long home run for Hammonton, and along with a strong throw from right fielder Mason Dorsey that nailed a Margate runner at the plate, there were few highlights for the Hot Shots as their season came to an abrupt end.


“Season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I’m happy with it. We became a team again, and a group of guys who didn’t really know each other, became a tight group and we have a lot to be proud of. These guys have a bright future,” Rodio said.


Hammonton had opened the series with a 3-2 win in Margate. Despite managing just five hits in that game, the Shots were able to take an early 1-0 lead, then add runs in the sixth and seventh innings to pull out a close victory.


Gavlick’s single in the third drove in Jon Newman for the game’s first run, and Hammonton stretched its lead to 2-0 in the top of the sixth when Zach Newman drove in pinch-runner Tom Carroll.


Margate scored in the bottom of the sixth, but in the seventh, Dorsey’s single drove in Chris Newman with what proved to be the game-winning run.


On the mound, Chris Garwood went six strong innings for Hammonton, allowing one run on just two hits while walking five and striking out three.


The second game of the series saw Margate knot it at a game each with a 8-1 win.


The Hurricanes roughed up Hammonton starter John Kasper, who was coming off a two-hit win against Absecon in the quarterfinals.


Kasper, who had thrown just 52 pitches in seven innings against Absecon, had a tougher time with Margate, giving up nine hits in six frames, and allowing five runs.


“I gave it my best, but my slider was off a little and give them credit, they made contact and hit the ball hard,” Kasper said.


Chris Newman surrendered three runs in an inning of relief for the Hot Shots.


Hammonton’s bats were kept quiet by Margate’s Nick DiEva, who held the Shots to just two hits while striking out 15.


“He [DiEva] had a great game. We couldn’t touch him,” Rodio said.


Hammonton’s lone run came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Jon Gonzalez connected for a long homer to left field off DiEva.


“Gonzo got into one and sent a shot over the fence. That was pretty much it for us tonight,” Rodio said.

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