• Dan Russoman

Hot Shots grab top seed


Hot Shots second baseman Kenny Levari pivots as he makes a throw to first base during last week’s win against Ventnor. (THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

NORTHFIELD—Despite falling at Northfield last week, the Hammonton Hot Shots earned the top seed in this week’s Atlantic County Baseball League (ACBL) playoffs.


The Hot Shots opened the playoffs, which feature a double-elimination format earlier this week against eight-place Ventnor, but that game ended too late for this edition.


This week’s playoffs will feature two four-team brackets. The winner of each will meet next week in a best-of-three championship series. Joining Hammonton and Ventnor in their bracket are fourth-seeded Absecon and the fifth-seeded Margate Green Wave.


Playing at Northfield on July 30, Hammonton let an early 4-0 lead get away in a 6-4 loss to the host Cardinals.


Robbie Petracci paced the Hot Shots offense with a home run.


Trailing by four runs, Northfield tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, then took the lead in the sixth on a two-RBI double by former Hot Shot Junior Mejia.


“We made too many mistakes. Errors really hurt us tonight,” Hammonton manager Sam Rodio Jr. said.


Earlier in the week, Hammonton lost to the Margate Hurricanes and defeated Ventnor.

Playing at Margate, the Hot Shots dropped a back-and-forth 8-7 decision in eight innings. The game was one of the most exciting of the season for both teams, as the lead changed hands several times.


Margate led 5-3 heading into the seventh innings, but GianCarlo Palmieri gave Hammonton the lead with a three-run homer.


Margate tied the score in the bottom of the seventh, but Petracci’s RBI single put the Hot Shots back in front, 7-6, in the top of the eighth.


In the bottom of the eighth, Chris Knott and Darren Fischer reached base for the Hurricanes and both came around to score on Donnie Stone’s single, giving Margate the win.


“It was a crazy game. G [Palmieri] hits a big home run for us in the seventh, but we didn’t have enough pitching to hold on. We had to use some of the younger guys in big spots and they [Margate] are just too experienced. Their guys know how to win games like that. Give them a lot of credit,” Rodio. said.


Hammonton bounced back to win its next game against a winless Ventnor team 8-0.

Most of the damage was done in the bottom of the first when the Hot Shots plated five runs, taking advantage of a pair of Ventnor errors.


Petracci, who has been one of Hammonton’s top hitters this season, started the rally with a one-out single. He moved to second when Dan Gavlick reached on an error, and Jordan Sweeney followed with a walk to load the bases. Palmieri drove in a run with a single, and then two more runs scored when Kenny Levari’s ground ball was mishandled in the infield.


Both Palmieri and Levari scored later in the inning on Joe Liscio’s single.


In the third, Hammonton added two runs as Sweeney walked and Palmieri was hit by a pitch before Liscio singled in Sweeney and another error allowed Palmieri to score.


The game’s final run came in the bottom of the sixth, as Levari singled and scored when Bobby Esau grounded out with the bases loaded.


Josh Wagner earned the win, his third of the season for the Hot Shots, tossing five solid innings, allowing just three hits while striking out five. Pete Berenato threw the final two innings, retiring all six batters he faced, striking out three.


“Our pitching has been very good all season,” Rodio said.


“Josh [Wagner] has been in the league a long time. He doesn’t throw real hard, but he knows how to get people out. He did a great job tonight. And Pete [Berenato] has looked really good this year. I think he’s become more confident and that’s made him more consistent,” Rodio said.


With the regular season over, the focus now shifts to the playoffs and winning a championship.


“It’s going to be a challenge, definitely. With the format changed this year, there’s not much room for error. We need to play well every night or we’ll be in trouble. The league is very deep this year, and if you make mistakes or don’t play well, anyone can beat you,” Rodio said.


Hammonton received a bye in the opener of the double-elimination playoffs, which began earlier this week. The Hot Shots faced the winner of Absecon and the Margate Green Wave in their first playoff game, which ended too late for this edition. The playoffs resume on August 5 at Hammonton Lake Park.