Hot Shots swept in SJSSBL playoffs
HAMMONTON—Midway through the sixth inning of Hammonton’s South Jersey South Shore Baseball League (SJSSBL) playoff game against Absecon last week, one of the light standards went out at Hammonton Lake Park.
The outage caused about a 15-minute delay in the game, but it did little to change the fortunes of the host Hot Shots, who went on to lose 8-2, as the visiting Outlaws completed a sweep of the best-of-three quarterfinal series, ending Hammonton’s season.
“I wish we could have played a little better, but that’s baseball. We had a good run. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, obviously. It was disappointing, but it was fun. We have a great group of guys here,” Hammonton manager Sam Rodio Jr. said.
Playing for the 10th time in less than two weeks, Hammonton struggled to score runs during the series, as Absecon outscored the Hot Shots 15-2 in the two games.
The Outlaws put pressure on the Hot Shots, who finished the season with six-straight losses.
“We’re not too happy with how the schedule was, especially late in the season when we had to play eight times in 10 days, and I think that really hurt our pitching. But give Absecon credit, they’re a really good team and they shut us down,” Rodio said.
The opener of last week’s series saw Absecon cruise to a 7-0 victory. Josh Wagner took the loss for the Hot Shots, who were unable to put runners on base.
Gino Serechia doubled in the loss and Mason Dorsey added two hits.
Facing elimination the following night at the Lake, Hammonton fell behind early, but was able to take a 2-1 lead after three innings before Absecon broke the game open with three runs in the fourth and three in the seventh to close out the series with an 8-2 win.
C.J Egrie led off the game with a single for the Outlaws, advanced to second on an error and eventually scored later in the inning to give Absecon a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, Jon Newman doubled for the Hot Shots and scored on Kenny Morganweck’s single to tie the game.
Hammonton grabbed its only lead of the series in the second inning, when Connor Van Dine drew a leadoff walk, moved to third on Dan Gavlick’s single down the right field line and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Serechia.
In the fourth, Absecon regained the lead with three runs off Kasper, taking advantage of a walk and two hit batsmen.
With two on and one out, Steve Hewa singled in a pair of runs to give Absecon a 3-2 lead. Ray Keelan followed with an RBI single to add a run.
In the sixth, Absecon chased Kasper from the game after Hewa’s double scored Egrie.
Reliever Pete Berenato was able to avoid any more damage, but in the seventh, the Outlaws touched the veteran right-hander for three more runs, as Berenato walked two to start the frame.
Brad Mountain came in for the Hot Shots and closed out the game.
“John [Kasper] had trouble locating his fastball tonight. He had only walked one hitter all season, so to see him struggle with his command was unusual,” Rodio said.
An error aided Absecon in the seventh, and both Egrie and Keelan drove in runs as the Outlaws took control of the matchup.
Hammonton was held in check by Absecon pitcher Max Keegan, who allowed just two runs and three hits in the win while walking two and striking out 12. Keegan retired the last 12 batters he faced.
“We were short a few bats tonight, but it’s not an excuse. We just didn’t get anything going,” Rodio said.
The loss ended the season for the Hot Shots, their first in the SJSSBL, and forced Rodio to give his team the speech he didn’t want to deliver.
“It’s always hard when the season ends,” Rodio said.
“It was our first season in the league, and while we miss the old ACBL [Atlantic County Baseball League], this league is a new challenge for us and we had a lot of fun. We lost this series, but it could have been very different for us. I mean, at one point last week I think we had a shot to finish in third place, but the schedule hurt us a little bit and that’s something we hope will change next season,” Rodio said.
The end of any season is bittersweet, but Rodio believes the Hot Shots will be better next summer.
“When I look back at the start of the season, we only had maybe six guys back from last year. So, it really was a whole new team and it took us some time to learn each other. Once we did, I think we played really well. There’s a lot of talent in this dugout. Some of the younger guys played great for us and I think it’s just the beginning of what should be great careers for them. We look at our team as a program, and we try to build each year. I think if most of these guys are back, and I hope they are, we can be at the top next year,” Rodio said.
Mountain, a veteran of more than 10 seasons with the Hot Shots, agreed.
“When I look around, I see a lot of really good players on this team. We aren’t that far away. I think the young kids learned a lot from some of the older guys, at least I hope they did. I know I tried to pass on things to them. We can be a really good team and I like what we have here,” Mountain said.
“I had to give the speech I never want to give, the one at the end of the season. But hey, only one team wins their last game. This year it wasn’t us, but I’m really looking forward to next season,” Rodio said.