The Buena Regional High School baseball team found itself in perhaps even better position than it was hoping for midway through Thursday’s game at Ocean City.
But it wound up being all for nothing.
After spotting the Red Raiders a 4-0 lead, the Chiefs’ bats erupted in the fifth inning. Buena tagged Ocean City’s ace Beau Hall for five runs on seven hits to take a 5-4 lead and force a pitching change.
But that was all the offense the Chiefs would muster, and their fortunes turned in the bottom of the fifth when a couple of errors and a hit batter gave Ocean City (6-3) the lead for good in a 6-5 victory in a Cape-Atlantic League National Conference Division I game. It was the first loss of the season for the Chiefs (7-1).
“We played hard, we fought hard,” senior catcher Jarred Corniell said. “I don’t think we came out to that great of a start to the game. But we’re Chiefs and we fought.”
Buena knew the runs would be hard to come by against the hard-throwing right-hander Hall. That’s what made the fifth inning so special. Senior center fielder Robert Bunton led the inning off with a double. He was knocked in by sophomore Marco Rios. Corniell had an RBI single next and a run scored on an error off the bat of Taylor Cheli that tied the game at 4-4. The Chiefs took the lead on an RBI single by designated hitter Dom Pace, who drove in Dom Lopez.
“Once we went through the lineup a couple of times everyone started getting a little comfortable (against Hall),” Rios said. “He was challenging us a lot with a lot of fastballs. So we swung early on first pitches.”
“He showed his tendencies,” Corniell added. “He tried to overpower us with his fastball.”
Ocean City scored their first four runs all in the third inning off the starter Rios. Buena’s own ace, Denny Brady, was unable to pitch due to a sore arm.
“I like the way we hung in there,” Buena coach Harry Grose. “You get down 4-0 against (Hall) who shut us down last year, I was worried. Then we responded with five. It was like hit, hit hit. But I knew I wanted more. I wanted another run or two just to get a little comfort.”
The Chiefs would need more. In the bottom of the fifth with Andrew Cartier on the hill in relief of Matt Colon, who had come in for Rios, Ocean City scored a pair of two-out runs. Colon walked the second and third batters of the inning but struck out the Red Raiders’ Sean Mooney before Cartier entered. The tying run crossed on an error and the eventual winning run crossed the plate when Cartier hit nine-hole hitter Evan Ochlan on on a 1-2 pitch.
Buena got a runner into scoring position in the sixth inning but couldn’t drive him in. In the seventh, Ocean City reliever Mooney sat down the Chiefs in order. Mooney, who recorded the final seven outs, struck out two. Hall had six punchouts before leaving the game.
On the other hand, Buena’s four hurlers had control problems, walking seven and hitting one batter.
“Here’s the key to the game, they played better defense than us and they got a little better pitching than us,” Grose said. “Otherwise, I think we take the game.”
Now the Chiefs are faced with something they haven’t dealt with this season — playing off a loss.
“It’s always tough, no one likes to lose,” Rios said. “But you just have to move on. The next game we play is a new game.”
That next game will be against Absegami at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday as part of the Al Hedelt Tournament at Oakcrest. If the Chiefs win, they’ll face the winner Holy Spirit and Cedar Creek.