FRANKLIN TWP. – Tom Carney couldn’t have got much closer to home plate.
Another inch or so and he would have owned it.
With the bases loaded and Colin Craig standing on third base, the Delsea High School senior second baseman was willing to do whatever it took to push across just one more run.
“I was looking for a walk until he threw me a strike,” Carney said. “Any way I could do it, I was going to give it my best shot.”
Carney would get hit by pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday, giving Delsea a 4-3 victory over Seneca and a berth in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals.
“He dared the pitcher to throw the ball and see how he would react,” Delsea coach Fran Ciociola said. “It was a matter of who would blink first. Tom is not afraid to crowd the plate. He’s a tough kid.”
The No. 5 seed, Delsea (15-6) will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Winslow Township and Ocean City on Tuesday. The No. 13 seed, Seneca dropped to 12-11.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Seneca coach Jay Donoghue, whose team had won eight of its last nine entering the game. “We scored runs in bunches this year and were waiting for that one more inning to put a few runs on the board. We just didn’t get that chance.”
The victory was typical of the way Delsea’s season has gone pretty much all year. If the first guy can’t get the job done, the next guy is right there to hopefully pick him up.
“It’s what we do. We grind,” Ciociola said. “Every game is torture. We get a run here, a run there. It’s always a dogfight.
“We tell the kids that if someone can’t get it done, don’t get down because the next guy is there. That next guy has been getting it done whether it’s off the bench, at the plate or on the bump.”
The Crusaders had several scoring opportunities only to Seneca respond defensively.
“We’ve been pretty consistent in the field, but it wasn’t enough,” Donoghue said. “They had too many chances and eventually broke through.”
Greg Avis picked up the victory, throwing 62/3 innings of scoreless relief. The senior left-hander gave up just three hits after Seneca took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. Zach Evans collected an RBI double and Wyatt Thomas followed with a two-run double.
“This means a lot. It could have been the last game of my high school career,” said Avis, who also went 2-for-4 with a walk. “I just had to throw strikes and we made the plays when we needed them.
“It was frustrating but I knew deep down that we could get it done. It’s been this way all season, but kids step up in big spots and get the job done.”
Delsea cut its deficit to 3-2 with two runs in the fourth, scoring on an RBI single by Dalton Burns and a suicide squeeze off the bat of Craig. The Crusaders tied it in the sixth with a sacrifice fly by Matt Birmingham.
A team that had only played five games three weeks into the season, the Crusaders have won 11 of their last 13 and find themselves one win away from playing for a sectional title.
“Playing a lot of games recently has helped us immensely,” Ciociola said. “Between rainouts, the senior trip, prom they were getting tired of looking at each other and wanted to compete.
“It seems like we’ve been playing every day and that’s helped us. I think we’ve hit our stride.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2432; email@example.com
• Player of the game: Greg Avis pitched 6 2/3 innings of scoreless, three-hit relief.
• Play of the game: With the bases-loaded, Tom Carney was hit by a pitch to drive in the winning run.
• Well said: “This shows just how tough we are. If we keep battling, our chance will come.” — Tom Carney