Eight Run Seventh Helps EHT Earn Fourth Straight Win
HAMMONTON — The late, great Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver had a philosophy about baseball that he preached throughout his long career: pitching, defense and the three-run homer. He said, “pitching keeps you in the games. Home runs win the game.”
Egg Harbor Township’s pitching and defense were a little suspect on Monday afternoon at Hammonton High, but the Eagles got a big three-run homer from senior infielder Dave Appolonia just when they needed it. Trailing 4-2 in the top of the 5th, Appolonia drilled a two-out, 400-foot home run to right-center field, giving the Eagles a 5-4 lead. EHT then tacked on eight runs in the top of the seventh to cruise to a 14-6 victory, the Eagles’ fourth straight to start the season.
“We had guys in scoring position and I just needed to do a job there. We were down two and I just had to do a job there, and I got a hold of it. That was the farthest ball I’ve ever hit. That’s what we’ve been doing, getting that run-scoring hit and just riding off that the rest of the game. You saw what happened after that, we broke it open,” Appolonia said. “I’ve been working a ton with (Justin) Sweeney and Frank Wright in the offseason. We’ve put all the work in and now it’s starting to pay off. We put up a pretty big eight spot there.”
The offensive explosion made a winner out of senior right-hander Ethan Dodd, who came on in the bottom of the fourth in relief of Mikal Goods and Frank Wright. All those runs in the final three innings also made up for 12 walks by EHT pitching and a handful of errors on the infield.
“One of the biggest staples in our program is throwing strikes, and we didn’t do a very good job of it today. We had, I believe, 11 walks. And the next thing we talk about all the time is free bases, and we ended up with four errors and two passed balls — these are all things that add up. I’ve been preaching that to these guys. I’m glad we came out and swung the bats today because we’ve been a little suspect with the bats in the first three games. I guess you could say I’m happy in that department, but fielding the baseball, getting ahead of the hitters and throwing strikes, not very good today,” said EHT skipper Bryan Carmichael. “You make your own luck. We work hard, but in high school baseball you can’t live by (three-run homers). I think more of what you saw from us in the last couple innings with bunting and moving — early on we didn’t execute, we go with a safety squeeze and we end up getting a bad read at third base. But when we had the opportunity to break it open, we did a lot of the things that we do really well. We never backed down, we continued to answer back all day. The one thing that’s nice is we can just run arms out there. We have guys on the bench who could have thrown today, too.”
EHT (4-0, 2-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) took an early 2-0 lead but Hammonton answered back with a pair of runs in the second on run-scoring groundout by Gavin West and an infield error. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, the Blue Devils (2-2, 1-1 CAL American) scratched across a pair of runs to take a 4-2 lead. Jared Beebe singled and Lucas DeStefano walked, and both later came around to score on an RBI single inside the first-base bag by DH Brett Longo. It didn’t take long for the Eagles to answer back, however, as Manny Velardi was hit by a pitch with one out in the fifth and Jacob Dembin drew a two-out walk, setting the stage for Appolonia’s heroics.
“He can swing it,” Carmichael said of Appolonia, who began to make a name for himself in last summer’s “Last Dance” tournament. “He had a good sophomore year and when we got banged up in 2019 he was a guy who came up (to varsity) and filled a role. But him and Ethan Dodd are the only guys who have varsity in-the-batter’s-box experience. We touched on that last week, not having good at-bats and not hitting the ball hard, so I’m happy we hit the ball hard today. We just have to keep getting better at that.”
Josh Mejia laid down a perfect bunt single to score a run in the sixth to extend EHT’s lead to 6-4. The Devils shaved the lead down to 6-5 heading into the seventh, but then the floodgates opened and EHT rallied for eight runs. Braeden Thies and Dodd each had two-run singles during the rally and Justin Sweeney, a Rutgers University commit, added an RBI single.
“(Hammonton) is a good baseball team. They just beat a 4-0 Northern Burlington team on Saturday,” Carmichael said. “We haven’t played these guys since 2016, so the kids don’t really know them or the program because they were in the Tri-County Conference, but they’ve always played good baseball here. I went to school here at St. Joe’s, so half these kids who were playing against us today, I grew up playing with their fathers. The starting pitcher (David Humphries), they were the first people who employed me years ago at Atco Fence Company installing fences. George West’s kid is here playing, Gavin West, and George and I grew up playing against each other, so this is kind of a homecoming for me.”
The Eagles may currently be ranked No. 12 in the state, but Carmichael said there still is plenty to figure out about his team in the weeks ahead.
“Did I expect to be 4-0 at this point? You don’t know, it’s a crap-shoot,” he said. “I saw to someone that I don’t know good we are. Some of these guys, I’ve never coached before and have only seem them play baseball for two or three weeks. It’s kind of what (St. Augustine Prep coach) Mike Bylone said yesterday (at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic), we’re still trying to figure things out. We had a completely different lineup than we had last Monday (in the season opener). And I told the kids it will be ever-evolving until we figure it out.”
Appolonia believes that if the bats can heat up, his Eagles certainly have the pitching to be one of the top teams in South Jersey.
“Pitching-wise I think we’re one of the best in the state and can go toe-to-toe with anybody,” he said. “I think we have a solid team and if we get the bats clicking you can see what happens.”
What’s next: EHT hosts Atlantic City on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Hammonton travels to Absegami on Wednesday at 4 p.m.