Mainland High School Grads Lead ACCC to Win, 6-0 Start of Season
ATLANTIC CITY — Salem Community College might have come into Friday’s doubleheader at Atlantic Cape Community College with a 1-4 record, but Bucs coach Rod Velardi knew what the Mighty Oaks were capable of. They had, after all, beaten Rowan College of South Jersey-Gloucester 9-5 in the season opener, the Roadrunners’ only loss to date. And they also had played tough against the likes of Rowan-Cumberland and Mercer County.
In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader at the Sandcastle, the Buccaneers found themselves trailing Salem on multiple occasions. In years past, that would have been a death knell for Atlantic Cape. But this isn’t your daddy’s ACCC team — or even your older brother’s. The Bucs fought back from a 6-2 deficit, then an 8-6 hole, before rallying to win Game 2 by a score of 11-9. ACCC took care of Salem, 12-3, in the opening game, and — don’t look now — but the Bucs are undefeated with a 6-0 record, the best start in Velardi’s 11-year tenure.
Logan Petty, a former standout first baseman at Mainland Regional and older brother of current Major League Baseball draft prospect Chase Petty, had a huge day for the Bucs, going 4-5 with a two-run double in the first game and adding a two-run homer in second game to finish the day 5-for-7. It was Petty’s home run that highlighted a four-run bottom of the fifth and erased Salem’s 6-4 lead. The Mighty Oaks put up two more runs in the top of the sixth to take an 8-6 lead but ACCC stormed back with five runs in its half of the sixth to take an 11-8 lead.
“That just speaks a lot about this team. We don’t ever give up. You saw that on Sunday in an 11-inning game against Cumberland. In the top of the 11th they came in and scored one, we came in and tied it and one of our guys in the bottom of the lineup (Nate Goodrich/Cedar Creek) came through with a walk-off hit. That really shows the heart of this team. We’re not going to give up and we have a lot of teams looking at us like, ‘wow, they are actually coming to play this year,'” Petty said. “I was seeing the ball really well today. The first game I went 4-for-5 and had a two-run double. I was expecting a curveball — I knew they weren’t going to give me a fastball over the plate. To be honest, I didn’t think that ball was going over. The wind got behind it a lot, but I enjoyed it.”
“We started out a little iffy, but we never give up. But we do all this in practice, even in practice we’re giving that energy, and it’s all about the energy. ACCC is not really well known, but with us doing what we’re doing, this should bring some eyes to this program,” added third baseman Angel Murray, an Egg Harbor Township High graduate who also had a big day at the plate. “It feels amazing. ACCC never started off like this, and this is the team that’s doing it. We’ve been down in a couple games, but we come back. We have the right guys and we’re 5-0. It’s been a great start for us. This is special. These guys, I love them. We come in and practice hard and when we’re in a game and we get down, we never give up.
Leadoff hitter and shortstop Luis Sauri (Buena) got the comeback started with an RBI single in the sixth that pulled the Bucs to within 8-7, and moments later Javier Vega (ACIT) scampered home on a wild pitch to tie the game, 8-8. Murray put ACCC up for good with an RBI bloop double to right-center field and catcher Omar Hernandez (Absegami) pushed the lead to 11-8 with a two-run single down the line in left. Velardi used three relievers after starter Nick Atohi (Mainland), including T.J. Cheli (Buena), Alex Gallagher (EHT) and Sauri.
“It was a little nerve-wracking. They’re a good team, they gave Gloucester their only loss so we knew they were going to come in here and play us pretty tough. But the good news is, it seems like so far our guys have had great at-bats. They’ve done a good job at not swinging at a pitcher’s pitch. They take that pitch and foul it off when they need to, and they end up squaring up a ball and putting it into play. I love that fact that they have bought into getting out of the whole home run mentality — even though we did hit a home run today — they’ve been focusing in on line drives up the middle. If you look at the bulk of our hits, everything happened between the shortstop and second baseman,” said coach Velardi, a former all-state pitcher at Toms River South in the late 1980s who went on to pitch at Butler University in Indiana. “And the other good news is that now we’ve been in a couple of situations when we’ve had to come back. We were down 4-1 to Cumberland, came back and walked it off in the 11th; we walked off Union in the bottom of the seventh. So, now they are starting to get a feeling of hey, it doesn’t matter if we’re down by a run or two, we’ll find a way to make that up.”
ACCC will be back in action on Saturday at noon for the start of a doubleheader against Middlesex County College. The Bucs will host another big double header on April 3 when Mercer County comes to visit the Sandcastle.