Unlikely Hero Comes Up Big for Mainland vs Cherokee
SOMERS POINT — At any level of baseball, not much is expected offensively from the guy batting ninth. If a team gets even a tiny bit of offense out of that spot in the batting order, most coaches would consider that a win.
On Friday night, host Mainland couldn’t have won without their No. 9 hole hitter, Joe Sheeran. In the biggest at-bat of his young career so far — two outs, bottom of the sixth, his team trailing 4-3 on opening night of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Fehrle Field — Sheeran delivered, big-time. He drove a high fastball off reliever Blake Morgan, a future Division I pitcher at Old Dominion University, to the fence in left field. Left fielder Zach Weiner nearly made a spectacular running catch up against the fence, but his momentum made him crash into a plywood advertising sign and that jarred the ball loose, allowing all three runners to score.
Mainland hung on for a 6-4, come-from-behind win as closer Mark Elliott worked out of a bases-loaded jam of his own in the top of the seventh.
“My first two at-bats I was kind of in my own head a little bit, but I went up there and it was bases loaded, two outs, so I had to be the man to get it done. It was a lot of pressure, but I just tried to block that out and focus on the pitcher and myself, and if he throws a good pitch, I just had to hit it,” Sheeran said. “I felt like I hit it pretty good, but I didn’t think it was going out. I saw the left fielder going back on it and I had a little hope (that it would be a home run), and after it dropped I was like, ‘OK, that will work.'”
Senior shortstop Brody Levin started on the mound for Mainland (3-0, 2-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) and did pretty well, but the Mustangs’ defense buckled a bit in the second. Cherokee (3-1, 1-0 Olympic American) followed up Jeremy Cheeseman’s two-run homer in the first with a pair of runs in the second on a couple of infield errors, and the Chiefs looked to be in control, carrying a 4-2 lead into the fifth. Mainland got a run back in the fifth on an RBI double by Elliott, and turned to another unlikely hero in the middle innings.
Crafty lefty Will Hoover twirled two innings of scoreless relief, bridging the gap between Levin and Elliott and keeping the Mustangs close enough to mount a comeback.
“I came in there, and I didn’t even know I was coming in today. I was surprised when coach said I was going in, and I was a little blown away by that. But I’m completely confident in myself, I just came in there and did what I had to do,” Hoover said. “I’ve been working my curveball lately and trying to perfect that. It was kind of iffy but I was able to strike a guy out with it. The fastball is my go-to, for sure.”
Neither Hoover nor Sheeran allowed the pressure to get to them, and that, they said, was the key to them coming through in the clutch in front of a big crowd at a showcase event.
“We were down early and it wasn’t looking good but it’s a whole team effort, it’s not one individual,” Sheeran said. “Will Hoover did a great job. He’s a sleeper, for sure, a real good lefty. He just throws strikes and he gets the job done every time.”
Added Hoover, “baseball is all about what’s going on in your head. You’ve got people booing from the other dugout, but you just have to stay within yourself, that’s really about it.”
Dom Patrizi and Evan Brown combined for five hits, two runs, an RBI and a stolen base for Cherokee, and starter Jackson Edelman allowed just two earned runs while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings of work. Elliott and Hoover combined for three innings of shutout relief with five strikeouts and just one walk.
What’s next: Mainland travels to ACIT on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Cherokee travels to Camden Catholic on Monday at 3:45 p.m.