Baseball: Zach Zellers sparks Ocean City to comeback win
OCEAN CITY - Zach Zellers of the Ocean City High School baseball team accomplished plenty with one hit Friday night.
The shortstop tied the game against Hammonton with an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning.
He also redeemed himself for a key error.
And most importantly, his hit made the Red Raiders believe they could win.
Ocean City rallied to beat Hammonton 4-3 in a matchup of Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group III rivals. Ocean City's Beau Hall knocked in the winning run with a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning. The victory, Ocean City's ninth straight, boosts the Red Raiders' chances of getting an at-large invitation to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic.
'It was great that the kid (Zellers) that had a misplay gets the key hit that ties the game," Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger said. "At that point, our kids knew we were going to win."
It was the first night game played at Ocean City's field in years, according to Mensinger. The city repaired the lights around the field at 5th and Bay avenues before this season.
"My catcher (Vince Terry) said, 'How about a night game?' " Mensinger said. "I said, 'Sounds good to me.' He said, 'How about Hammonton?' I contacted the Hammonton coaches and they were all for it."
Ocean City and Hammonton have developed a friendly but intense rivalry the past few seasons. Friday's game was a rematch of last season's S.J. Group III final, which Hammonton won 6-1. Fans filled the small bleachers to watch Friday's game. Many more fans stood alongside both dugouts. The fans reacted to every pitch as the game progressed.
"It's nice to have a crowd," Hall said. "It gives you a feeling that everyone is watching and you have pull through."
Zellers changed the game's tone with his hit. Ocean City led 2-1 after four innings, but Zellers booted a groundball in the top of the fifth. The error led to two unearned runs that gave Hammonton a 3-2 lead.
"I was mad, but I got a nice hit and that made up for everything," he said.
Zellers came up with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the sixth. The right-handed Zellers hit a fastball on the outside corner into the right-field gap for a game-tying RBI double.
Zellers' hit infused the red Raiders with confidence and changed the vibe in the Ocean City dugout.
"We could relax and take a deep breath (because the game was tied)," Mensinger said. "We have last at-bats, and (Pitcher) Kyle (Andrews) was getting stronger as the game went on."
Ocean City took advantage of a Hammonton miscue to win the game in the bottom of the seventh. Christian Candeloro walked. Vince Terry then hit a hard groundball to third base that the Blue Devils misplayed.
That brought Hall, Ocean City's cleanup hitter, to the plate.
"I was looking fastball middle in, and they gave me one," Hall said. "I was just trying to put in play."
Hall hit a groundball up the middle that barely got past Hammonton pitcher Steve Cahill. The ball hopped over the second base bag into center field while pinch runner Josh Arnold scored the winning run.
"I knew I didn't get all of it, and I was just trying to bust it down the line," Hall said. "I (finally) looked and saw the ball was in the outfield and everybody was running out of the dugout."
Ocean City (12-3) showed resiliency with the come-from-behind win. Andrews epitomized the Red Raiders' effort.
He gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the first but got stronger as the game wore on, allowing three hits in the final four innings.
"I felt by the seventh inning I was throwing way better and probably a little bit harder than the first," Andrews said. "I just needed that time. Seven innings is a little long to get your pitches on line, but it seemed to work out."
For Hammonton, the defeat ended a disappointing week. The Blue Devils (7-7) lost to St. Augustine Prep on Wednesday and Atlantic City on Thursday.
But Hammonton can take some solace in Cahill's performance. The sophomore allowed just three hits and struck out six in his first varsity start.
"He's into every pitch and he's all baseball," Hammonton coach Gary Sarno said. "He's going to have a great career here."
Meanwhile, Ocean City will now wait and see if it gets invited to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic. The prestigious tournament, named after the former Eastern coach who is a fixture on the South Jersey baseball scene, will feature 16 of the region's top teams. The field will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday.
But the Red Raiders were too busy Friday night relishing their win to worry about their Diamond Classic fate.
"I don't know if it's enough with the other stuff going on," Mensinger said referring to the Classic, "but this was a big win and we loved it."
Contact Michael McGarry:
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