Mike Hampton never claimed to be a power hitter.
But as the leadoff hitter for Absecon in the Atlantic County Baseball League, the Galloway Township resident will do whatever it takes to get on base.
He leads Absecon in walks. He'll beat out throws with his speed. He doesn't mind being hit by a pitch.
His teammates share that attitude as Absecon gets ready to play Margate for the Atlantic County Baseball League championship. The best-of-five series starts today when second-seeded Absecon (21-9) plays at No. 1 Margate (25-4) at 7 p.m.
"What we've always said, if I can get on and score, (we can win the game)," Hampton, a player-coach, said Saturday. "I'm not there to hit a home run or a triple. I'm down to grind it out and do what I've got to do to get on base."
The 31-year-old Hampton is the sparkplug for an Absecon squad that has reached the finals for the first time since the team returned to the league eight years ago. Hampton is the only current player from that first year back.
Absecon also features Dan Allen, who pitches and plays center field and leads the league with 12 home runs. Allen homered twice in Absecon's two previous playoff series against Hammonton and Egg Harbor City. Along with Allen, Hampton and 2012 Absegami graduate John Waters will share pitching duties.
Shortstop E.J. Stolzfus is a Holy Spirit High School graduate who plays for University of Delaware. Other players to watch are catcher/outfielder Kevin Cicali, second baseman Anthony Cocuzza and first baseman Kenny Morgenweck.
"A lot of guys are new to the team and the league," Hampton said. "Just knowing the overall history of the league, they're pretty fired up to go in there and try to win a championship."
A veteran Margate team counters Absecon's inexperience with plenty of exposure to the ACBL finals. Margate has been to the championship series 26 times since 1978, having won 19 league titles, including five in the last six years.
It'll take more than just a storied past to win again, though.
"The history doesn't mean anything. It's probably a little bit of an advantage in a sense. But every game is different and every game is a challenge," longtime Margate coach Yogi Hiltner said Sunday.
Shortstop Pat Goodwin leads Margate with a batting average Hiltner said hovered around .500 all season. Jason Law, Charlie Law, Dave Housel and Steve Shrenk bring power to Margate's offense.
Lou Pepper, a ninth-year pitcher for Margate, will start the first game. He has a 90-10 career record, including 8-3 this year. Unbeaten Joe Noyes (9-0) will start Game 2 in Absecon on Tuesday.
Pitching and defense will be two keys to victory. A third and probably the most critical, says Hiltner, is timely hitting.
"Teams can get 14 hits in a game and score no runs, and teams can get five or six hits in a row and score four or five runs," Hiltner said.
Meanwhile, a win for Hampton would do more than bring him a championship that has eluded him for eight years. It would speak volumes about a team he helped build.
"We've come an extremely long way. ... There's some great baseball going on right now," he said.
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