ABSECON - A young Egg Harbor Township High School baseball team needed a few innings to gain its confidence Tuesday afternoon.
The Eagles rallied to beat Holy Spirit 7-6 in eight innings in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League American Conference teams. EHT trailed 6-1 after five innings.
The Eagles sprinted off the field as if they had won a playoff game after the final out. EHT had struggled in the preseason.
"This is a huge win for us," EHT junior third baseman Monny Strickland said. "Everyone always doubts us.
Strickland tied the game with a two-out single in the top of the seventh inning. EHT senior Matt Allen scored the winning run in the top of the eighth when a Spirit pitcher committed a balk.
EHT had three hits in the first five innings but eight in the last three. The Eagles feature a number of sophomores and juniors in the lineup.
"I told the kids, 'Let's have a little bit of confidence,' " EHT coach Bryan Carmichael said. "We have some talent, but it's young talent. I told the guys to get their cuts in. I thought we were taking too many pitches."
Holy Spirit appeared headed for a comfortable win on the sunny but windy day.
Ryan Solari hit an RBI double and Rob Boselli followed with an RBI triple as the Spartans scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to build a five-run lead.
EHT's comeback began in the top of the sixth inning. Mike Lahoud and Andy Stauffenberg hit RBI doubles as the Eagles scored three runs to cut the lead to 6-4.
EHT tied the game with two runs in the top of the seventh.
Misael Castillo singled, stole second, went to third on a throwing error and scored on Andrew Holmes' sacrifice fly. EHT then scored the tying run with Spirit an out away from the win. Troy Dixon reached on an infield single and stole second. Strickland knocked him in with a single.
"The (Spirit pitcher) was throwing me a lot of changeups," Strickland said. "I was out in front. I said in my head 'Give me another changeup,' and I hit it."
While EHT got its offense going, Eagles relief pitcher Jordan Wisser kept Spirit's bats quiet. In his first varsity appearance, the junior allowed two hits and no runs in 2 innings.
"I just wanted to throw strikes, pound the zone and keep my team in the game," Wisser said. "We have a lot of heart. We're always playing hard."
EHT scored the winning run on an unusual play. Allen lined a double to left field off the glove of a Holy Spirit outfielder. Allen advanced to third base on a groundout and scored on a balk when the Holy Spirit pitcher broke his motion to step off the mound.
The win comes after a less than successful preseason for EHT. The Eagles scrimmaged many of the region's top teams, including perennial powers Gloucester Catholic and Washington Township.
"I think that tough scrimmage schedule prepared us," Carmichael said. "We weren't very successful, but I kept telling the kids we need to continue to do the little things. It's not about the (win) or the (loss) at the end of the day, it's about the process of getting to that."
EHT also made a key personnel move in the preseason. Carmichael shifted Dixon, a standout catcher last season, to shortstop. The senior will attend St. John's University on partial scholarship as a catcher.
"He's such a good athlete," Carmichael said of Dixon.
The moved worked Tuesday. The game ended with Dixon fielding a ground ball and throwing a Spirit runner out at first base.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Egg Harbor Township 100 003 21- 7 11 3
Holy Spirit 012 030 00 – 6 9 1
2B-Lahoud, Stauffenberg, Allen EHT; Hopkins, Solari, White HS. 3B-R. Boselli HS.
WP-Wisser (1-0) LP- Kelly (0-1).
Records- Egg Harbor Township 1-0; Holy Spirit 0-1