OCEAN CITY - Ocean City High School's baseball team had been on a roll for more than a month, using terrific pitching, strong defense and timely hitting to reel off 20 consecutive victories.
The streak ended in the South Jersey Group III championship game Friday.
Burlington Township senior right-hander Ryan Bell held the Red Raiders in check and the Falcons capitalized on some uncharacteristic Ocean City mistakes to earn a 2-0 victory.
"I felt like it was going to be a low-scoring game," Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger said. "I was hoping that we would score first and make them press a little bit, but we couldn't do it.
"I give Burlington Township a lot of credit. They played great defense and their pitcher kept us off-balance. In the end, they took advantage of their breaks and we didn't."
The third-seeded Red Raiders (23-4), the No. 6 team in The Press Elite 11, won a sectional title in 2010 and lost to Hammonton in last year's final. According to Burlington Township coach Jason Stec, the fifth-seeded Falcons (15-7) hadn't won a South Jersey championship in at least 25 years.
Bell and Ocean City senior right-hander Beau Hall were both dominant through the first five innings, allowing three total baserunners. The bottom of Burlington's lineup provided the decisive run in the top of the sixth. Sophomore Isaiah Hall, the No. 8 hitter in the order, smacked a sharp single to right field and then dashed all the way to third when the ball got past Ocean City's right fielder and rolled to the fence. Junior Bobby Palentchar, the No. 9 batter, provided the decisive run by lining an RBI single through the middle.
"My teammates calmed me down before I went up there, so I wasn't nervous or feeling any pressure," Palentchar said. "I went up there looking to swing at the first pitch because I figured that would be the best pitch I'd get, and he gave me the fastball I was expecting."
The Falcons added an insurance run Aaron Crichlow's and Dennis Stewart's back-to-back singles, but Bell didn't need it. He kept the Red Raiders off-balance throughout the game with fastballs on the outside corner and the occasional curve. Bell (6-3) allowed just two hits - Hall's single in the second and Sean Mooney's double in the fifth - with no walks and seven strikeouts.
"I noticed that we had only been playing for 45 minutes and we were already in the fifth inning, so I started to think that one run was going to be the difference today," Bell said. "The umpire was giving me the outside corner with my fastball, so I just stuck with that most of the time, and I knew my defense would back me up."
Ocean City mounted a two-out rally in the seventh when Kieran Tracey reached on an error. Mooney then brought a large, rowdy Ocean City crowd to its feet when he sent a fastball soaring toward center field.
A brisk wind held it up, however. Burlington's Ronnie Grant caught it, leaped with joy and then rushed to join his teammates on the mound for a celebration while Ocean City's players looked on from the dugout.
"We thought we had a real good shot at winning this thing," Mensinger said. "It didn't happen that way, but our kids have a lot to be proud about. To win 20 games in a row, to reach the South Jersey final for the third time in four years, they can hold their heads high."
Contact David Weinberg:
Burlington Township 000 001 1-2 4 1
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WP-Bell (6-3) 7K. LP-Hall (6-2) 7K.
Records: Burlington Township 15-7; O.C. 23-4.