MARGATE - Ross Costello played baseball with his buddies this summer.
He also won a championship.
Costello hit a grand slam as Margate won the Atlantic County Baseball League title with an 8-5 win over Absecon on Thursday night. Margate swept the best-of-five series three games to none.
"There's no other way to spend a summer," Costello said.
Costello, 21, showed the strength of Margate's lineup. The former Egg Harbor Township High School standout and current Rutgers University player batted eighth.
"When they have to watch out for your eight hitter, they're in trouble," Margate manager Yogi Hiltner said.
The victory gave Margate its 18th league title since 1978 and its 19th overall. Margate has won six of the ACBL's last seven titles. Thursday's crowd filled the small bleachers. More fans sat on the benches and picnic tables around the field.
Margate trailed 5-0 as it came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning.
"Everyone had faith in the dugout," Costello said. "Everyone was up. No one was down."
Margate's rally began with one out. Nine straight Margate hitters reached base on either walks or hits.
Margate cut the lead to 5-3 on RBI singles from Charlie Law and Dan Coia and a bases-loaded walk to Steve Schrenk.
That brought Costello to the plate with the bases loaded. Costello, who is about to begin his junior year at Rutgers, started 18 games and batted .292 for the Scarlet Knights last season.
He hit a first-pitch slider from Absecon starter Mike Hampton far over the center-field fence to give Margate a 7-5 lead.
"(Hampton) had started off a lot of guys with a slider," Costello said. "My teammates said look for it. I went up there and it happened. It was one of those where you hit well, and you know it's gone."
One batter later, Tom Goodwin hit an RBI double to give Margate an 8-5 edge.
"That was a huge run," Yogi Hiltner said. "Goodwin has been our spark all year."
The game was originally scheduled to be played Wednesday but was postponed because of rain. That forced Margate to make a pitching change. Margate's scheduled starter Tim Crawford left for Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina on Thursday so Margate started Doug Hiltner, Yogi's son.
"Doug has been a one-inning guy all year long," Yogi said.
Doug Hiltner, 31, had a simple strategy.
"I know what to do," he said. "I have to go out there and throw strikes. I let them put the ball in play. I just throw it over the plate and hopefully good things happen."
Most of the time they did. Hiltner scattered nine hits and struck out four. He allowed four of Absecon's runs in the fourth inning. He didn't panic even though Absecon led 5-0 after four innings.
"Every one of our guys can hit," Doug Hiltner said. "Down 5-0 I was a little nervous but knowing we have the power to come out and score eight runs is a really nice situation when you're pitching."
Hiltner struck out Absecon's leadoff hitter in the seventh and final inning. He walked the next batter. Yogi then pulled his son from the game in favor of reliever Lou Pepper. Hiltner lobbied his dad to stay in the game.
"I wanted one more chance to throw a groundball," Doug said with a smile.
Pepper struck out the final two batters to end the game. Friends and family then gathered around to congratulate the Margate players.
"It's always fun to go out and win," Doug Hiltner said. "In any sport, you go out to win the game. That's why you play."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Absecon 001 400 0 - 5 9 0
Margate 000 080 x - 8 9 1
2B - Hartley, Allen AB. Goodwin M.
HR- Costello M.
WP- Hiltner LP- Hampton
Records - Absecon 21-12; Margate 28-4.