It's championship time in the Atlantic County Baseball League, and a familiar name finds itself in the finals again.
Top-seeded Margate is riding an 18-game winning streak heading into its best-of-five matchup with Hammonton, which is the No. 3 seed. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. Monday in Margate.
Margate is the reigning league champion in the league, having won 10 of the last 13 championships and six of the last seven. But coach Yogi Hiltner said he doesn't think it's that big of an advantage.
"They've been in the playoffs a lot the past few years," Hiltner said, "so it isn't like they haven't had the competition. And they just knocked off Absecon, who had only five losses this year."
Hammonton (19-11) won decisive Game 3s in its two previous playoff series against Team Univers and second-seeded Absecon to reach the finals for the first time since it lost to Margate in 2010. Hammonton last won the ACBL title in 2002.
"That's definitely in the back of everyone's mind," Hammonton coach Sam Rodio said. "It's frustrating because we've played them so well the last 5-8 years. We met them in 2010. All of our games have been very close, and it seems like every time we catch a bad break. A kid gets hurt or a pitcher has a bad game.
"We've always felt we're right there. Now we want our shot. We feel we're there and we feel we can beat anybody. and we have up until now, so we're looking forward to it."
Margate (26-2) swept Egg Harbor City and Ventnor in best-of-three series to reach the finals.
In Margate's 36-year history, the club has won 19 ACBL titles. Hammonton has a rich history as well, having won 11 championships.
Hammonton boasts arguably the top pitching staff in the ACBL this season. The staff includes left-handers Brad Mountain (9-1) and Trevor Rosenberg (7-3), plus Rowan University ace Steve Melchiorre and Billy Jackson, the winning pitcher in the semifinal clincher over Absecon.
"I think we do have the best staff in the league. ... Those four guys are four of the hardest workers I've ever seen, Brad in particular," Rodio said. "We make fun of him and say he thinks he's in the Olympics. They're running after games, in the gym together, having a toss, whatever their schedule is. They just want to win. They're great guys and great friends.
"Right after we beat Absecon, 20 minutes after the game they were hanging out having a sandwich. All four were together already talking about the next series. ... They're just 24/7 thinking about baseball and winning, and the rest of the team has kind of followed that and fed off of that."
Margate's offense boasts former professional ballplayers David Housel and Jason Law, as well as Pat Goodwin and Eric Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has 13 home runs this season and is hitting better than .400, as are Law and Goodwin, Hiltner said.
The stakes are high, but so too is the mutual respect between the teams and their coaches.
"Margate and Hammonton has had an unbelievable history from Little League to county league," Hiltner said. "Sam Rodio kept the Hammonton franchise afloat when they almost fell out of the league, taking over the club when he was about 19.
"He's an unbelievable guy and we have a tremendous amount of respect between each other. It's going to be a friendly series rivalry because both towns respect each other so greatly."
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