Holy Spirit Pitching Staff Does the Job in Win Over Previously Unbeaten Ocean City
ABSECON — When the Holy Spirit baseball team gets a lead in the sixth or seventh innings, Spartans fans know what's coming — head coach Steve Normane drops the Hammer.
Jules "Hammer" Massella came in for a six-out save on Monday, shutting the door on the No. 3 team in South Jersey as Holy Spirit escaped with a 4-3 win over Ocean City. Massella came in with two on and nobody out in the top of the sixth and got a pop-up on a bunt attempt, then induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. In the seventh, he got two quick flyouts, then worked around a walk to nail down the win with a strikeout.
That made a winner out of Holy Spirit ace Billy Kral, who allowed three runs on six hits in five innings.
"I love the big games. We lost to Oakcrest (on Friday) in a nail-biter and that was a tough loss. We knew we had to get on ourselves. This was a statement game. It was a little cold and a little windy, but you have to fight through it. The first inning was a little shaky for both teams, but I just had to keep working. I knew their (lineup) was deep, so I had to get ahead, get the fastball over and that opened up the reservoir for everything else," Kral said. "To have Drew (Gallagher) and Bobby (Spicer) turn that double play in the sixth was great. I knew it wasn't over, but I knew we had Jules and he's been one of the best closers in the league for the past two years, so I was confident in him finishing it."
"(Kral) is pitching through an injury. He's got a brace on the thumb of his glove hand and it caused him pain every time he caught the ball," Normane said. "I know it's not his throwing arm, but for him to gut that out and come out and beat one of the top teams in the state, that's a real testament to him. He's a real tough kid."
Ocean City came into the season ranked No. 3 in South Jersey by philly.com and had dispatched Absegami and Egg Harbor Township with relative ease in its first two games. The Red Raiders (2-1) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Josh Arnold walked to lead off the game and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch. But Holy Spirit (2-2), which started the season ranked No. 20 in South Jersey, answered with three runs in its half of the first off Ocean City starter Nick Artymowicz. Bobby Spicer, Drew Gallagher and Nolan Charlton all walked, and all three scored on a single by Dom Boselli. Spicer and Gallagher both scored on the hit, and Charlton raced home when Boselli got caught in a run-down between first and second.
The Red Raiders answered in the third when courtesy runner Zach Chopek scored on an infield error and Joey Clifford — who had reached on the error — came around to score on a bloop single by Brian Casey, knotting the score 3-3. Holy Spirit took the lead for good in the bottom of the third when Massella ripped an RBI single up the middle, scoring pinch runner Billy Stroby.
Ocean City put two runners on base in both the fifth and sixth innings, but couldn't plate the tying run.
"We know Holy Spirit is a good team, and they always play us tough, so from a coaching standpoint we knew we were in for a game today. I think maybe the players didn't take it quite as seriously. But you have to give (Holy Spirit) credit, (Kral) did a real nice job keeping us off balance, and they got the timely hit," said Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger. "That was the difference in the game. Both pitchers struggled with their control at one point in the game, but they got the timely hit and we didn't. We had our opportunities. We didn't get a bunt down, we misplayed a couple of fly balls. We didn't play our best game, but you have to give them credit. They came out and played a nice game."
Mike Costabile bridged the gap from Kral to Massella in the sixth, but when the first two Ocean City batters reached base, Normane turned to Massella to get the Spartans out of a jam.
"We threw in Costabile after (Kral) and that was to mix up the speed variations, and he got in there and threw strikes, and so did Jules. That's what you need to win games," said Spartans catcher Matt Rivera.
"Jules has been like that all year. He had a tough day at the end of the game Friday (against Oakcrest), but he's been swinging the bat well and we gave him the ball at the end and he came through for us. I have all the confidence in the world when he's on the mound," Normane said. "There is going to be failure, it's a game of failure. You can't just lose confidence in somebody, especially somebody like him who has proven himself. We don't hesitate. End of the game comes, he wants the ball and we want him to have it."
While Kral wasn't dominant, he was able to maneuver his way through a very tough lineup, and that's what coach Normane said the junior right-hander better get used to this season.
"He's going to draw those big matchups. It's just the way the schedule falls. Every time he pitches it's going to be a tough opponent. It's somebody who is very formidable and who's going to give him a tough time, so he has to come out and bring his 'A' game," Normane said. "Not that he wouldn't do that against any other team, but he has the right mindset. He's a bulldog out there on the mound, and like you saw today, he gets the job done."
Mensinger said he hopes the loss will drive home the point to his team that there won't be any easy games in the Cape-Atlantic League this season.
"We thought we had that across to them, and at the start of the game we re-emphasized that, but this should wake them up. If they didn't believe it, this should wake them up," Mensinger said. "We have Prep tomorrow, so we can't stay down too long about it. We just have to learn from the mistakes we made today and get back to it tomorrow. This is a learning lesson, and hopefully they learn it."
"They are a great program and they are ranked in all those polls, so we knew we had to bring our 'A' game. Our guys came focused and ready to go. You can't complain about a win like that," Normane said. "They are one of the top teams in South Jersey. Our conference is so tough day in and day out, we'll take our wins when we can get them. To be a top team like that, a top team in the state, really, with a bunch of seniors, they execute well. I'm glad our guys were able to hang tough and come out on top in the end. Our guys know every day is going to be a grind, and as long as they can come out and compete, we'll be alright."
Rivera said that even though it's only the second week of the season, beating Ocean City was important for the Spartans.
"This game is our turning point," Rivera said. "Hopefully we can keep going up and keep winning more. We all had good approaches at the plate and we did our job."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays