OCEAN CITY — Egg Harbor Township knew it had to beat Millville on Thursday afternoon in the final round of pool play at the Last Dance World Series to have an outside shot of advancing to next week’s Round of 32 in the pseudo-high school tournament that features 222 teams throughout the state of New Jersey. The Eagles took care of business by scoring a 2-1 win over the Lightning, using a pair of first-inning runs and some solid pitching to finish pool play with a 2-1 record.

It wasn’t enough to advance, however, as Holy Spirit beat Ocean City, 13-4, in the final game of the night to go 3-0. The Baseball Performance Center Spartans advance to next week’s single elimination portion of the tournament, which will crown a state champion on July 31 in Trenton.

“This is a great opportunity. I love these guys, and playing one more time with them was a great time,” said EHT’s Garrett Smith, a recent graduate who had his senior year wiped out due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We really did get robbed, and I feel bad for the juniors, too, because they had their year taken away. All of us are feeling the same thing.”

EHT scored twice in the first, as freshman Justin Sweeney got things started with a single and scored on a double by Dave Appolonia, and junior Ethan Dodd followed with a run-scoring single. Millville answered with a run in the second on a first-and-third double steal, but Gus Buzby pitched five solid innings in relief of starter Jacob Dembin.

“It was awesome to have this opportunity, and ‘thank you’ to everyone who put it together. I never thought I’d be able to put on an EHT uniform again,” said senior outfielder Bobby Baxter. “With the crowds and the great weather, it was a great opportunity. It was frustrating working that hard in the offseason and hearing the news that the season would be canceled, but it’s never for nothing, it always adds on — everything you do in the offseason adds up and whenever you get the opportunity to be back on the field again, that’s your time to shine.”

Not having a senior season was a huge letdown for guys like Smith and Baxter, but they have taken it in stride and were hugely thankful to have one last chance to represent themselves and their program as high school baseball players. They also enjoyed being able to play in front of outstanding crowds the past three days in Ocean City, they said.

“We don’t have that many seniors. There are a lot of young guys on this team and they’re always looking up to us to be role models for them. They came up in big spots,” Baxter said. “When (the seniors) had a bad game, they came ready to play and picked us up. We never let anything get in our heads. Every day is a new day, we never look back. Every day is a new start.”

Added Smith, “All we could do (the past few months) was hope, and I never thought we’d be able to play again. About half our team (from last year) is out here on the field, but we’ve also had a lot of new guys step up and they’ve found their place here. I’m proud of them, and proud of all the guys. Having people come out and support you feels great, too, especially with everything that is going on. Thank God everybody is safe and can come out here and watch us play the game we love.”

Mainland 6, ACIT 2: Mainland finished up the pool play portion of the tournament with a 2-1 record, coming back from an opening loss against EHT on Tuesday to beat Ocean City on Wednesday and then ACIT on Thursday afternoon. ACIT (0-3) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI single by Omar Hernandez and a sacrifice fly from Bubba Hudson, but Mainland rallied for four runs in the third and never looked back.

Jayden Shertel, a junior from St. Joseph who Mainland picked up to help fill its roster, came through with an RBI single to cut the deficit to 2-1, and he later scored on a bases loaded walk to Brock Mercado — also of St. Joe’s — to tie the game, 2-2. Luke Mazur, a senior, gave Mainland the lead for good with an RBI infield single that drove in both Brody Levin and Mark Elliott.

The game marked the end of the outstanding career of ACIT’s Tony Santa Maria, who pitched the first four innings despite a broken bone in his glove hand. Santa Maria, who plans to play his college baseball at Iona, became the first NCAA Division I recruit in program history.

Note: For photo galleries of the Last Dance World Series Ocean City Regional, check out our photo website, glorydaysonline.smugmug.com.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays