Last Dance: Mazur’s Bat, Vanesko’s Arm Lead Mainland
OCEAN CITY — When the 2020 high school baseball season got cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mainland Regional senior third baseman Luke Mazur didn’t think he’d ever need his cleats and glove again, as he’s set to play college basketball this coming fall at Widener University in Chester, Pa. Thanks to the Last Dance World Series, Mazur got one more chance this week to put on his spikes and make an impact for the Kelly green he has come to love so much the past four years.
And what an impact he made, as Mazur laced a two-out RBI single in the top of the sixth to give Mainland a 6-5 lead over fierce rival Ocean City, host of the Ocean City Regional in the statewide, 222-team pseudo-high school state championship tournament. Mainland tacked on a few more runs in the seventh to score an 8-5 victory and improve to 1-1 in the three-game pool play. The Ocean City Regional features six teams, only one of which will advance to next week’s single elimination rounds. With the win, Mainland is still in contention along with EHT, Millville and Ocean City, all of whom are 1-1, and Holy Spirit, which is 2-0 and can punch its ticket to next week with a win over Ocean City on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the 5th & Bay field.
Mark Elliott drew a one-out walk in the top of the fifth in a 5-5 tie, and after an errant pick-off attempt he found himself on third. One out later, Mazer — who turned 18 years old today — roped a single to right field to put Mainland up for good.
“It was awesome. I saw a video yesterday of some kid from Eastern hitting a walkoff grand slam and I was like, ‘man, I need to do something like that.’ It’s my birthday, so I needed to have a big game. I saw Mark was on third with two outs and I needed to get him in, so I took the first swing I could get, ripped it into right field, and that was an awesome feeling,” Mazur said. “When I heard this tournament was going to be a thing I knew I needed to be a part of it. My family was saying, ‘Luke, you need to play because we want to see you play one more time.’ I’ll never play baseball again after this, so I hopped right in. We had a tough loss yesterday (against EHT), but we got to play Ocean City one last time, so how could I turn that down? We came out here and got one last ‘W’ against them with all my boys. We had nice times yesterday, and hopefully we’ll come out here and get a win tomorrow.”
Mazur’s heroics helped make a winner out of St. Augustine Prep junior Jackson Vanesko, who was playing with Mainland because Prep decided not to enter a team into the tournament. Mazur’s hit also helped make up for a sloppy, six-error performance by the Mainland defense. Despite the errors, Vanesko battle through the early innings and got stronger as the game went on, finishing with 12 strikeouts, two in each of the six innings he pitched. He finally gave way to St. Joseph junior Jayden Shertel, who struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh to earn the save.
“I always have trust in my defense. I know it’s my first time playing with these guys, but they’ve all known me for a long time. I’m not afraid to pitch to contact no matter how many errors we had. I’m not afraid to put it over the plate. I told Brody (Levin) after the first two that I’m not scared if they hit it too him. It’s tough because (errors) run my pitch count up a little bit, but I wasn’t fazed by it,” said Vanesko, an Ocean City resident and Bryant University commit. “As the game went on I got a little looser and started to figure things out a little bit. My offspeed was not good today. It’s tough when the umpire is behind the mound, so I had to figure out how to pitch with that. But, it is what it is, as long as we’re playing baseball. I wanted to finish it out, but there’s a bigger picture. I wasn’t too worried about the pitch count. It would have been a lot lower without six errors, but it is what it is, I’m not complaining. We got the win and that’s all that matters.”
“Me and Jackson have been friends for a long time, we played A-Shore together when we were younger,” Mazur said. “I just kept congratulating him after every pitch and every inning, trying to keep his head in it. There was a lot of chatter out there, but he trusts me and I trust him. He pitched a great game. I was telling coach Elliott to pitch him in the seventh inning, but Jayden pitched a great seventh inning.”
Ocean City took a 1-0 lead in the first when senior Brian Beckmann drew a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on an error, but Mainland came right back with two runs in the second, both of which scored on an infield error. Ocean City retook the lead in the third when Beckmann and Jaden Millstein both scored on an infield error, and Matt Nunan scored on a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 4-2. But Mainland roared back with three runs in the fourth, highlighted by an RBI double from Shertel and a two-run double from catcher Brock Mercado, who also plays for St. Joseph.
Ocean City tied the game at 5 with a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Tom Finnegan before Mazur came through in the top of the sixth. Mainland added two runs in the top of the seventh thanks to a deep sacrifice fly by Brody Levin and an RBI infield single by Prep player Brody McKenzie.
For Mazur, getting one last chance to beat rival Ocean City was the perfect way to close out his high school athletic career.
“I thought when basketball season ended that was going to end up being my last time (playing against Ocean City), but when I heard we’d get to play OC I was right here, all the way,” he said.
Vanesko said he took some heat on social media for joining the Mainland team, but he just wants to play baseball any chance he gets.
“When it came down to the Prep backing out, I just wanted to play for someone. I know Brody, Mark, all them, and I’ve been playing with them since I was younger. I got a lot of backlash on Twitter and all that stuff, but I just wanted to play baseball and I felt like that was the whole idea of the tournament, to get kids to play baseball again,” he said. “I’ve had a blast playing with these guys and hopefully we can get another win tomorrow. It’s a great tournament, I’ve had a lot of fun the last two days.”
Update: Millville (1-1) beat ACIT (0-2) in the first game on Wednesday to stay in the hunt to advance to next week. The Lightning will need a win on Thursday plus a tiebreaker scenario if Ocean City beats Holy Spirit in order to advance.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays