Mainland baseball hangs on for key CAL American win
LINWOOD — Mainland Regional might not be playing its best baseball just yet, but the Mustangs have been finding ways to win, and that's good enough for coach Billy Kern.
The Mustangs scratched a pair of runs across in the bottom of the first, and Nick Atohi and Kyle Gerace made that lead stand up as Mainland held off Vineland 2-0 on Friday afternoon.
"We haven't really peaked yet. Our bats haven't come around fully yet. We're getting the job done, but that's about it," said Mainland senior catcher Dean Deveney. "We're not really extending leads like we should be. But we're playing defense really well, which is winning us games."
"We left a lot of guy on base. We definitely need to score more runs," added right fielder Nick Trifiletti. "We're playing good. We can definitely do better. There's a lot of things we can improve on."
Atohi, a sophomore who helped lead Atlantic Shore to a Babe Ruth World Series championship last summer, got out of the first inning unscathed and turned things over to his offense. Matt Thomas and Gerace drew consecutive walks off Vineland starter Joe Acosta, and Trifiletti's RBI single gave the Mustangs (7-2, 5-2 Cape-Atlantic League American Conference) a 1-0 lead. Rob Wood drove in another run with a bases-loaded walk before the Fighting Clan (6-4, 2-3) worked out of the jam.
That was all Mainland needed, as Atohi allowed just one hit in four innings and Gerace fanned five while allowing just two hits in three innings to earn the save. Vineland had a chance to tie the game in the sixth, but Ja'Ques Colon's long fly ball to left drifted foul. Had it stayed fair, it had the distance for a game-tying home run.
"Coming into the season, we didn't know where our No. 3 (pitcher) was going to come from, but sophomore Nick Atohi has really stepped up and filled that role. And even our relievers have stepped up. We have a lot of relievers who can get the job done," Deveney said. "Nick is young, so early in the season he wasn't really finding his curveball. Now he's throwing it for strikes, which is big. Against big hitters he's getting a strike right away with the curveball, so that's been big for him."
The game ended in a strange fashion, as Vineland pinch-runner Angel Rivera was picked off first by Deveney with the tying run at the plate when he thought a 3-1 pitch to pinch-hitter Bobby Dickenson was called ball four. Rivera was about a third of the way to second base before he realized the pitch was called a strike, and by that time it was too late to get back to the first-base bag.
"They did it earlier in the game. Questionable strike, the kid on first thought it was a walk and started taking steps toward second, and I pumped-faked," Deveney said. "I told myself if that happened again later in the game, I'm gonna pick the guy off. It was definitely a weird way to end the game."
Sophomore Jared DeWinne pitched well in relief for Vineland, allowing five hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings. The only player in the game with multiple hits was Trifiletti, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI for Mainland.
The Mustangs now turn their attention to Tuesday, when they host rival Ocean City (6-1, 4-1 CAL National) at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays