After his team lost the the opener of the 11-12 Major Division Little League Section 4 Tournament, coach Gus Knestaut said his players played with a selfish mindset which was uncharacteristic, and that he expected that to change in a hurry.
Two days later, it is clear it has.
West Deptford was the very definition of a team in a 8-4 comeback win over Margate that kept its season alive for at least another day.
West Deptford erased a 4-2 deficit with six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and got contributions from four different pitchers in the victory.
“We stopped fooling around,” said catcher Adrian Mason, who was 3-for-3 with two runs. “We started playing like there was no ‘I’ in team.”
The performance was exactly what Knestaut was looking for.
“We did what I said we didn’t do the other night, when it was too much ‘me’ and not enough ‘we’,” Knestaut said. “Tonight was all ‘we’ and no ‘me.’ It was a team effort. Guys got on base with walks, getting hit by a pitch, scrapping, and then it was big hit after big hit.”
Tommy Sampson started the fifth-inning rally with a home run that bounced off and over the center-field fence. Mason followed with a single and Mike Flaherty singled one batter later.
With runners on first and second, the Margate pitcher uncorked a wild pitch. When the catcher retrieved it he fired to second attempting to get pinch runner Gage Crowley out, but it hit Crowley (who was OK on the play) and rolled away, allowing Mason to come all the way around to score the tying run.
After Jake Keuler hit a deep fly to left that wasn’t handled by the Margate outfielder, Kyle Magee connected on a two-run double to give West Deptford the lead for good.
Jared Schultes—who made a highlight-reel diving catch in center earlier in the game—added on some insurance with a two-run double that gave West Deptford a four-run lead.
“It was really exciting, because when we scored runs we get more pumped, and it’s more teamwork and more fun,” said Mason. “When we get pumped, it just keeps going on. It’s just really exciting to get to play again and try and get out of this (sectional).”
Those runs nearly came in handy as Margate loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, before Kyle Kaminski entered for Jake Keuler, who was pulled with two strikes on a batter due to pitch count reasons. Kaminski got the third out with a strikeout, needing just one pitch to pick up the save.
Knestaut said he was most proud of the way his team hung in after Margate cleanup hitter Jake Hankinson blasted a towering three-run homer in the fifth inning—that might still be traveling—to give his team a 4-2 lead.
“If it was the last game, they would have hung their heads and they would have been slumped down,” Knestaut said. “They weren’t (Wednesday). Kyle threw a strong game, Matt (Knestaut) threw 20 good pitches, Jake threw 20 strong pitches and Kyle throws one pitch and gets a save.
"That’s what it is all about—a team effort. Everyone had a least one hit. If guys struck out one time, they came back the next time and got a hit. This is what I was expecting from them.”
West Deptford will be back in action Thursday in Cherry Hill against East Vineland or Cherry Hill Atlantic.