The stakes were raised for the West Deptford 11-12 Major Division All Stars Monday night, and though the local ballplayers showed some fight, they nonetheless find themselves on the brink of elimination in the Section 4 tournament.
West Deptford stormed back from a 10-2 deficit with a five-run fifth inning, but watched Cherry Hill Atlantic respond with six runs in the top of the sixth to close out a 16-7 victory.
West Deptford manager Gus Knestaut said the loss should serve as a wake-up call to the players: Things will not come easy at this stage.
“This is a whole different level here, and that’s what we have tried to convey to these guys,“ Knestaut said. “There’s 20 teams left at this level in the state of New Jersey and we are one of 20.
"They have to realize they will run into a good team every night and there won’t be a cupcake out there on the mound. We are not going to be able to just knock the ball around, we will have to manufacture a bit.”
West Deptford led 1-0 after the first inning thanks to an RBI single by Adrian Mason, but Cherry Hill broke loose in the second inning with back-to-back home runs in the second to grab a 3-1 lead.
The lead then blossomed all the way to 10-1 an inning later, when Cherry Hill connected on single after single off starter Tommy Sampson, seemingly breaking the spirit of the West Deptford players.
“They didn’t hammer the ball in that inning,” Knestaut said. “Just about everything was a single. They were just getting through or going into right field over the second baseman’s head or just out of reach of shortstop. Tommy threw a good game.”
West Deptford showed some fight in the bottom of the fifth. Sampson led off the inning with a long single off the fence—his second hit of the game—and moved to third on a double by Matt Knestaut. Mason then delivered and RBI single, followed by a run-scoring hit by Cole Malsbury. Jake Keuler followed with an RBI single that got West Deptford within 10-5.
The final two runs came when Kyle Kaminski hit a grounder up the middle that was thrown away by the Cherry Hill second baseman.
West Deptford’s momentum was short-lived, though, as Cherry Hill answered back with a half dozen runs to move on to Thursday’s winner’s bracket semifinal.
“I’m disappointed with the way the kids reacted,” said Knestaut. “If you looked at the scoreboard, we had really two bad innings: A seven-run inning and a six-run inning. They put up the six-run inning after we put up five to cut it down.”
Knestaut expects his team to respond positively when it returns to the field Wednesday in Blackwood at 7 p.m.
“(Monday), there was a little too much ‘me’ and not enough ‘we’ in the dugout,” he said. “Guys were worrying about their stats. I told them it can’t be like that at this stage.
"I expect them to come back on Wednesday and be the team you saw out there during the District 15 Tournament.”