BLACKWOOD – To be clear, the seventh inning of Highland’s South Jersey Group 3 game against visiting Cherry Hill West didn’t start the way any coach, let alone Highland’s DJ Gore, would want.
“It’s not how you want to start an inning,” Gore said. "But I didn’t get worried or anything. Nick (Yoder) has been there before. He’s one of a great group of seniors. I still had all the confidence in the world in him and the team behind him.”
Yoder worked three hitless innings, including the seventh when he walked the leadoff hitter, struck out three as Highland, the No.2 seed, beat No.7 Cherry Hill West 4-3 in a quarterfinal game at Highland High School on Friday afternoon. Anthony Masselli got the win after he allowed three runs in four innings of work and Jared Colbert hit his first home run of the season as the Tartans (17-6) advanced to host Lacey in the Group 3 semifinals on Tuesday in a 4 p.m. start.
“Ever since last year we’ve wanted to get back to the final,” said Masselli, who admittedly did not have his best stuff on this day, but worked through several jams to get the win. “This is a team with a lot of seniors that remember last year. We made it our goal to get back to this spot and we really believe we have what it takes to win.
“We have three or four No.1’s on this team. It doesn’t matter who is on the mound, we have that type of confidence in each other.”
Down 4-3, Cherry Hill West (15-8) had one last at bat to tie the game and leadoff hitter Nick DiVietro opened the frame with his third walk of the afternoon.
“I was just trying to hit the corners,” said Yoder, who at 6-foot-7 poses a looming threat to any hitter. “I didn’t want to open the inning with a walk, but I knew I still had the game where I wanted it.”
DiVietro eventually made it to second on a steal, but Yoder struck out the next two hitters and, after an intentional walk to John Stankiewicz, a fly out to right ended the game.
“He’s a four-year varsity letter winner,” Gore said. “He’s one of the reasons we’re here and we still had total confidence in him.”
After Masselli battled through the first in which West had runners on second and third with no outs and managed just one run, Highland got all the offense it needed in the bottom half of the inning.
A pair of singles and a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners. Masselli, who reached on that fielder’s choice got picked off at first, but forced a long enough rundown to score a run and after a walk, Colbert delivered a two-run home run to left to put the Tartans up 3-1.
“I actually struggled in the middle of the year,” said Colbert after his first home run of the year. “I knew I hit it well and watched it most of the way and just kept thinking ‘get out, get out.’ When it did I let out the loudest yell of my life.”
“That’s big for us,” Masselli said. “To answer that quickly helped me settle in. I threw well the next three innings but I really didn’t have my best stuff and just wanted to get us to (Yoder).”
“To get one was great,” Gore said. “That put us in it. To get three, that changed the complexion of the game.”
Tartans 4, Lions 3
Cherry West 100-020-0--3-4-1
WP: Anthony Masselli. LP: Dylan Hanni. 2B" Nick Owens, CHW. HR: Jared Colbert