VOORHEES - Keeping the ball at the knees has been the key to success for Mike Audet.
They call it “Coach String” around the Lenape High School baseball team.
“My coaches preach it every day in practice,” Audet said. “We throw at a string. It’s right about where your knee is and you have to hit it or get it below.”
On Friday, Audet hit the string time and time again.
The senior right-hander scattered three hits and held Eastern's top five batters to a 1-for-15 performance as the Indians prevailed 2-1 in a South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinal matchup.
“All that practice really showed today,” said Audet, a University of Rochester commit. “Keeping it low made them turn over on the ball and hit ground balls. And when we got them underneath, they hit pop-ups.”
“Mike has great command of his pitches,” Lenape coach Phil Fiore said. “He lived low.”
The No. 8 seed, Lenape (20-6) will face No. 4 Rancocas Valley (18-4) in Tuesday’s semifinals. Rancocas Valley eliminated No. 12 Cherokee on Friday.
Second-seeded Egg Harbor Township will host No. 11 Southern Regional in Tuesday's other semifinal game. The sectional final is scheduled for Friday, June 2 at the higher seed.
“Beating (Eastern) at home is probably the toughest thing to do in South Jersey,” said Steve Cotini, who went 2-for-2 and drove in both Lenape runs.
“Not making the Diamond Classic motivated us and gave us a little extra fire to push through this month,” said shortstop Tommy Gardiner.
Lenape struck first. Ben Harris doubled, moved to third on a ground out and scored on Cotini’s sacrifice fly to left field with two outs in the second inning.
Eastern (20-7), the top seed, would knot the score at 1-1 in its half of the second. Jack Herman, who doubled and moved to third on a ground out, scored on Frank Pallante’s RBI double.
The game-winning run would come in the fourth. Jake Topolski walked, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice and scored on a Cotoni single.
“(Jesse Barbera) was throwing a lot of junk, so I had to keep my weight back,” Cotoni said. “The first two pitches of each at-bat, I was swinging on top and missing. I told myself to keep my weight back and drive it, and that’s what I did.”
The 2-1 advantage would hold up as Audet allowed just one hit the rest of the way, a single by Zach Ray in the fifth.
“I’ve faced these guys four times (in the last two seasons),” Audet said. “I knew what I was going to look at, what I was getting into too.”
Said Gardner: “He kept us on our toes. He pounded the zone early.”
Audet got Eastern to hit into eight ground outs and nine pop-ups, with Gardiner starting a 6-4-3 double play to end the fifth. The Maryland commit assisted on four of the last seven outs.
“They’re an outstanding baseball team and the margin of difference was probably going to be cerebral,” Eastern coach Rob Christ said. “We made some mental mistakes that came back and bit us.
“Credit Lenape. Audet did a nice job on the mound and Gardiner had a couple nice plays at shortstop. They lived to see another day and we have to make the most of what we have left.”
While Eastern has an Olympic American game against Washington Township and the final of the Camden County Tournament against Triton next week, Lenape will be playing for a shot at a much bigger prize.
“This is a talented group of ballplayers and they know what they’re capable of doing when they play well,” said Fiore, whose team has won 18 of 21 games since losing to Washington Township on April 13. “We can beat anybody when we play well, but when we don’t play well we can lose to anybody.
“These guys are getting after it and hopefully it continues. It’s not over by any means. … We have a long road ahead of us.”
Lenape 2, Eastern 1
Indians 010 – 100 – 1 – 2-4-1
Vikings 010 – 000 – x – 1-3-0
WP: Mike Audet. LP: Jesse Barbera. 2B: Ben Harris, L; Jack Herman, Frank Pallante, E.
Steve Cotoni went 2-for-2 with two RBIs. He had a sacrifice fly in the second, an RBI single in the fourth and a single in the seventh.