DEPTFORD – Back when the tournament began, there were not a lot of people who held out hope for the Haddonfield High School baseball to go very far.
After all, the Bulldawgs have not won a Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic championship since 1984, and they’d not won more than two games in the tournament in the ensuing years.
There was one place, however, where optimism about the Bulldawgs chances ran a little higher. That was within the confines of the Haddonfield locker room.
On Saturday, the reason for some of that optimism was evident.
A No. 8 seed, the Bulldawgs first knocked off No. 1 seed Cherry Hill West 7-0 behind the 3-hit, 10 strikeout pitching of Dylan Heine.
Then they earned a berth in Wednesday’s championship game with an 8-5 win over Eastern in the semifinal after catcher Chris Mariani’s RBI single broke a 5-5 tie in the seventh inning.
“I just told the guys how proud of them I am,” said longtime Haddonfield coach Bob Bickel after the win over Eastern. “(Before the tournament) we talked about making a statement.
“As a Group 2 I think people sometimes think we don’t belong. We wanted to make sure everyone knows we can play baseball.”
A Group 4 school Eastern reached the semifinal with a 4-1 win over Gloucester Catholic. Haddonfield will play Shawnee for the championship on Wednesday night at Eastern.
Bickel’s thoughts were echoed by several of his players.
“Last year we won South Jersey and now we want more,” said Mariani. “We had a lot of confidence coming into this game. We’re all really happy that we made it this far, but we’re not done yet.”
Both the Haddonfield and Eastern teams put on an offensive show, which is usually the case in this type of game.
Most teams use their better pitchers to try to advance, and then have less and less arm strength as play progresses.
The Bulldawgs took better advantage of the situation by pounding out 12 hits, including two triples from leadoff hitter Steve DiTomasso.
The second of his triples drove in two runs in the top of the fourth inning and gave Haddonfield a 5-2 lead at the time.
“(Getting to the final) is huge to us,” said DiTomasso. “We want to make it every year, and every year it’s one of our biggest goals.
“We wanted to do more than just show up. We put our hearts into it.”
The Bulldawgs seemed to be in pretty good shape going into the bottom of the fourth with their three-run lead, but Eastern came back with two runs in the inning.
Cole Regn drove in one of the runs with an RBI double and he eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Rob Dwyer.
The Vikings then tied the score at 5-5 with a run in the fifth when Teddy Moos delivered an RBI single.
By then both starters, Jakob Slimbock for Haddonfield, and Ryan Kremer for Eastern had both thrown a lot of pitches after having to deal with base runners in every inning.
Still Kremer pitched into the seventh inning. He got the first out, but then Alex Kadar doubled and scored on Mariani’s hit through the left side of the infield.
“I was just looking to put the ball in play,” Mariani said. “It was a 3-2 count and I knew I couldn’t strike out, so I had to put the ball on the ground somewhere. If you hit the ball hard, there’s always something going on.”
After a pitching change, Haddonfield added two more runs on Heine’s RBI single and R.J. Mroz sacrifice fly.
Meanwhile, winning pitcher Aiden Barr threw the final three innings. He gave up the tying run in the fifth, but he was lights out in the sixth and seventh inning, striking out the side to end the game.
“I got a little upset when I let up the run, but I said I wouldn’t let it happen again,” Barr said. “I told myself to go out there and play baseball. I wanted to make a statement for Haddonfield.”
Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic
Haddonfield 101 300 3- 8 12
Eastern 020 210 0- 5 7
WP: Aiden Barr. LP: Ryan Kremer
2B: Dylan Stezzi, Cole Regn, E, Alex Kadar, H.
3B: DiTomasso 2, H.