CHERRY HILL – Nick Sylvester knew immediately.
The junior catcher had turned on a fastball from Hammonton’s Mike Walter and everyone knew the same thing. With two runners on, Sylvester had made a statement and Cherry Hill West had a trip to the Group 3 South Jersey Final in sight.
“I knew I got it,” said Sylvester, who went 3-for- 3 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs. “I hit every ball hard today but that one really set the tone.
Sylvester’s 3-run home run in the first set the stage for an 11-2 win over Hammonton in the semifinal round. The Lions (24-3) advance to play top-seeded Triton on Friday. The Mustangs (20-3) beat Toms River East 6-5 on Friday to set up the showdown between the top two seeds in the section.
“Honestly, I thought about Friday the second we got the last out,” admitted starter Eli Atiya, who struck out seven in four innings of work to record his 10th win of the year. “We got ahead early today and that certainly helped. Once you get the lead like that as a pitcher your able to go at hitters more.”
After a perfect top half of the first, the Lions took the lead on Sylvester’s home run which seemed destined for the bank of windows on the school 100-feet past the right field fence at Tom Trotman Field.
“I knew it was out,” Sylvester said. “All the credit goes to the work our coaches put us through this week. They put the pitching machine on the mound and threw us curves, then moved it up and threw fastballs. I saw the ball really well and a lot of that is due to practice.
“I think those three runs deflated (Hammonton). You could just feel we had them on their heels and we needed to keep on them.”
“We have a lot of respect for them,” West head coach Dan McMaster said. “We got up three nothing but there are no guarantees. I think that second inning was just as important.”
Three hits, three walks and two hit batters resulted in six more runs. A one out double by Tyler Kubrak broke the game open and an RBI walk for Sylvester gave West all the cushion it ever needed.
“We’re looking forward to Friday,” Atiya said. “We remember last year.”
“We’ll enjoy this win,” McMaster said. “But the truth is, we’ve been thinking about Friday since last year. We’ve been to this point before and we have something to prove.”
Lions 11, Blue Devils 2
Hammonton 000--200-0--- 2- 6-1
Cherry West 360--101-x---11-10-2
WP: Eli Atiya. LP: Mike Walter. 2B: Nick Sylvester, C, 2; Tyler Kubrak, C. HR: Nick Sylvester..