VINELAND – Someday the players on the Audubon baseball team may look back on the loss that deprived them of a chance to win a state championship.
After the pain subsides, what they will recall is a game of costly mistakes on defense and a lack of timely hitting on offense.
The Green Wave coughed up three unearned runs after committing five errors, and they left runners on base in every inning but two.
The end result was a 3-2 loss to Middlesex Wednesday in the Group 1 state semifinal game played at Cumberland County College.
“We just couldn’t get that big blow today the way we normally do,” said Audubon coach Rich Horan. “Defensively we didn’t execute. Three unearned runs, you can’t do that in a championship game.”
Audubon was unable to solve the crafty pitching of Middlesex left-hander Kyle Nepton, who allowed only five hits one run in six innings.
The Green Wave did get to reliever Tyler Dymond for a run in the seventh inning and had the tying run on second base when a flyout by Andrew Fehr ended the game.
“I didn’t get the hit when it mattered,” Fehr said. “It was a curveball right down the middle of the plate and I should have killed it.”
For his part, Nepton felt like he had the game under control during his stint.
“I felt good today,” said Nepton. “I felt like I warmed up really good, and I just tried to stay loose the whole game. I felt I battled the whole game.”
Horan said Nepton was tough.
“He had three pitches that he threw and he kept us off balance,” he said. “It’s a tough situation for high school kids because they can’t hold back.”
Fehr suggested that he and his teammates made it took easy for Nepton to get them out.
“We were too anxious,” he said. “That was definitely not the best pitching we’ve seen this year. But we didn’t do enough. We didn’t win.”
Despite making the final out, Fehr did his best to keep his team in the game. He had hits in his first two at bats, and drove in a run in the first inning as Audubon tied the game at that point at 1-1.
He also pitched four scoreless innings in relief of started Coe Nolan, who was betrayed by his fielders. Audubon committed four errors during his stint, including two in Middlesex’ go-ahead two-run third inning.
“Coe Nolan did his job,” said Horan. “We didn’t do the job behind him and we didn’t hit.”
The Green Wave had their chances.
In the fourth inning, they used hits by Fehr and Austin Rampolla and a walk to Lukas Press to load the bases with one out. But a fielder’s chose ground out and a fly out ended that threat.
In the fifth inning, R.J. Concepcion hit a two-out double, but again the Green Wave could not get him around.
In the sixth inning, Rampolla hit a one-out triple, but never moved off third base
“We really didn’t take the opportunities that they gave us,” said senior designated-hitter Daniel Wilson. “Bases loaded, didn’t score anything . . . man on third, we didn’t score anything.”
“We played our hearts out and to not come away with `W’ is very upsetting, But that’s the way baseball is.”
On the other hand, Fehr prevented Middlesex from extending the lead.
In the fourth inning he got out of jam with runners on first and second base with a double-play ground ball.
In the seventh inning, Middlesex mounted a huge threat in the seventh by leading the bases with two outs, but Fehr coaxed a fly ball to end that inning.
That kept Audubon alive for a chance in the bottom of the seventh. The threat began when Dillon Tassi hit a one-out single.
A line-drive out pushed the Green Wave to the brink of defeat, but they they stayed alive when Concepcion reached second base on a fielder’s choice and a throwing error as a run scored.
But the Green Wave fell one hit short of tying the game.