After 4-1 Start, Pinelands Baseball Team Drops a Pair to Jackson Liberty

By DAVID BIGGY | Apr 24, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional pitcher Joey Ventresca fires to the plate during the Wildcats’ 5-1 loss to Jackson Liberty on April 17.

Tuckerton — Even with a standout pitcher on the hill, sometimes an opposing hitter just has a knack for blasting holes through a team’s sails. Jackson Liberty’s Shane Hickey was that type of nemesis to the Pinelands Regional baseball team, and particularly Joey Ventresca, on April 17.

“They’re a tough team and he’s a good hitter,” said Pinelands head coach Justin Loomis, whose Wildcats dropped a 5-1 decision to the Lions in a big Shore Conference Class B South matchup. “Joey was throwing a lot of good pitches and the other kid finally got one, and then they found a way to extend the at-bat.”

Following three scoreless innings, Liberty managed to break through against Ventresca in the fourth. Hickey was the catalyst for its initial two-run offensive spurt, whacking a single into right field following an 11-pitch duel with Ventresca.

“With that kind of thing, it always seems to go the batter’s way,” said Ventresca, who ended up firing six complete innings, allowing eight hits and a walk while striking out 10 Lions. “Hickey’s a great hitter and he hits just about everybody, so that was just a great at-bat for him. I threw him everything I had. That was just one hell of an at-bat.”

Hickey drove in a run in his next at-bat, smacking the first pitch he saw from Ventresca into center field to bring home Connor Keenan. Hickey ended up 3-for-3, as he came up with an opposite-field single in the first inning.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats mustered bits and pieces of offense during several innings, and a few times Liberty infielders made some big plays to cut off potential outbursts. After the Lions went up 3-0, Pinelands came right back in the bottom of the fifth to score its only run of the game.

Bryce O’Rourke led off with a single to center off Liberty starter Kevin Ritz, who scattered six hits, walked one and fanned five, before Billy Crawford two batters later whacked a double to left to put runners at second and third. Jake Sorbara swatted an RBI single to bring in O’Rourke. A 6-4-3 double play then ended the inning.

“I thought we bounced back pretty well in the fifth and sixth,” Loomis said. “We put runners on and just couldn’t capitalize as much as we needed to. Offensively, we’ve got to get a little better. It came around a little bit today and we had a lot of hard-hit outs, which is good. But we just need to get big hits at the right times.”

Pinelands had runners on first and second with two outs, but Hickey made a nice play at third base on a sharp grounder by O’Rourke and tossed him out to end the threat. Noah Dean singled to lead off the seventh, but another double play quickly erased the potential threat and the Wildcats’ bottom of the order couldn’t keep the inning alive.

The next day, this time at Jackson Liberty, the result was worse, as both Ritz and Brandon Kinsman whacked home runs to help lead the Lions to an 11-1 victory.

Now with two straight losses following a 4-1 start, Pinelands finds itself chasing Liberty (8-0) and Point Pleasant Borough (7-1) in the divisional race. But mainly, the Wildcats just need to find their offensive rhythm – they’ve averaged just two runs per game thus far.

“We have a lot of younger guys doing the right things, our defense has been keeping us in games, and our coaches have us in the right mindset,” Ventresca said. “We’re hitting the ball. We’re getting it on the screws. We hit four line drives to the right fielder in the first couple of innings today, so we’re hitting the ball. They’ll start falling eventually. I have all the confidence in the world in this team, and we’ll be fine as the season goes on.”

On April 16, Pinelands knocked off Manchester, 3-1. The Wildcats managed just five hits, but Pete Hammond came through with a big effort on the mound, going the distance and allowing five hits and two walks while fanning eight.

— David Biggy

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