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South Jersey high school sports in a rain delay

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Josh Hood got the news in a text message Thursday night.

He and the rest of his St. Augustine Prep baseball teammates would have to wait a week to defend their prestigious Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic title.

The wet weather forced organizers to postpone the tournament originally scheduled for Saturday/Sunday to Memorial Day weekend.

“We have to keep fighting through it,” Hood said. “We have to find a way around the weather. We have to play the cards we’re dealt.”

That’s easier said than done.

Seven straight days of rain have wreaked havoc on the scholastic schedule, forcing some teams to go a whole week between games. The continuous cancellations have forced coaches and athletic directors to scurry to reschedule games and find indoor locations for practices. On Thursday and Friday, nearly the entire Cape-Atlantic League schedule was wiped out because of rain.

This week’s poor weather continues a season-long trend. Snow and nor’easter storms postponed games and practices in March and April.

“It just feels like spring never got on track,” Holy Spirit softball and athletic director Steve Normane said. “We realize it’s not just us, it’s everybody.”

As of Thursday, this month has been the fourth-wettest May to date in South Jersey. As much as 4.03 inches of rain has fallen, more than double the 1.85-inch average. Most of this has been since May 12.

This week’s delays come at a crucial point in the season. The state softball tournament was supposed to start Thursday. The state baseball tournament is scheduled to start Monday.

But most games were postponed.

Egg Harbor Township was supposed to play Brick Memorial in a first-round softball game Thursday. The rain postponed the game, and EHT rescheduled it to be held at Eastern Regional’s artificial turf field in Voorhees Township on Saturday morning.

“It’s a lot of scheduling, canceling and rescheduling,” Normane said. “It’s a big juggling act for us.”

The Vineland baseball team hasn’t played since last Friday’s 4-3 win at home over Atlantic City. Vineland was scheduled to play four games this week, all of which had to be canceled, including their game Friday night against Buena Regional.

“We’ve been in the gym hitting balls in cages and fielding grounders on the gym floor,” Vineland coach John Malatesta said Thursday. “Everybody (in the area) is literally in the same boat, and you need a boat to play these games.”

It can be depressing for coaches and players to stare at a week’s worth of weather forecasts and see nothing but raindrops.

Teams try to make the best of it. Players work on their strength and conditioning by lifting weights and running sprints.

Teams try to simulate the outdoor conditions in gyms.

“You have to be creative,” Egg Harbor Township High School baseball coach Bryan Carmichael said. “We’ll work on bunt coverages, turning double plays. I tell the kids ‘If you can field a groundball on a gym floor, you can field a groundball anywhere.’”

Once the rain stops, the problem is not over. Days of rain can leave fields unplayable even when the sun is shining. Most schools cover just home plate and the pitching mound with a tarp. Few schools have the manpower or money to have tarps that cover the entire infield. It takes a crew of 20 to 30 people to pull a tarp across an entire infield.

“Our problem is always the grass,” Carmichael said. “The grass gets too mushy and has sitting water in it.”

The rain forces teams to take things one day at a time. Carmichael mentally prepared the Eagles to play Mainland Regional on Thursday. The players knew the poor forecast.

“They were like, ‘Seriously, Coach,’” Carmichael said.

But until a game is postponed, Carmichael wants his team to act as if it will be played.

“We ask the kids to worry about things they can control,” Carmichael said. “This is something I have no control over. When we get the word a game is canceled, that’s the next road we cross. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself batty.”

Staff Writers Kristine Auble and Guy Gargan contributed to this report.

Contact: 609-272-7046

Twitter @acpresshuba

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