WILLIAMSTOWN — Dan DiGiovannantonio waited a long time to play baseball again with his high school teammates.
And the Cedar Creek rising senior delivered Wednesday
DiGiovannantonio tripled, singled, drove in two runs and scored once to lead the EHC Pirates to a 5-3 victory over the Chargers in the second pool-play game of the Last Dance Tournament at Williamstown High School.
The 17-year-old catcher from Galloway Township was also clutch behind the plate, showing off his arm when he threw out a base runner in the top of the sixth — an inning the Chargers scored a run and threatened for more as they stranded the bases loaded.
“We were just out here trying to play competitive baseball and make up for the lost opportunities in the season,” DiGiovannantonio said. “We mainly were coming out here trying to win, but it’s also about the seniors and we are just trying to play some competitive baseball and get some wins while we are doing it.”
The Last Dance is a 222-team, statewide tournament aimed at giving high school players, mainly the recent graduates whose senior seasons were canceled, something that was taken away this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EHC Pirates, consisting of players from Cedar Creek, improved to 2-0 in the three-game pool play. The Chargers, which are players from Timber Creek, dropped to 0-2.
Both compete in the Williamstown Region — a four-team field that also includes Buena Township (Buena Regional) and Monroe Township Baseball (Williamstown).
Each team plays its regional opponents once. If one finishes 3-0, it advances to the single-elimination rounds. If two finish 2-1, it would result in a tiebreaker (fewest runs allowed).
Thirty-two regional champions will then play for a state title. The champions will be split evenly into a North and South Jersey bracket.
The Last Dance is not an official high school event and is not affiliated with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs most high school sports in the state. The last Dance is instead sanctioned by the United States Specialty Sports Association.
EHC can clinch a spot in the South Jersey bracket with a win against Monroe Twp./ Williamstown at 4 p.m. Thursday.
“We are definitely excited for the opportunity and we are glad to see the bats come around today and give our pitchers a chance to breathe a little bit during the game,” said DiGiovannantonio, referencing his teams’ win Tuesday when EHC only had one hit.
EHC had seven hits Wednesday.
DiGiovannantonio triple in the fifth inning knocked home Joe Hamill, who singled the previous at-bat and walked and scored a run in the first, to make it 4-2.
“It’s always energizing to get RBIs, especially in big-time games and coming in clutch,” DiGiovannantonio said. “It always feels nice.”
EHC rising junior Nate Kennedy started on the mound. He finished with one strike out, one walk and allowed just four hits in five innings. The majority of the Chargers’ batters he faced either popped or grounded out.
The 16-year-old from Egg Harbor City also singled in the fifth, which scored DiGiovannantonio to make the score 5-2.
“I felt confident,” Kennedy said when asked about his performance.
Kennedy said “it was amazing” to be back on the diamond with his teammates and coaches after missing his sophomore season.
“We are just going to keep this same energy,” he said about Thursday matchup with Monroe Twp./ Williamstown.
Steven Kaenzig, who is headed to NCAA Division I Hofstra University, has an RBI single in the first to give EHC a 2-0 lead. The Chargers then tied the game in the top of the fourth.
But Kaenzig walked and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fourth, which gave EHC a 3-2 lead.
EHC coach Ryan Flannery was pleased with the improvement on offense, and wants to carry that into Thursday to advance to the single-elimination rounds.
“I think (Thursday) will be the toughest day,” Flannery said. “It will be the third day playing in 90-degree weather. … But we are going to play to win. We are excited for the opportunity. We wanted to have the chance to win but, in the spirit of this, we are just happy to be playing some baseball.”
TC;000 201 0 — 3 5 3
EHC;200 120 x —5 7 1
3B — DiGiovannantonio EHC
WP — Kennedy (1). LP — Browning (4)
Records — EHC 2-0; TC 0-2