By MADDY VITALE
In 2010, they got to the state championship. In 2016, the same. In both games, they did not take home the title.
That all changed Sunday when the Ocean City Red Raiders baseball team defeated Pascack Valley’s Indians in a nail-biter at Bob DeMeo Memorial Field in Mercer County’s Veterans Park.
Ocean City, the South Jersey Group III champions, used strong pitching and timely defense to outlast Pascack Valley, the North Jersey Group III champions, 3-2, in a marathon 14-inning thriller to win the first state baseball championship in school history.
Red Raiders Head Coach Andrew Bristol said in a text on the way back to Ocean City with his team, “On our way home now for a celebration. It was an epic battle.”
He called it “a war of attrition and we survived. These boys proved time and time again that they were champions and now we will walk together as Champions forever.”
Ocean City had a lackluster start to the season with a 5-4 record, but got hot later on.
The Red Raiders end their season at 20-7 and had 12 wins in their last 14 games. Pascack Valley finished the season at 24-6.
Raider Jack Perry’s bunt in the top of the 14th inning brought home James Mancini with the game-winning run. Mancini led off the inning with a walk, then raced to third on a wild pitch and a throwing error while Pascack Valley tried to nail him when he was taking second base.
The game was originally scheduled for Saturday night but was postponed until Sunday because of the forecast for bad weather.
On Sunday, the temps went up to the mid-80s, and at times things weren’t going as well as the Red Raiders would have liked.
Ocean City Assistant Coach Frank LaSasso said he was “extremely proud of our players.”
“It was extremely hot, things weren’t exactly going our way offensively, but we just made one big play after another on defense and had outstanding pitching,” LaSasso noted. “We finally capitalized on offense to get that winning run across.”
Ocean City’s defense, which was stellar all game, closed it out in the bottom of the 14th with a game-ending double-play.
Starting pitcher Gannon Brady and relievers Matt Nunan and Tom Finnegan showcased their skills to help hold the Indians to only five hits for the entire game. Duke McCarron came up big in the closer role. He was the fourth and last pitcher in to help lead the team to a win.
LaSasso has characterized Ocean City’s formidable pitching staff as the “four horses.”
While advancing through the playoffs, Ocean City defeated archrival Mainland, 6-1, to capture the South Jersey Group III championship and then topped Colts Neck, 4-2, in the state semifinals.
The championship was a crowning achievement for the Red Raiders and broke a string of bad luck in two previous trips to the title game. They lost to Cranford in 2010 and Northern Highlands in 2016 in the championship.
LaSasso put it like this, “This game was a microcosm of our entire season. Lots of ups and downs, but the players kept fighting and we couldn’t be more proud.”
At the end of the game, the Red Raiders rushed out to the mound to celebrate the well-earned victory and hug pitcher Duke McCarron.