HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Early this season, the Oakcrest High School baseball team has been a mixed bag: heavy on the offense, inconsistent with the pitching, and plagued by assorted fielding problems.
Coach Sean Olsen would like to see his team put all three phases of the game together, and the Falcons did just that in a 7-1 win over Atlantic City on Wednesday, April 19.
Jailen Heard pitched seven strong innings for the win, striking out eight, and scored two runs. Jack Markley was 2 for 3 with three RBIs, while Alec Rodriguez had an RBI double and scored a run as the Falcons improved to 3-4 on the season.
The day before, Oakcrest blew a seventh-inning lead at Holy Spirit, committing three errors and allowing runners to advance on a pair of passed balls in a frustrating 7-6 loss.
“We've got hitting,” Olsen said, “but it's a tough way to go through a season relying on hitting all the time, because it's not always going to be there. For us it's going to come down to pitching. Two days in a row now we've had a good stretch of pitching, and we've been hitting. The only thing left is defense. Today we played enough of it to pull out a victory.”
Heard was the beneficiary of that defense on Wednesday, getting out of a couple jams by throwing strikes and allowing his team to make plays in the field.
“My breaking ball was going well,” said Heard, a junior, who also had a double and got hit by a pitch.
“I just had to get ahead in the count to lead my team, and that's what I did. When there's people on base and you're an older player on the team, you just have to get through it, and believe in your defense.”
Oakcrest has relied on a strong offense early this season, with Rodriguez, Markley, John Dodson, Donnie Stone, Alex Castillo and others all getting on base and driving in runs. Olsen said that will be a given for the Falcons going forward.
“We've got a pretty good lineup,” he said. “The kids have bought into taking good aggressive hacks early in counts. We don't take too many defensive swings. We swing with a purpose and an intent of hitting the baseball hard. That's always going to be our strong factor.
“It's going to come down to pitching and defense,” Olsen said, “whether our pitchers can throw strikes and keep hitters off balance and how much defense we can play behind them, to really see how our season goes.”
The Falcons followed up their win over Atlantic City by capturing their own Al Hedelt Tournament last weekend, featuring area teams Absegami, Cedar Creek, Vineland, Kingsway and Pinelands Regional. Oakcrest beat Kingsway 19-2 in five innings on Sunday to win the 24th edition of the Hedelt, the first time the Falcons had won the title since 1998. Rodriguez had two hits, three runs scored and two RBIs in the final.