PHILADELPHIA — Numerically, Cape-Atlantic League players occupy the first 13 spots on the Tri-Cape team roster for this year’s Carpenter Cup Baseball Classic.
A number of those players rose to the occasion in Tri-Cape’s 5-3 opening game win over Mercer County Thursday morning at UYA Showcase Field.
Absegami High School’s Sam Daggers hit a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning, while St. Augustine Prep’s Josh Hood and Mainland Regional’s Nick Atohi and Nick Nutile also had hits in the eighth-inning rally for Tri-Cape.
“It’s a big thrill,” said Daggers, one of only four sophomores on the Tri-Cape roster. “It’s an honor to play in this tournament, knowing how prestigious it is. I know that a lot of guys look forward to making this, and I just feel honored to be in the position I was today.”
Ocean City’s Dan Nunan pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save. St. Augustine’s Kevin Eaise started the game for Tri-Cape, striking out five and allowing one run in three innings.
Holy Spirit’s Pat Spina and Egg Harbor Township’s Drew Hickman, a last-minute addition to the roster, also pitched an inning each for Tri-Cape, which advanced to play Jersey Shore in a quarterfinal 10:30 a.m. Monday at UYA Showcase Field. Jersey Shore advanced with a 4-2 win over Lehigh Valley.
The Carpenter Cup, held annually since 1986, is a single-elimination tournament featuring 10 teams. The semifinals are held at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, on June 23, with the championship game also played at the major league park June 24.
Tri-Cape consists of high school all-stars from the Tri-County Conference and Cape-Atlantic League.
Atohi, a Mainland junior from Somers Point, also played on last year’s Tri-Cape team, which lost in the opening round.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Atohi said. “Last year we were winning in the first game, and it’s nice to come back stronger than last year.”
Carpenter Cup games are nine innings, unlike the traditional seven in high school. With the game tied at three in the bottom of the eighth, Atohi started the winning rally with a base hit and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Fowler (EHT). Daggers then stroked an 0-2 line drive to right-center to score Atohi with the go-ahead run.
“I saw the first pitch fastball (from Mercer County pitcher Nick Houghton) and got hold of his speed, felt a little bit more confident,” Daggers said. “The whole time I was just looking to go right-center gap, try to hit behind the runner a little bit. I was down 0-2 and he threw me an off-speed pitch that I was able to handle enough to put it out there.”
Nutile followed with a high-chop single off the pitcher’s glove and Hood hit a double down the left field line to give Tri-Cape a 5-3 lead.
Dylan Maria of Highland High School, another last-minute addition to the roster, had two hits, including a game-tying double in the seventh inning. Daulton Montagna of Pennsville was the winning pitcher.
Other area players on the Tri-Cape roster include Donnie Stone of Oakcrest; Jordan Sweeney of Egg Harbor Township; and Dominic Boselli of Holy Spirit. Sweeney and Boselli started Thursday's game at first base and right field, respectively.
“It’s a great honor to be a part of this great team,” Sweeney said. “There’s a lot of great players in that dugout. I’m friends with a lot of them, so it’s a lot of fun to get out there and play with guys I’ve played with for a long time.”
The Tri-Cape franchise has the fifth-most wins in Carpenter Cup history and has featured several major-league players, including current standouts Mike Trout (Millville) and Matt Szczur (Lower Cape May).
But the team has never won a Carpenter Cup championship.
This year’s team hopes to change that pattern.
“We were battling all year against each other and now it’s pretty cool that we’re all with each other, battling to get to Citizens Bank Park for the championship game,” Atohi said.