By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — The first time the Lower Cape May Regional and Middle Township high school baseball teams met this season, Middle won on a walk-off hit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Lower Cape May got its revenge by winning in nearly the same manner and by the same score on Friday.
Jake Baxter scored the winning run after Anthony Benigno’s infield ground ball led to a throwing error as Lower Cape May came back for a 3-2 victory.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play — a little single up the middle, a little bloop somewhere, anything — because we had a runner on third,” Benigno said. “It’s a good win for us. This was like deja vu from the other game against Middle when they walked off on us.”
The Lower Cape May victory came on its Senior Night. A 7 p.m. start, the game was played under the lights in front of a large crowd. About 100 to 125 fans stood near each dugout.
“It felt so good when I was running home (with the winning run),” Baxter said, “especially since this was our Senior Night and it was Middle, our biggest rival, and (in front of) our biggest crowd of the year.”
Baxter ripped a double to left with one out to set up the threat. He then stole third base. With two outs and facing a 2-2 count, Benigno chopped a ball in the infield — Middle later protested that the ball actually hit Benigno’s foot and should have been called foul — and was safe at first on a throwing error. Baxter crossed the plate as the rest of Lower Cape May’s players poured out of the dugout to celebrate.
Jake Cooper, in the first inning, and Drew Harris, in the second inning, scored Middle’s runs as the Panthers established an early 2-0 lead. But substitute Aidan Lowry ripped a two-run double to right-center that scored Mark Ryan and Jonas Lumbruno to tie the game in the fifth.
That set the stage for the dramatic ending in the seventh.
The game’s finish overshadowed outstanding pitching efforts by Middle’s Dave Salvo and Lower’s Kenny Haungs. Salvo struck out nine, walked just one and scattered seven hits in a complete game effort, while Haungs gave up just five hits over 6 ⅔ innings. Gavin Devine got the final out of the seventh for Lower to get the victory.
“We knew this was going to be close,” Lower coach Ryan Slaney said. “We knew we were going to Salvo and he’s really good, and we had Kenny Haungs going and he’s been our best pitcher this year in terms of stats. So we thought it would be a pitching duel and that it would end up being a late-inning win for either team.
“This is a huge win for us. Anytime you can win against your rival and on Senior Night, obviously that makes even a little more enjoyable.”
The error at the finish was Middle’s only miscue of the game. Lower won despite committing eight errors. Middle, however, left seven runners in scoring position, including three at third base.
Baxter went 3 for 3 for Lower (2-9). In addition to his pitching exploits, Salvo singled and doubled for Middle (3-11). John Carlson also doubled for the Panthers.