By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Cape May County Technical High School has been fielding a varsity baseball team since the late 1990s.
In all that time, the Hawks had never won a state playoff game.
Cape May Tech sent shockwaves through the South Jersey baseball community with a 3-1 victory over Buena — traditionally one of the best small-school programs in the region — in a first-round South Jersey Group I playoff game Wednesday afternoon.
“This is surreal,” Tech coach Kyle Morinelli said shortly after the game. “I’m just so happy for our two seniors, especially, and our entire team. The goal at the beginning of the season was to win a playoff game and now to do it is just amazing.”
Buena, the sixth seed in the tournament, threatened the No. 11 Hawks in the bottom of the seventh inning by putting runners on first and second with no outs against Tech starter Tyler McDaniel. But freshman relief pitcher Tanner Oliva came on to record a strikeout, induce a popup and get a ground-ball out against successive Buena hitters to end the game.
McDaniel was otherwise brilliant, giving up just one run while striking out six through six innings.
“Tyler shut down a really good Buena offense and we played clean behind him,” Morinelli said. “He was hitting his spots. He was on today. Tyler was the star of the game.”
Tech’s two seniors also shined. Aidan Hofmann belted a two-run double down the third-base line to open the scoring in the third inning.
“That hit felt amazing,” Hofmann said. “The whole at bat, I was just trying to poke something somewhere, not trying to do too much with it. But I really got a hold of it. It felt great.”
Hofmann later scored Tech’s third run in the fifth on Oliva’s RBI single.
Joel Sheptock, who also had a hit and a run scored, made what was easily the defensive play of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. With runners on second and third and two puts, the senior made a diving catch in the gap in right-center.
“When I saw it off the bat, I thought, ‘Oh man, I hope our right fielder can get to this,’ but then once I saw he wasn’t going to I knew I had to lay out for it,” Sheptock said. “It feels so good to come up with it and make that catch. It was a great feeling making that play.”
The final out of the game, secured when second baseman Pat Bean fielded the final ground ball and tossed accurately to first, touched off a big celebration by the Hawk players.
“It was getting close,” Hofmann said. “When we got that last out, it was like a sense of relief but also sheer excitement at the same time.”
McDaniel and Ron Neenhold each added hits for Cape May Tech (8-12).
“This was the best overall game we’ve played all season,” Morinelli said.
Buena finished its season at 8-13-1.
Cape May Tech moves on to face third-seeded Paulsboro on Saturday. Paulsboro beat No. 14 Wildwood, 13-3, in its tournament opener Wednesday.
“We have to keep the momentum going,” Hofmann said. “If we play the way we know how, we have a chance to keep winning.”