People can debate which Jersey Shore baseball team is its best ever. The current Bulldogs are one of three teams that has reached the Class AAA state quarterfinals.
The question of deepest Jersey Shore team, however, is not up for debate anymore. The 2014 Bulldogs have earned that title.
Jersey Shore is one of eight Class AAA teams still playing and faces District 11 champion Tamaqua Thursday. The team's depth is a huge reason why. The Bulldogs really have personified the word team all season and drove that point home in Monday's 4-3 state playoff win over Abington Heights.
Colton Potter, left, Brody Smith, right, and Jersey Shore are in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals for the third time in school history.
"We have a load of players not only who are pitchers but who are great players overall that love the pressure and love coming through in big positions and I think that's why we excel as a program," pitcher Travis Bradley said afterward. "That's why we call ourselves one of the better teams in this area."
They certainly are the district's deepest team. Jersey Shore used four pitchers against Abington Heights, a 2013 state semifinalist, and that quartet combined to strand 12 baserunners. Each pitcher stranded at least two runners in an inning.
Offensively, Christian Rishel hit a three-run first-inning home run before Levi Lorson hit the tie-breaking sixth-inning single. Colton Potter had two hits and ignited that rally while Zach DePasqua kept it alive with a two-out single. The names have changed throughout the season, but game-to-game the Bulldogs seem to have an endless reserve of players that come up big.
"It doesn't matter who is up, we're confident they're going to get a hit," Rishel said. "When we have as many pitchers as we have and the hitters we have it's a great thing."
That has helped Jersey Shore make history by winning a program-record 21 games. Win one more game and the Bulldogs can make history again and become the first team to reach the state's Final 4. Jersey Shore has won 10 straight and is 3-0 this postseason with its offense getting better each game.
Michael Schoonmaker threw consecutive gems to help Jersey Shore capture its fourth straight district championship and started again against Abington Heights. When the Comets started strong, Jersey Shore did not hesitate going to the bullpen. Some teams might ride one or two pitchers, but Jersey Shore has a bevy it can turn to in big games.
Bradley, Travis Eiswerth and Boone Costa allowed only one run over the final 5 1/3 innings and continued stifling Abington Heights threats. The Comets finished with 12 hits but, Schoonmaker and Bradley worked out of three bases-loaded jams while Eiswerth and Costa left two on in the fifth and sixth innings.
The performance revealed that this staff is deep and tough. Bradley, Schoonmaker and Eiswerth all have won at least four games and Costa has become an effective closer. Dylan Hamm did not pitch Monday but was 5-0 during the regular season, giving the Bulldogs yet another strong option. All five pitchers have thrown well this year but, considering what was at stake Monday, that game might have been the staff's finest hour thus far.
"The coaches do a good job of keeping us on our toes and everyone on the pitching staff wants to be ready and wants the ball and we're all anxious to do all they can to help us win," said Bradley, who is 6-0. "That's what we did (Monday)."
"Our pitchers did unbelievable," Rishel said "You couldn't ask for anything better. When they needed to get the job done they did and it was just amazing."
Jersey Shore featured the area's top-ranked offense throughout the regular season. The Bulldogs have not unloaded in the postseason the way they did at times earlier this season, but they have come up with some big hits at crucial times, doing that again in the sixth inning Monday.
That game was a microcosm of the season with players at the top and bottom delivering hits as well as the middle of the lineup coming through at different times. Jersey Shore has seven starters hitting above .300 and his hitting a collective .349. Six hitters have at least 13 RBIs and three have more than 20. Opponents looking for soft spots in the lineup have come up empty.
At times this season, the hardest part of Jersey Shore has been picking which players to start. The reserves are strong too and Trey Newcomer and Bronson Bass made a nice impact early this season. Bass has been used as a pinch-hitter throughout the postseason and helped spark a rally against Midd-West in the district final by drawing a walk while Newcomer stole a base and scored a run that made it 2-0.
"We're confident in everyone in the lineup," Lorson said. "Even the guys that don't get in the game we're confident in them too."
This group of players has largely played together since they first started competing. They have performed well at each level up the youth and scholastic ladder. Now they have a chance to make their biggest statement yet.
And you can bet, this deep team will try doing it together.
Everybody has a job and everybody has been doing it," catcher Eric Huling said. "Everyone knows their role on the team. We have great team chemistry and that helps so much."