Bulldogs a win away from 1st semifinal appearance

Jersey Shore already has shattered a program record, winning 21 games. Now, it has a chance to go where no other Jersey Shore baseball team ever has been.

The Bulldogs are playing in the Class AAA state quarterfinals for just the third time in program history today against Tamaqua. Win that game at King’s College and Jersey Shore would reach the state’s Final 4 for the first time. Do that and there would be no more debate as to which Jersey Shore baseball team is the best the school has ever produced.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s my senior year and if we could get there and make school history it would be great,” left fielder Christian Rishel said. “Obviously, we want the state championship but to get there and get to the next step would be amazing for the team.”

To do that, Jersey Shore has to get past District 11 champion Tamaqua.

The Bulldogs won their third state playoff game in program history Monday, edging Abington Heights, 4-3, in a first-round thriller. Jersey Shore (21-2) went ahead to stay in the sixth inning when Levi Lorson hit a two-out, RBI single. Four pitchers combined to strand 12 baserunners and the Bulldogs exacted a measure of revenge after losing to Abington Heights in last year’s opening round.

It was a big win over an outstanding team. But Jersey Shore wants a lot more. This team is far from satisfied. A wonderful opportunity is in front of it and Jersey Shore wants to seize it.

“We’re excited but we’re not going to take it for granted,” pitcher Travis Bradley said after throwing 2 1/3 innings of solid relief. “We’re anxious and we’re hungry but we know we don’t give this chance all the time so we’re going to do all we can to keep this going.”

Jersey Shore has won 10 straight and captured its fourth straight district championship nearly two weeks ago. The Bulldogs have played fundamentally-sound baseball, backing up a deep pitching staff by making just one error in three playoff games. The offense has improved each game too and Jersey Shore seems to be peaking at perfect time.

Pitcher Michael Schoonmaker won two straight dazzling starts in districts, allowing no earned runs in 11 1/3 innings. The pitching staff revealed its depth against Abington Heights, though, as Bradley, Travis Eiswerth and Boone Costa shined in relief. Costa has a win and save in the postseason while Bradley and Schoonmaker are a combined 10-0 and Eiswerth has not allowed a postseason run since 2012.

The offense is as well-rounded and deep as the pitching staff. Seven players are hitting above .300 and several players have delivered timely playoff hits. Catcher Eric Huling is 3 for his last 5 hitting out of the No. 8 spot and shortstop Colton Potter had two hits against Abington Heights. Potter sparked the game-winning rally and has been one of the district’s premier shortstops the past three seasons.

Rishel hit a three-run home run against Abington Heights to set an early tone and also threw out a runner trying to score from left field. Zach DePasqua has had some big hits in the last two playoff wins as has Brody Smith while Zach Miller leads District 4 hitters in home runs and RBIs.

“We trust everyone on this team to come through,” Bradley said. “We know anyone can get the job done when called upon.”

That balance has helped Jersey Shore become one of the state’s eight best Class AAA teams. There is more, however, to the success than just talent. The players have been at this for a long time, working and preparing to make the biggest title run yet. They are not there, but they are getting closer.

And they would love to take a big step forward today.

“We can’t wait. This is what we’ve been working for all year,” Lorson said. “We’ve had three goals all year” make playoffs, win districts and win a state title and that’s what we’re trying to do now.”