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BARNEGAT — By the time the third inning rolled around, it became obvious the only way a run was going to be plated against either Barnegat sophomore left-hander Jason Groome or Buena junior righty Denny Brady was with some kind of unorthodox play.

Looking for their first sectional title in program history, the Bengals couldn’t get the pivotal bounce to go their way.

A leadoff walk in the top of the seventh inning came around to score on a pair of errors and Buena rode Brady’s complete-game shutout to edge top-seeded Barnegat, 1-0, and win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II championship on Friday afternoon. Brady walked to start the seventh inning and courtesy runner Eddie Sheppard scored on a passed ball with two outs to score the game’s only run. The Chiefs (20-5) will face Central Jersey Group II champ Robbinsville in the Group II semifinals on Wednesday at Rutgers University.

“It’s a journey to get to a state final, and someone has to lose,” said Barnegat head coach Dan McCoy. “We just came out on the short end of the stick today.”

Barnegat (20-9) was unable to capitalize on an unbelievable performance by Groome, who was utterly dominant in his seven innings of work. The sophomore allowed just two hits - both in the first inning - while walking two and striking out a career-high 17 hitters. He struck out the side in the second, fifth and seventh innings, and retired 14 straight batters starting with one out in the second inning up to Brady’s walk to start the seventh. His low-90s fastball was on target and his big curveball was unhittable.

Barnegat sophomore left-hander Jason Groome struck out a career-high 17 hitters.

“He stepped up,” McCoy said. “We have saying around here, ‘Put your big boy pants on,’ and he wore them all year. The sky is the limit with him. He’ll learn from this, and we’ll be back. This is the first time making it here as a program, but we’ll make our way back here.”

“The first couple of curveballs I was throwing I wasn’t really getting on top of,” Groome said. “When I started getting on top of them I really started mowing them down. My arm felt great today.”

Brady wasn’t as dominant with his stuff, but the East Carolina recruit improved to 9-0 and lowered an earned run average that was 0.44 coming into the game with a sharp curveball and slider that complemented his accurate fastball. Brady was perfect through four innings, and finished allowing just two hits and issuing one walk.

“He had two good breaking balls going - a curveball and a slider - and he’s got a pretty decent fastball,” McCoy said. “So when you go up there looking for a certain pitch and he doesn’t throw it, it’s 0-1. He’s very good. Hopefully we’ll get a crack at him again next year.”

After Brady walked on a seven-pitch at-bat to begin the seventh inning, Sheppard replaced him on the base paths. It was the first time all game Buena had gotten the lead-off runner on against Groome, and they were ready to push the issue in order to get the win.

Groome struck out the next two hitters, but with first baseman Dom Lopez at the plate for Buena, Sheppard took off for second. The throw from catcher Nik Fraim was wide to the second base side and bounced into center field to allow Sheppard to move to third. Two pitches later, Sheppard raced home on a passed ball for the eventual winning run.

“We did not execute the little things that win baseball games,” McCoy said. “It’s a cliché, but you saw it today. Little things win baseball games. Fraim will learn from that. He feels awful right now, but it’s not his fault we lost the game. He’ll come back and be ready to go.”

Any jitters Barnegat’s sophomore ace might have had were gone after the first inning, but Buena nearly got to Groome with an early run. Matt Luisi bounced a single up the middle with one out in the top of the first. Groome struck out Brady for the second out, but designated hitter Chad Dortu flared a bloop double that landed just inside the right-field line. Luisi raced for home, but the relay throw from Colin O’Connor to Ryan Ulrich to Fraim nailed Luisi at the plate by a few feet to keep the game scoreless.

Buena junior ace Denny Brady struck out nine and allowed just two hits to lead Buena to the sectional title.

Buena didn’t remotely threaten Groome again until scoring the winning run in the seventh inning. Barnegat moved a runner to third base in both the fifth and sixth innings, and also had a one-out single in the seventh inning, but was unable to crack Brady.

First baseman Ed Rogan led off the fifth with a single and moved to third on a pair of groundouts. Brady got out of trouble by getting Joe Letinski to ground out to second base, but it was Pace’s pick and stretch at first that kept the game scoreless. The grounder wasn’t hit hard, and the second baseman had to hurry his throw. Letinski dove for the bag, but Pace was able to reach for the ball and keep his foot on to complete the great defensive play.

“A call here or there and we might have a run, because I’m kind of thinking that guy was safe,” McCoy said. “But that’s baseball."

Shortstop Aaron McLaughlin walked to lead off the sixth inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from O’Connor. McLaughlin then moved to third on a passed ball, but Brady picked up a strikeout to end the threat.

In the seventh, Rogan singled with one out, but was forced out at second when Matt Owens reached on a fielder’s choice. Connor Hoeler lined a shot toward right field with two outs, but Pace reached out to snare it for the final out to send Buena into the Group II semifinals.

Barnegat’s banner season has one more game left, however. The Bengals will take on Christian Brothers Academy in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game Sunday night at First Energy Park.

“I told them I was proud of them getting here,” McCoy said. “I told them it’s okay to go home and feel bad, but come back Saturday and be ready for Sunday. We have a lot of firsts for the program this year, but I’d like to win one of these.”

 

Box Score

Buena 1, Barnegat 0

Buena (20-5)     0 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 1 2 1

Barnegat (20-8) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 2 2

WP: Brady (9-0); LP: Groome (6-2). Doubles: (Bu) Dortu.