With the American division crown in the Jersey Shore Baseball League on the line, the Point Pleasant Merchants picked the worst time to have their worst performance of the season. The Toms River Tigers defeated the Merchants 8-1 at Point Pleasant Borough High School Sunday evening.
With the defeat coupled by the forfeit defeat in game 1 of what was supposed to be a doubleheader, the Merchants failed to clinch the division title and a first-round bye in the postseason.
The Merchants dug themselves an early first-inning hole. With the bases loaded and two outs, Merchants starter Rich Gabriel induced Kyle Synder to hit a ground ball to the left of shortstop, which was fielded beautifully by shortstop John Coppinger.
However on Coppinger’s throw to second base, the ball was dropped by second basemen Brandon Adams and trickled into right field, allowing two runners to score.
Following the error, the Tigers knocked in Synder on a single by Joe DeHart, which gave Toms River a three-run lead before the Merchants even stepped up to bat.
“They went out and got three runs they never should have gotten,” said Merchants skipper Art Rooney. “If a routine play is made, we’re out of the inning and usually we’re able to pick ourselves right up. Today that was not the case.”
The Merchants were not able to muster any sort of an offensive attack against Tigers starter Brandon Benysz. The usually potent Merchants bats were held to one run over three hits.
Although the Merchants were missing a few of their key offensive players due to a variety of reasons, the skipper refused to make excuses for what on the day was the dead bats society.
“We didn’t put anything together at all ,” said Rooney. “Of course it makes things tougher to be missing a few of our guys in the lineup, but we have enough good players here. There’s no excuse.”
Merchants starter Rich Gabriel kept the team in the ballgame for most of the afternoon, despite battling control problems yet again.
After allowing three unearned runs in the first, Gabriel settled down and threw three scoreless frames before he ran into more trouble in the fifth.
With two outs, Gabriel walked two and a hit a batter to load the bases. He then forced in the Tigers fourth run of the evening on a bases load walk to Clancy Doyle and was promptly removed for reliever Jason Cramer.
Despite allowing only one earned run, Gabriel walked nine and hit a batter over his four and two thirds innings of work.
Cramer escaped the fifth unharmed, but was touched up for four runs in the top of the sixth inning, which all but put the game and the American division title out of grasp for the Merchants.
According to the latest update on the Jersey Shore Baseball League standings, the Merchants finished the regular season with a record of 20-7, with 66 points. The Merchants playoff opponent in the first round best of three is still yet to be determined.
“I was disgusted with the performance today,” said Rooney. However when we have our players and our pitchers here and ready to go, we’re as good as anybody.”