By TIM KELLY
Rings, jackets and trophies. Proclamations, certificates and laudatory speeches. These are a few of the spoils of victory for the Ocean City High School state champion baseball team.
“I don’t care about any of that,” said James Mancini, a senior shortstop who scored the winning run in the Red Raiders’ 3-2 victory over Pascack Valley to clinch the school’s first-ever Group III title.
It took three hours, 45 minutes and 14 innings in stifling heat to secure the win.
“Coming into the season, we knew how hard it would be,” Mancini said. “It’s about what we learned. When you concentrate and work hard, good things really do happen.”
One of the good things happened Wednesday night when Mayor Jay Gillian, members of City Council and other county and state officials honored the squad in a ceremony at their home ballpark, Grimes Field.
“This is a great day for Ocean City,” Gillian said.
Each player and coach was individually recognized and received ovations from a crowd of parents, students and fans. It was another chance to come together as a squad and savor their 20-7 season and the championship contest, the equivalent in innings of two high school games.
Coach Andrew Bristol said the game was a microcosm of the season, which began with some tough losses and morphed into a 15-game winning streak, as well as the fact the Raiders’ lost their entire season last year to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That made it a lot sweeter,” Bristol said. “For these seniors to wind up as state champs after losing their junior year was incredible. We (coaches) were a lot more nervous than the players.”
“It still hasn’t really sunk in completely yet,” said a smiling Bristol, whose career record improved to 55-17 with the title game win.
State Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, an OCHS grad, thanked the team “for giving me bragging rights in Trenton. That is truly appreciated.”
Sea Isle City Mayor and Cape May County Commissioner Leonard Desiderio was on hand and pointed out that several team members hail from his town.
“Say it again,” he urged the team and audience. “Ocean City, state champions! Nobody will ever take away from you that the 2021 state champ for baseball is Ocean City High School. This will bond you all together for life.”
It didn’t look like a title was in the offing early in the season as the Raiders got off to a slow start. But Joe Repetti, the senior catcher who had an RBI and threw out a would-be base stealer in the state semifinal win over Colts Neck, said that was by design.
“Coach loaded up our schedule with some very tough teams in the early part of the season and we lost some devastating one-run games,” Repetti said. “It helped us out a lot when we got on our streak. It taught us about overcoming adversity.”
Those sentiments were echoed by pitcher Gannon Brady, who gave a big assist to the Ocean City fans.
“Every home game, the atmosphere was great and the stands were packed,” Brady said. “The fans were into it.”
“Ocean City is a great baseball town and a great sports town,” he continued. “The people come out and give support to our athletes in all the sports. Playing in that kind of atmosphere was tough (on the opposition) and a big advantage for us.”