Tom Finnegan Helps Ocean City Advance to State Final
COLTS NECK — Big Tom Finnegan seems to have a calming effect on the Ocean City baseball team. When the 6-foot-7 junior right-hander is on the hill it’s as if the Red Raiders have no real worries, and a game with a berth in the state championship on the line has the easy rhythm of a preseason game in late March.
Finnegan struggled a bit with his command early on during Monday’s Group 3 semifinal game against host Colts Neck, but in the middle innings he found his groove and finished strong, allowing just four hits and a pair of runs in Ocean City’s 4-2 victory. The Red Raiders, the No. 9 team in the state, will take on Pascack Valley — a 5-3 winner over Millburn in the North Jersey semis — on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township, near Trenton.
Finnegan gave up single runs in the first and third innings, but after that was untouchable. After the third inning he allowed just four singles and only one Colts Neck base runner reached third base. The seventh inning was as smooth as butter, as the Cougars went down in order on a pair of flyouts sandwiching a strikeout.
“Our guys spot their pitches so well and we have the defense to back it up. They pound the zone like they need to do, and every day we can throw a guy out there who we’re confident will hold the other team to a low amount of runs. You have to put up a couple, just like we did, scratching across four and holding them to two. We have somebody like that on the mound every game, and it’s a great feeling,” said senior catcher Joe Repetti. “His command definitely got a lot better (in the middle innings). He started to settle in and started spotting his pitches better and mowing people down.”
Finnegan’s only stressful inning after the third came in the bottom of the sixth, when he wiggled out of a second-and-third, two-out jam by getting a harmless groundout to second to end the inning.
“Going into the first inning I didn’t have my best stuff but I knew with our lineup we were going to put up a run early and get the momentum going. I knew I was going to settle down throughout the game, and once I started throwing strikes guys start making plays. It’s a rare occasion when the ball is hit to someone and they don’t make the play, and that makes it easier on me,” the Vanderbilt University commit said. “The name of the game — and you coaches always get on you about it in the dugout, but usually when you’re pitching you have tunnel vision — I kind of just re-evaluated and knew I had to throw a lot of strikes. Once I started throwing more strikes the guys will make plays, and once you take that stress off your back of thinking you have to get every guy out, they hit the ball and it’s an out. And if you can get outs with just one or two pitches in the at-bat, that saves your pitch count and the game goes by a lot faster.”
Ocean City (19-7) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning as leadoff batter Gannon Brady — the pitching hero in the Raiders’ 6-1 win over Mainland in the South Jersey Group 3 title game on Saturday — doubled down the left-field line and scored on Repetti’s double inside the third-base bag. Second baseman Ben Hoag, who reached on a fielder’s choice, came around to score later in the inning when Colts Neck turned a 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded.
Colts Neck (22-7) cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the first as Christian Rice reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second, took third on Brad Salamone’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Collin Kratzer. The Cougars tied the game, 2-2, in their half of the third on an RBI single to right by DH Dave Cohen. Ocean City, however, got the runs it needed in the top of the fifth as Hoag started a two-run rally with a single to right. He later scored ahead of Finnegan’s double down the left-field line, and courtesy runner Jack Rogers scampered home on an infield error to give the Red Raiders a 4-2 lead.
Finnegan took care of the rest.
“Everyone, in this part of the year, when you’re playing to go to a state final, everyone knows what they have to do so we can be the best team we can be,” Finnegan said. “So when everybody gets up to the plate and plays their best game — when we play our best game, we’re tough to beat.”
Ocean City now must deal with a Pascack Valley team that has won five straight and 10-of-11, but right now the Red Raiders don’t care who the opponent is. They’re playing for a state final on Saturday night, and the seniors also get to enjoy graduation on Wednesday. Not a bad week.
“This is a great feeling and it’s a great week,” said Repetti, who also was the quarterback for the football team and a guard on Ocean City’s basketball team. “Having so much success in every sport this year, it’s been a great atmosphere the whole time, especially with baseball and all the fans here today. We’re trying to do everything we can for the city back home, putting on a show and we’re going to try to win (a state title). That would be quite the way to go out, winning the first state title in school history. We’re going to play our best on Saturday and try to get a win.”
Added Finnegan, “when you’re younger you hear about it, especially that 2016 team. They lost, so we definitely have some unfinished business. It’s awesome. When you think about it as a kid, playing in the state final — and playing for the name on the front of the jersey, especially — these guys are all my brothers. I’ve been friends with all of them since I was young, so to be able to make it to the final game, it’s awesome. It’s going to be an electric environment. We got a little preview of that when we played Mainland, there were quite a few people there. When we get out there (at Veterans Park) it’s going to be really cool to look around and take it all in.”
What’s next: Ocean City vs. Pascack Valley in the state Group 3 championship game, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays