Cherokee baseball falls to Howell in state semifinal in extra innings

By on June 14, 2022 0

MARLTON – The game was already a classic.

Then came an end that few will ever forget

It was the start of Round 9 of an epic Group 4 semi-final between South Jersey champion Cherokee and Center winner Howell on Monday.

The Rebels’ Joe Zito opened the frame with a double to left field and reached third on a wild pitch. Then, another delivery hit the dirt. This time the ball bounced around the backstop and settled into the net behind the fence.

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Cherokee receiver Jason Schooley caught it easily and Zito remained third. However, Howell’s coach Eric Johnson felt the ball should be ruled out of play. Officials met and agreed.

Zito trotted home and scored the decisive point as the Rebels overcame the loss of their ace after a single batter to stun Cherokee 2-1 in the Group 4 semi-final.

Cherokee's Jeremy Cheeseman (4) throws during Monday's NJSIAA State baseball semifinal against visiting Howell in Marlton, NJ The Rebels defeated Cherokee 2-1.  June 13, 2022.

“It’s a (crappy) way to lose, but what can you do, they were a good team there,” Schooley said.

Neither Schooley nor Cherokee head coach Marc Petragnani felt that a single play determined the outcome of the game, but both were disappointed with the decision.

Petragnani never mentioned this coincidence when reviewing the basic on-field rules of the Marlton program during his 14-year tenure.

“I said if the ball got stuck in the mat we would kill it,” he said. “I never said the net, and (the referee) said that counts as a barrier, and I said why didn’t we go over that in the basic rules? Why didn’t I “You didn’t ask that in the ground rules? And he said, you didn’t say it. How can I argue with that?”

Schooley felt the ball should have been treated as if it was deep in the mat.

“If I can grab it, it’s a live ball,” he said. “It’s like that in all the parks.”

Johnson felt the opposite.

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“The first base umpire walked past my assistant coach and told me it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he said. “This ball is lodged, it is behind and it is lodged. It’s absolutely a dead ball and we score. It’s not even like it should or shouldn’t be. These are the basic rules of baseball. Once it goes behind and is lodged like that, it’s done.

Cherokee's Leo Bluesteinn (31) makes a play at first base during Monday's NJSIAA State baseball semifinal against visiting Howell in Marlton, NJ The Rebels defeated Cherokee 2-1.  June 13, 2022.

Petragnani had no interest in diving too deep into the game, instead he wanted to celebrate what his team achieved this spring.

“Let’s focus on that. we are south jersey group 4 champions,” he said. “We had one of the toughest groups and we were the last man standing. We didn’t have that today.

Unforgettable performances

Nick Barracato didn’t get the win for Howell, but there’s no doubt he was the reason the Rebels won on Monday.

Ace Daniel Furlong opened the game for Howell, but went out after a batter after the Cherokee leadoff hit a screamer to the head, which sent Furlong to the turf. He was able to get up and leave the field, but he was eventually transported by ambulance.

“I hope at the very least it’s an easy cure,” Johnson said. “I don’t care if he can play or not. I don’t want it to be something that is long term. This kid is just one of the best kids you could ever ask to coach.”

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Cherokee High School baseball fans cheer on the Chiefs during Monday's NJSIAA State baseball semifinal against visiting Howell in Marlton, NJ The Rebels defeated Cherokee 2-1.  June 13, 2022.

Barracato was put in an incredibly tough position and gave up a brace to the second hitter he faced, Dom Patrizi, who tagged Brown and gave Cherokee a 1-0 lead. However, that is all he would allow.

He went seven innings and allowed 6 hits, walked 2 and struck out 3.

“Bulldog,” Petragnani said.

“He was just amazing today,” added Johnson.

Jason Pace two scoreless runs after him to take the win.

Game Notes

► Cherokee starter Jeremy Cheeseman also had a great game.

He went five frames and allowed a run on 2 hits, 3 walks and a slap hitter. He withdrew seven.

► Howell tied the score in the top of the fourth on Braden Walsh’s RBI single to right field.

► Petragnani felt he over-thought some moves early on. For example, late in the third, Schooley started the frame with a single and Patrizi followed with a walk to put the runners at first and second with no outs.

Petragnani then asked Cheeseman, the cleanup hitter, to bunt. It worked in the Section Final against Kingsway, and Cheeseman redid the job against the Rebels, moving the Runners up to second and third. However, Cherokee was unable to bring them home.

Cherokee also got the first man in the fourth, but he was kicked out for stealing.

“I was probably too coaching earlier in the game,” Petragnani said.

They said it

“We know the feeling now. We know the feeling of winning the section, we know how it feels to lose. Guys that were here last year like me and Evan and those other guys, we know what it’s like to lose in the second round of the playoffs. Now we know what it’s like to pile into someone else’s turf and that’s when we want to come back. Now. we know what it takes and we feel like next season will be amazing.

– Schooley, junior and two-time captain, on how this loss will motivate Cherokee for next year.

Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times for over a decade. If you have or know of an interesting story to tell, hit us up on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or email [email protected] You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a subscription.