By Phil Anastasia
Chris Seibert and Trevor Datz were wide-eyed freshmen the last time Pitman made the state finals in baseball.
They remember the crowd -- it seemed like half the little town was there, all wearing bright orange T-shirts -- the excitement, the thrill of that June 2010 day at Toms River East High School.
They also remember the route to that game.
"I said from Day One that we were going to go far," Seibert, a senior pitcher and infielder, said of the 2013 Panthers. "I knew right from the beginning of the season that we could make it all the way."
Seibert and Datz, a senior shortstop, have led Pitman to the brink of a return trip to the Group 1 state finals.
The two athletes, both of whom are hitting better than .500, have led Pitman, the South Jersey Group 1 champion, into Tuesday's state semifinals against Central Jersey champion Middlesex at Rutgers at 4 p.m.
"They've done just what we thought they would do," Pitman coach Gene Reid said of his senior leaders before a practice on Monday night on Eastern High School's turf field. "And maybe a little more."
The No. 3 seed in the South Jersey Group 1 tournament, Pitman has powered through the post-season, beating two-time defending state champion Audubon (8-4 in eight innings) and top-seeded Pennsville (8-3) in the last two games.
"Beating our rivals (Pennsville) was huge for us," said Datz, a University of the Sciences recruit.
Pitman is 7-1 since a 5-2 loss to Pennsville in a Tri-County Classic Division game on May 13. The lone loss was 2-1 to Camden Catholic in the second round of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic on May 18.
Seibert and Datz have led the way. Seibert is 2-0 in the state tournament and saved Pitman's season in the bottom of the seventh against Audubuon -- escaping a base-loaded, nobody-out jam in a 4-4 game with three strikeouts.
For the season, Seibert is 6-1 on the mound with a 0.13 ERA. He's allowed one earned run and struck out 90 in 56 innings.
"I worked hard in the summer on my slider," Seibert said of the pitch that has been a bane to right-hander hitters all season. "I have a lot more command of it this season."
Seibert, who is leaning toward attending either Cumberland County College, Wesley College or Rutgers Camden next year, is batting .521 with 14 extra base-hits and 35 RBIs.
Seibert likely will take the mound against Middlesex (24-4), a veteran team that has won 49 games over the last two seasons.
Datz has eight doubles during Pitman's 7-1 surge. For the season, Datz is batting .506 with a South Jersey-best 14 doubles and 42 hits. He has struck out once in 83 at-bats.
"Our bats finally woke up," Datz said of Pitman's play over the last three weeks. "I'm seeing the ball pretty well."
Seibert and Datz were freshmen who stayed in the background when Pitman won the Group 1 state title on that sunny day in 2010. That was some start to their careers.
Now they are seniors who have led the Panthers to the verge of another visit to Toms River. That would be some finish to their careers.
"That would be awesome," Seibert said of returning to the state finals. "You couldn't ask for a better ending."
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.