Eli Atiya powers Cherry Hill West baseball past Timber Creek

Cherry Hill West junior Eli Atiya pitched a complete game with five strikeouts in a 10-0 victory over Timber Creek.

Eli Atiya can throw three pitches for strikes.

He kept two of them in the holster in Tuesday’s South Jersey Group 3 semifinals.

“All I threw was fastballs,” Atiya said after leading Cherry Hill West to a 10-0 victory over Timber Creek on a hot, humid afternoon at Tom Trotman Field.

Atiya, a junior lefthander, pitched a three-hitter with five strikeouts in a game shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule.

Sophomore shortstop Danny Berckman was 2 for 2 with a pair of RBI singles, and sophomore catcher Tyler Butz was 2 for 2, as fifth-seeded Cherry Hill West (13-9) advanced to host 10th-seeded Seneca in Friday’s sectional finals.

“We’re rolling” said Cherry Hill West senior third baseman Jack Owens, who singled, stole second and third, and scored the first run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first inning. “This has been something I’ve dreamed about.”

Cherry Hill West ended the regular season on a four-game losing streak, but the Lions have been a different team in the state tournament.

The 5-foot-10 Atiya has been a big reason for the team’s resurgence. He threw a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win over perennial-power Toms River South in the first round, then continued his shutout mastery in Tuesday’s semifinals.

In 12 playoff innings, Atiya has allowed zero runs.

“He’s a competitor,” said Cherry Hill West coach Dan McMaster, whose team advanced to the sectional finals for the first time in his nine seasons. “He’s got a lot of confidence out there, and we’ve got a lot of confidence when he’s out there on the hill.”

Timber Creek coach Jon Kates tipped his cap to Atiya.

“He dominated us the last time we played them in the regular season, and he did it again,” Kates said. “He’s not overpowering, but he’s tough out there.”

Eighth-seeded Timber Creek (13-12) beat Hammonton and top-seeded Central Regional by identical 4-1 scores to advance to the sectional semifinals for the first time since 2008.

“It was the second-best season in our history,” Kates said. “I’m not happy. I’m never happy with losing. But I think there’s a feeling the program is moving in the right direction.”

Cherry Hill West delivered some big hits late in the game, but the Lions also scratched and clawed for runs, scoring on a wild pitch, a double steal, and a sacrifice bunt that resulted in a throwing error.

“We tried to do all the little things,” McMaster said. “We wanted to maximize our scoring opportunities.”

Small-ball works great when complemented by dominant pitching. That was the case, as Atiya worked ahead of Timber Creek’s hitters all afternoon.

Of the Chargers’ three singles, one was a bunt. Atiya walked just one, the first batter of the game. He promptly picked him off.

Working quickly and throwing a fastball in the low-80-mph range, Atiya faced just 18 batters. He pitched 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth.

“I think I threw two or three curveballs the whole game,” Atiya said after raising his record to 7-1. “They were having trouble catching up to my fastball. When they did hit it, it went to one of the seven guys behind me.”

Atiya said the Lions have been a different team since the start of the state tournament.

“We had our heads down at times this year,” Atiya said. “But once the playoffs started, we said we were going to show what we could do.”

Timber Creek 000 00 – 0 3 1

Cherry Hill West 103 51 – 10 10 0

WP: Eli Atiya. LP: Antony DiMartino.

2B: CHW-Chace Sgouros.