By now it has become routine: The Deptford High School baseball team will play another close game and the Spartans will race off the field in celebration at the end of a dramatic victory.
It has happened four times in a row for coach Tony Leone's team, although Tuesday's 6-5 triumph over Central Regional in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals was decidedly different from the first three, which were walk-off wins.
"Not exactly how we scripted it," Leone said after the fourth-seeded Spartans advanced to the South Jersey Group 3 title game on Friday against the winner of Wednesday's weather-delayed clash between Highland and Lacey in the other semifinal.
Junior second baseman Jake Field, hitting star of Deptford's 11th victory in the last 13 games, could only shake his head in wonder at the circumstances of this latest, greatest escape.
"It was crazy," Field said. "It's like we feed off the tough situations. We like batting through things."
Field was 2 for 3 for two runs and two RBIs. He cracked a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth, jacking Deptford's lead to 6-2 with the first round-tripper of his varsity career.
Deptford (17-6) also got strong work from senior righthander Jalen Merchant, who went six innings to earn the pitching victory, and senior catcher Chris Beck, who drove in a pair of runs with a sacrifice fly and a single.
Deptford won its regular-season finale against Bordentown and its first two tournament games, vs. Absegami and Delsea, with a game-ending hit for a one-run victory.
The Spartans' latest victory was by the margin of one run as well. But this time the deciding run was removed from Central's side of the scoreboard, ending the game in an umpire's ruling that left the visiting team's fans to hoot and holler in protest.
Central mounted a seventh-inning rally, down one run with runners on second and third and one out, when a tag-up off a shallow fly to right field drove in what appeared to be the tying run.
But Leone appealed that the runner had left third base early. After a lengthy discussion among all three umpires, the runner was ruled out, ending the game on a double play.
The Spartans have won the last five in a row, including all three in one of the program's deepest tournament drives in the last two decades.
"These guys are battled-tested," Leone said. "They're finding ways at the end of the year to win games. Confidence and belief - that's what they have."
Central 000 220 1 - 5 9 4
Deptford 301 200 x - 6 6 1
WP: Jalen Merchant. L: Jared Morris.
2B: C-Mike Bickford, Tyler Aires.
HR: D-Jake Field.