Luke Hoey's eighth-inning double lifts Seneca past Ocean City

Luke Hoey delivered the decisive double on the 10th pitch of an epic at-bat in the eighth.

Luke Hoey called it the “best at-bat” of his baseball career.

It also might have been the longest.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the eighth inning of the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals at Ocean City, Hoey fouled off four straight 3-2 pitches.

In the third-base box, Seneca coach Jay Donoghue was waiting for ball four, which would have forced home the go-ahead run.

“Their coach kept opening a box and throwing in a new baseball,” Donoghue said. “I was thinking, ‘They have to be slippery. He has to throw a ball.’”

Hoey had other ideas. On the 10th pitch of an epic at-bat, Hoey ripped a three-run double into the gap in right-center field, powering Seneca to a 4-1 victory.

“I was just trying to hit it the other way,” said Hoey, a senior first baseman and righthanded swinger. “I just kept my head down. I knew I was going to get a fastball.

“I took the whole left side of the field out of my mind. I just wanted to go the other way.”

Hoey’s late heroics and some strong work on the mound by junior Matt Christopher and senior Nick Decker propelled 10th-seeded Seneca (17-5) into the sectional semifinals.

On Tuesday, Seneca will host 11th-seeded Mainland, which beat third-seeded Triton, 3-1, on Thursday.

Junior righthander Brandon Lashley struck out 16 in 7 1/3 innings of powerful pitching for second-seeded Ocean City (16-5).

“He pitched his heart out,” Ocean City coach Andrew Bristol said.

Donoghue also raved about Lashey’s performance. “He was unbelievable,” Donoghue said.

The taut game was played before a large crowd at Ocean City’s field at 5th and Bay avenues in the seaside resort.

Ocean City took a 1-0 lead on Dan Nunan’s RBI single in the third.

Seneca tied the score when Kevin Gsell rapped an RBI single in the sixth.

“That was huge,” Donoghue said of Gsell’s hit. “That got us back in the game.”

Ocean City had a chance to win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third and one out. But an attempted suicide squeeze was thwarted on a missed attempt, which enabled Seneca catcher Ryan Lopez to tag out Lashley.

Decker, who struck out five in three scoreless innings, got the final out of the inning with a wicked breaking ball for strike three.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Bristol said of the suicide squeeze. ‘If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do it. I take responsibility. I own it.”

In the eighth, Lopez reached on an error and Decker was intentionally walked for the second time.

“He’s a college-level hitter playing against high school kids,” Bristol said of Decker, who is projected as a possible top-50 pick in the major-league draft.

Gsell reached on a force out and Ryan Graham walked, bringing Hoey to the plate with the based loaded and two outs.

“He’s come so far this year,” Donoghue said of Hoey. “Last year he was a good hitter. This year, he’s a great hitter.”

Hoey’s battle with Ocean City reliever Frank Piernikowski was riveting drama. Piernikowski kept pumping fastballs and Hoey kept fouling them off.

Finally, Hoey squared up Piernikowski’s 10th pitch and drove the baseball into the gap.

“That was the best at-bat of the season,” Decker said. “And it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Hoey said he’s been playing baseball since he was 3. He said he never had a better at-bat.

“The best thing about it was being able to help the team,” Hoey said.

Seneca 000 001 03 – 4 3 3

Ocean City 001 000 00 – 1 5 1

WP: Nick Decker. LP: Brandon Lashley.

2B: S-Luke Hoey; OC-Isaac Robertson