MARLTON – Brandon Petrick was not feeling himself.
The Cherokee High School senior plays baseball best when he plays. When he’s having fun. He didn’t feel that way in the first three weeks of the season.
Petryk felt the tension. The Olympic Conference RBI leader since 2022 had just five in the first 11 games of his last campaign. And after Cherokee gave up a lead in the seventh inning in a 4-1 loss to Millville at the Coaches vs. At the Cancer Classic, his third loss in four games, Petryk began searching for answers.
He found them in the two biggest highlights of his career — the home run that knocked off Kingsway in last year’s Group 4 final at South Jersey and his two-run single later in the game to reach his team’s first championship in 10 years.
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“I watched that pitch, I watched that at-bat, it made me want to go into another gear,” he said. “… I really took some time to think about myself, who I want to be. I decided to call and have fun, but at the same time stay focused.”
Petryk had five runs over the next two games, and after finding his midseason rhythm, he’s been a superstar over the last two weeks.
Petrick went 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs on Thursday as his hot streak continued to lead top-seeded Cherokee to a 7-2 triumph over eighth-seeded Kingsway in the South Jersey 4 quarterfinals.
“We knew they were going to come here and try to get revenge,” Petryk said. “… We came out here, showed who we are. As long as we strike, no one will stop us.”
Petrik runs so that he seems unstoppable.
He is 10 for 21 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 17 RBI and 11 runs scored in his last seven gamesall Cherokee wins.
“I feel electric, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
His secret is a cliché — one at-bat at a time — but he forgot that early in the spring.
“I was trying to do too much,” he said. “Trying to get more RBIs than last year, more hits. I tried to do what I could do in the long run, not in the moment. I can’t get 30 hits in two games. I was looking too far ahead. After that Millville game, I thought we had one game today. OK, I’m going to focus on this game and we’re going to go 1-0 every day.”
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Two more 1-0 scores would give Cherokee its second straight sectional championship, and the team’s faith is soaring.
“Our guys are working really hard,” head coach Mark Petrognani said. “They feel like they left meat on the bone last year (by not winning the state title after beating South Jersey) and they don’t want to risk doing that again. They come to practice every day, they play hard, they’re locked in their approaches at the plate, their defense has been solid, and it’s been fun to coach the last couple of weeks because we’re doing the right things, and I don’t need to say much to get them do the right thing.”
Bret Gable goes the distance for the win
Bret Gable admitted that he feels “a little pressure.”
Kingsway scored a pair of runs against him in the top of the third to take a 2-1 lead, but he knew there was plenty of play left.
As it turned out, Cherokee only needed half an inning to give Gable the lead back as he drove in three runs in the bottom of the third for a 4-2 lead. The Virginia Tech tight end didn’t look back from there as he pitched a complete game with six hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
“Fearless competitor,” Petrognani said. “He always wants the ball, he fought today. He didn’t have a good start early, hit him hard in the first three innings … (but he’s) never going to give up on himself.”
Cameron Della Vecchia has established himself in the lineup
Cameron Della Vecchia started the season on the bench, but when an injury opened up a spot for him in the lineup, he grabbed it and didn’t relinquish it.
Della Vecchia picked up the win against Kingsway, going 3-for-3 with an RBI.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Della Vecchia, who was awarded the team’s MVP jacket for his performance. “It’s actually amazing.”
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Della Vecchia played a key role during the team’s current seven-game hitting streak, going 8-for-18 with 8 RBI and 4 runs.
“He was solid in that 6, 7, 8 spot somewhere in there,” Petrognani said. “He didn’t start the season as a starter, he got an opportunity when a starter went down, and he didn’t give up a starting spot. He’s a third baseman by trade, but (Brett) Chiesa is our third baseman, he’s taken second base, taken first base, maybe DH for us, tried to play left for us once, he’s moved all over the field. He has not wavered in his commitment to the program.”
Notes of the game
- Cherokee’s patience at the plate led to a decisive third inning. Jason Schooley worked a leadoff nine-pitch walk, one of three free assists in the frame. Cherokee tied the game at 2-2 on a wild pitch, Jordan Enriquez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to make it 3-2, and Della Vecchia’s RBI single made it 4-2.
- Cherokee tacked on three more runs in the fifth when Petrick had an RBI hit and Enriquez followed with a two-run double.
Cherokee will host fifth-seeded Rancocas Valley in the semifinals on Tuesday. The Red Devils defeated the Cherokees twice this season, 8-1 and 3-2.
Rancocas Valley’s Graham Adams has two complete-game wins and can start again in the next round.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Petrognani said. “They are extremely well trained. We know Graham Adams is coming again and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We can’t wait for Tuesday.”
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports reporting for the Courier Post, The Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times for more than a decade. If you have or know of an interesting story to tell, reach out on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism by subscribing.