Flying high: Highland shows its grit in Thank You Classic victory

Tartans overcame late 6-2 deficit to earn 10th win of the season

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly
Highland junior Robert Carfagno celebrates after belting a first-inning homer against Haddon Township on April 30 in the Thank You Classic. The Tartans are off to a 11-3 start this season.

When the Highland Tartans found themselves down 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth during the Thank You Classic against Haddon Township, both coach DJ Gore and many upperclassmen team leaders would have agreed it was an unusual situation.

For a team that averaged just over 7.5 runs per game through the first 12 games of the 2021-’22 season and went 9-3 through that stretch, it was a strange feeling to say the least. 

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But the Tartans’ response in the final two innings – they turned a 6-2 deficit into a 12-7 win – was an offensive explosion Gore said encapsulates the fight and grit in his team after its 10th victory of the season.

“I think this was an extremely important win for us,” Gore said. “We felt challenged and fell behind 6-2, but it shows the character and makeup of our guys to be able to come back the way they did. It was probably the first time all year that we were in that position to have to fight and claw back the way that we did.

“The learning experience of going through that kind of a comeback is huge,” Gore added. “You can’t replicate or train that kind of fight in practice. That’s priceless.”

Gore, who became the program’s all-time wins leader during his 21st season as head coach, entered the year with a strong senior class that he believed could set the tone and show the way for the even larger junior class on the varsity roster. 

Two of the team’s biggest bats – juniors Robert Carfagno and Vincent Davis – have continued to shine after impressive sophomore years, with Carfagno enjoying his second year with the Tartans and Davis in his first after transferring to Highland from Gloucester Catholic.

Carfagno leads the team in home runs and at-bats, while Davis leads in hits and RBIs. Both are also tied for the team lead in doubles.

After hitting a single home run last year, Carfagno worked this past offseason on hitting with a higher velocity and having better at-bats. In turn, he and the team’s chemistry have helped the Tartans get off to a strong start as the playoffs loom.

“I wanted to hit the outside pitch a little better this year, and I even changed up my stance a little bit so I was able to hit with a little more power than I did last year,” Carfagno said. “Everyone’s just came together really well since the start of the year and our team chemistry has helped us a lot in games. 

“With games like [the Thank You Classic], we see firsthand what we’re made of and that we can face adversity like that,” he added.

Owen Davenport, one of the team’s senior captains, has been a force both at the plate and on the mound, angling for the team lead in several offensive categories while also leading in  strikeouts and innings pitched. His value to the Tartans, Gore said, has been immense. 

“He’s been the glue to this team the entire year,” the coach said. “He can start at third, move to first and then come in to pitch late in a game if we need him to on a day that he didn’t start on the mound. Again, he’s been the glue to this team, just playing fantastic at the plate while also being a horse on the mound.”

After getting limited at-bats last year, Davenport worked on his hitting leading up to the season in order to be a more dynamic player in his senior year. That versatile style has led to an even stronger Highland team, one that shouldn’t be discounted until the final out. 

“We really have something special here,” he said. “We put in a lot of work to get to the point that we’re at, but we’re still continuing to come along and we hope it keeps paying off.”

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