South Jersey had one NJSIAA state champion in baseball and a second was close. This year again demonstrated how difficult it is to win a state title in state as talented in baseball as New Jersey.
The one champion was Gloucester Catholic, which knows its way around a championship podium. The Rams beat Newark Academy, 15-5 in six innings to win the Non-Public B crown. Since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1971, Gloucester Catholic has won a staggering 18. (Newark Academy was seeking its first).
St. Augustine was the only other team from the seven-county South Jersey area to earn a state championship berth and the Hermits took Delbarton to the limit before losing by a 2-1 score. Delbarton earned the win with a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.
That ended what had been a tense run to the state championship for St. Augustine (24-7) which should end up as South Jersey’s No. 1 ranked team. (More on that in a minute).
The Hermits won the South Jersey Non-Public A title with a tense 4-3 win in eight innings over Bishop Eustace before a big crowd at Rider University.
Eustace, another Top 5 team in South Jersey, held a 3-0 lead after five innings. St. Augustine junior Jack Billings tied the game with a sixth inning sacrifice fly and provided the winning margin with an RBI single in the eighth inning.
Sophomore Cole Vanderslice, retired all 10 batters to earn the win. Vanderslice proved to be among the top relief pitchers in the area.
What is interesting is that St. Augustine had underclassmen playing prominent roles and the Hermits should be one of the best teams in South Jersey next year.
So should Bishop Eustace. And while Gloucester Catholic (28-3) loses some key seniors such as catcher Sam Punzi, who is headed to Iona and first baseman Chris Turco, who will attend Albany. Still, there will be plenty of players who will give the Rams the chance at No. 1.
For instance, sophomore outfielder Lillo Paxia, who has already committed to Florida State, is one of the top players already in South Jersey. He hit a walk-off two-run double that ended the state final after six innings due to the 10-run rule.
The winning pitcher was lefthander Andrew Vail (pictured), who has committed to Maryland. He allowed just one run in four innings of relief. In looking at the respective records, one might question why St. Augustine with four more losses and four fewer wins, would be ahead of Gloucester Catholic in the ratings.
As talented as Gloucester Catholic is, the Rams lost both of their games to St. Augustine, 8-6 in the regular season and 8-5 in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, which St. Augustine emerged as champion. That is the tournament that includes 16 of the top teams in South Jersey.
Regardless of the rankings, the two teams enjoyed banner seasons and played until the very last day of the season, something that could happen next year as well.
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