BROOKLAWN - Chris Oakley didn't overpower the hitters of the Gloucester Catholic High School baseball team with fastballs Friday afternoon.
The St. Augustine Prep senior didn't fool them his curveball.
Oakley simply pitched his way to a win that he and his team needed.
The Egg Harbor Township resident threw all eight innings as St. Augustine beat the Rams 4-2 in a matchup of two of South Jersey's top programs. Nick Enos scored the winning run after leading off the top of the eighth with a single.
Both Oakley and St. Augustine had not met their own expectations over the past two weeks. Oakley lost his last start, while the Hermits entered Friday 2-2 in their last four games.
"This is great for Oakley's confidence," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said. "This late in the season to have a performance like that as a team and as a pitcher is nothing but good."
Oakley threw 116 pitches and allowed three hits in eight innings. He struck out five and walked four.
"They're aggressive hitters," Oakley said of the Rams. "I figured I'd go right at them and trust our defense. I know I wasn't overpowering. I was just trying to hit my spots, and they were hitting the ball where I pitched it."
The 6-foot-8 Oakley has committed to attend the University of North Carolina on a scholarship. His fastball has been clocked in the low- to mid-90s, and he is considered a major-league draft prospect. Oakley's record is 7-1 but he lost his last start to Millville. The Thunderbolts led 6-0 after two innings and held on to win 6-4 on May 9.
"I hope my performance (Friday) shows I'm able to pitch in pressure situations," Oakley said.
The game matched perennial powers seeking to build momentum before the state tournament begins next week. They scheduled Friday's game after they both lost in the first round of the prestigious Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic last weekend.
Gloucester Catholic has won a New Jersey-record 16 state titles, including three in a row. The Rams (21-5) are the top seed in this year's South Jersey Non-Public A bracket and ranked No. 4 in The Press Elite 11. St. Augustine (16-6) is the No. 2 seed in S.J. Non-Public A and No. 6 in the Elite 11.
Gloucester Catholic beat St. Augustine 12-4 in last year's sectional final.
"Why wouldn't you want to play this game?" Bylone said. "It's always good to play good teams. It's the only way you're going to get better."
The game had a playoff atmosphere. Enthusiastic fans circled the field, located just off Route 130. Major-league scouts sat behind the backstop measuring the speed of Oakley's pitches with radar guns.
The Rams' bench is loud. They get louder when a runner gets on base.
"I just tried to stay calm and stay focused," Oakley said. "Sometimes the energy level around the park got crazy. Sometimes it got quiet. Maintaining focus for eight innings was definitely a challenge."
The game went to extra innings tied at two (high school games last seven innings).
As Enos prepared to lead off the top of the eighth, he discussed his upcoming at-bat with Bylone. The coach wanted him to take a strike.
"I said, 'Coach, he's been giving me first-pitch fastballs all game. I know it's coming,' " Enos said. "The pitch came, and I just jumped all over it."
Enos singled. Joe Gatto (2-for-4) then lined a single to center field.
The Gloucester Catholic outfielder bobbled the ball. Enos sprinted around third and scored to give the Hermits a 3-2 lead.
"As soon as I saw the ball get over the second baseman's head, I was thinking about scoring," Enos said. "I didn't look (at the center fielder). I was going the whole way."
Two batters later, Mike Elfreth (1-for-3 with two RBIs) singled home Gatto to give the Hermits a two-run lead.
St. Augustine warmed up a reliever in the top of the eighth, but there was never any doubt Oakley would pitch the bottom of the eighth.
"I wanted to finish the game badly," Oakley said.
He struck out the leadoff hitter swinging and then got the next two batters to bounce out to second base. Oakley retired the last seven he faced.
"Everybody knows what he can hit on the radar gun," Bylone said. "Now it's time to be a pitcher. He wasn't throwing overly hard, but he was keeping the ball down."
Friday's game could have been the first of two between the schools. They could face each other again in the S.J. Non-Public A final.
"Hopefully, we'll see them again on June 4 (the day of the final)," Oakley said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Augustine 200 000 02-4 8 1
Gloucester Catholic 001 001 00-2 3 1
2B-Higbee, Gatto SA.
WP-Oakley 7-1 (5K) LP-Mondile 2-2 (4K)
Records-St. Augustine Prep 16-6; Glou. Catholic 21-5
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