Coach Mike Bylone of the St. Augustine Prep baseball team didn't have to see Barry Buchowski swing a bat to know he would be a talented player.
All Bylone needed was a handshake.
Buchowski attended St. Augustine's baseball camp the summer before his freshman year. The player introduced himself to Bylone.
"He shook my hand and he had a tight handshake," Bylone said. "I said to myself, 'This kid is going to be a player.' "
Buchowski is The Press Player of the Year. The catcher batted .418 with six home runs and 29 RBIs.
The Moorestown resident led the Hermits to a 22-7 record, the Cape-Atlantic League championship and the South Jersey Non-Public A final. He will attend Tulane University.
Bylone called Buchowski one of the toughest players he ever coached. Bylone joked that Buchowski is all business on and off the field.
Just as important as Buchowski's bat and glove was Buchowski's leadership. The Hermits featured several freshmen and sophomores in key positions.
Buchowski roomed with some freshmen on the team's preseason trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"We needed a leader," Buchowski said. "I wanted to show all the younger kids that we're a perennial state power now. We've been to the South Jersey championship game three years in a row. We need to keep that streak going."
Buchowski first emerged as a sophomore when he produced several key hits on the Hermits run to the 2011 state Non-Public A championship.
"He had quite a few big games for us," Bylone said. "He learned at a young age how to be a leader. It's always a good thing when you have a kid that knows the system and knows what it takes to be successful."
Buchowski also came off the bench and played key minutes for the Hermits basketball team that won the 2011 state Non-Public A championship. Buchowski, however, gave up basketball to concentrate on baseball as a junior and senior.
"It was a really tough decision," Buchowski said. "I love the game of basketball. I wouldn't have been there fully committed (to the basketball team). I decided baseball was the calling."
Buchowski will head to Tulane in August. He wanted to play for a Southern college where baseball was important.
"Just to be considered an elite player by going to a school like Tulane is unbelievable," Buchowski said. "The coaches told me I could make an impact as a freshman, and I don't want to let them down."
St. Augustine faced a decision after it dropped consecutive games, losing to Millville 6-4 on May 9 and Eastern 10-4 on May 11.
"I said, 'This team is either going to go up or down,' " Bylone said.
The Hermits responded with a nine-game winning streak. They won the CAL title, but lost to Gloucester Catholic 7-0 in the South Jersey Non-Public A final.
St. Augustine (22-7) finished No. 3 in The Press Elite 11 and is The Press Team of the Year.
"The goal is to always to get to the state final," Bylone said. "I'll never be the guy to say, 'Hey, we did good enough.' But after we lost to (Eastern), to (the team's) credit they pulled together and made a run at the end. Now, we just have to find a way to get past Gloucester Catholic. It's going to be tough."
The Atlantic City High School baseball team is often overlooked because of the school's successful football and boys basketball programs.
But this season, the Vikings made themselves easy to remember.
Atlantic City won 15 games, beat perennial powers Bishop Eustace and Lenape in the regular season and upset Vineland in the first round of the South Jersey Group IV tournament.
Atlantic City coach Brent Bean is The Press Coach of the Year.
"I think our program is turned in the right direction," said Bean, who just finished his third season. "As far as our players, they can believe now they can compete with anybody in South Jersey."
Atlantic City also qualified for the playoffs in 2012, beating Clearview in the first round. This season the Vikings (15-10) won eight of their last 11 games.
"You can't take anything away from our football and basketball programs," Bean said, "but I'd like to think with the success we've had the last couple of years I'd like to think people are starting to notice Atlantic City High School baseball. That's one of the fun things about coaching there."
Contact Michael McGarry: