PINE HILL — St. Augustine Prep’s baseball team picked the worst possible game to struggle for one of the few times this season.
The Hermits’ quest to win their second state Non-Public A championship in three years ended Wednesday with a 7-0 loss to defending state champion Gloucester Catholic in the South Jersey final at Overbrook Regional High School.
As a result, the Rams (29-5) will meet North Jersey champ Seton Hall Prep for the state title. The Hermits (22-7) saw their season come to a disappointing end.
“But after all the adversity we’ve been through this season, I was proud of my team for just getting to this game,” St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said. “We had a nice run (this season), but we just couldn’t get anything going today.”
A large crowd showed up for a matchup between two of South Jersey’s top programs. Fans filled the bleachers and were lined three deep behind the fences along both foul lines.
They were treated to a fantastic performance by Gloucester Catholic pitcher John Murphy (8-1).
The sophomore right-hander used a fastball, curve and an occasional changeup to register nine strikeouts while allowing just four hits and one walk — earning the second big win of his varsity career. He pitched the state final for the Rams as a freshman last season.
“He’s the kind of kid that wants the ball in big games,” Gloucester Catholic coach Mike Rucci said. “Sometimes ‘Murph’ gets overshadowed by Mike Shawaryn (who is expected to be drafted by Major League Baseball this weekend). ‘Murph’ wanted to prove he’s also one of South Jersey’s best pitchers, and he did that today.”
Murphy (7-1) set the tone early by striking out the side in the top of the first.
St. Augustine, No. 2 in The Press Elite 11, looked ready to break through when Mike Elfreth led off the second with a double down the right-field line, but he never left second base. The Hermits’ only other scoring threat came when Dylan Tolbert stroked a one-out single to right in the fifth and took second on a passed ball, but Murphy answered with back-to-back strikouts.
“I know St. Augustine has a great hitting team, so I tried my best to use all my pitches to get ahead of the hitters,” Murphy said. “When we scored some runs it took a lot of the pressure off me, but I still had to stick to the same strategy because you can never let up on a team like that.”
Gloucester Catholic took control with a four-run surge in the bottom of the second against Hermits right-hander Joe Gatto (5-3).
Giovanni Gossen and Anthony Harrold opened the inning with infield singles. Gatto recorded two outs before issuing back-to-back walks that gave the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Dave Dickinson added three more runs with a three-run double over the Prep leftfielder’s head.
“It felt good to get that hit, especially with two outs,” Dickinson said. “Everyone’s been talking about our great pitching, but people have been questioning our lineup. Nobody’s questioning our lineup now.”
Gloucester Catholic’s Pat Hiester answered any lingering questions in the third inning. After Harrold smacked a two-out double, Hiester slammed a fastball deep over the fence in left-center for his fourth home run of the season.
Once he began his home-run trot, he spotted his teammates waiting for him at the plate and picked up speed until he was practically sprinting.
“I couldn’t wait to get home,” Hiesler said. “I must have had a big smile on my face, because it felt so awesome to come through with a hit like that.”
St. Augustine 000 000 0—0 4 0
Gloucester Catholic 042 001 x—7 7 0
2B— Elfreth SA; Dickinson, Harrold GC. HR—Hiester GC.
WP—Murphy (7-1) 9K. LP—Gatto (5-3) 2K.
Records—St. Augustine 22-7; Gloucester Catholic 29-5.
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