VOORHEES – It’s an unusual situation when a high school team can bring its season to a happy conclusion short of winning a state championship.
However, the Eastern baseball team got such a rare opportunity and the Vikings took full advantage of the situation.
Senior right-hander Jesse Barbera pitched a two-hitter Monday and that propelled the Vikings to a 4-1, eight-inning win over St. Augustine in the rain delayed 45th annual Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic championship.
“We wanted this one,” said Barbera. “The Diamond Classic is a great tournament with great opponents and we came out ready to play. We had a lot of emotion and we played a good game.”
Barbera was not overpowering on the mound, recording only three strikeouts. But his location was excellent and his tempo was fast seemingly keeping the Hermits off balance throughout the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Barbera said. “It was a great way to end my career.”
The Classic championship game is normally played before the state tournament begins, but numerous rainouts pushed back the title game this season.
Eastern has already been eliminated from the Group 4 Tournament, though St. Augustine was still alive in Non-Public A Tournament play.
Barbera gave up a solo home run to Josh Hood in the third inning, which tied the score at 1-1 at that points. But the only other hit he allowed was a sixth-inning single to opposing pitcher Gerry Peacock, who also threw well.
When Peacock left after the seventh inning the scored remained tied at 1-1.
However, the Vikings struck for three runs of the Hermits relief staff, the winning run coming home when Jack Herman scored on a two-out wild pitch.
“We were a little frustrated because we didn’t to end out season with a loss,” Herman said. “There’s no better feeling that to take the win home for a championship.”
After taking the lead, the Vikings added RBI singles from Matt Karpousis and A.J. Funari to give Barbera a margin for error in the bottom of the eighth inning.
But he didn’t need it.
“We had a game-plan, which is all fine and good, but Jesse really executed it,” said Eastern coach Rob Christ. “He was hitting his spots.”
Barbera credited his coaching staff with helping him prepare for the game against such a potent lineup.
“They have some great hitters but our coaches have been a great job of scouting them,” he said. “We had a nice report on them.”
His strategy, Barbera said, was not complicated.
“I tried two throw some curveballs,” Barbera said. “I tried to work it in and out on them and see what happen.”
Later, Some recalled that Barbera’s performance was reminiscent of one he turned in two years ago.
As a sophomore at that time, he first began to make a name for himself when he pitched a gem against Gloucester Catholic in the same tournament.
Christ spoke that outing on Wednesday.
“We had a kid at that time, who came to me and said he was scared (to pitch)” Christ said. “Jesse doesn’t get scared. He’s the kind of kid who is going to take it as it comes – just be in the moment.
“His middle name is like `Zen.’ He’s just so chill.”
Barbara’s coolness under pressure has served to build the confidence of his teammates as well.
“In all the games I’ve played I’ve never been so confident as when Jesse is on the mound,” said Herman. “I’ve played with so many great pitchers, but with him it’s just something to see. You’re always really confident that he’s going to get the out.”
On the opposing mound, Peacock pitched a fine 7.0 innings as well, allowing three hits with 11 strikeouts.
The Vikings scored first on a double by Rob Silvestro and an RBI single from Barbera in the third inning. But Peacock kept competing --.pitching out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings.
He was relieved in the eight when his pitch count expired and James Weston came in to pitch. He got the first two outs, but then walked Herman on four pitches.
The next four batters got on base and the Vikings pulled away.
Diamond Classic Championship
Eastern 001 000 0 3-4 6 1
St. Augustine 001 000 0 0-1 2 1
WP: Jesse Barbera, LP: James Weston
2B: Ron Silvestro
HR: Josh Hood