RICHLAND – The hitters on the St. Augustine Prep baseball team believe they have a luxury that is not shared by many of their rivals.
The Hermits are blessed with solid pitching up and down their rotation, which takes a lot of pressure off the offensive players to produce.
“You give our pitchers one run and they’ll do something with it,” said senior catcher Nick Lonetto. “You give them three, four or five runs, I mean they’re going to get the job done.”
Under that theory, the Hermits’ offense produced way more than enough as the team won its third straight Non-Public A South Jersey championship on Tuesday.
Ken Levari gave the Hermits an early lead with a two-run homer in the second inning and then Lonetto followed with a three-run homer in the third.
Those shots backed the pitching of Kevin Eaise and Jack Billings as the Hermits earned a chance at a state championship with a 6-1 victory over Notre Dame.
St. Augustine will play Delbarton for the state championship at Veterans Park this weekend in Hamilton with the time and day to be determined.
It was an emotional victory for the seniors on the team, who played their last game ever on their home field. Not only that, even though the class has accomplished a lot, it is 0-for-2 in its bid to win a state championship.
“We wanted to have one last great game here and win it,” Lonetto said. “But this was not a big game for us. It was the South Jersey championship, but it means nothing if we lose the next game. This was our last game potentially and you’ve just got to play your best.”
On paper it didn’t seem like Notre Dame would provide much of a challenge for the Hermits. The Fighting Irish came into the tournament as a No. 9 seed vs. the Hermits No. 1 berth.
However, Eaise was able to keep command of the game for the most part through his five innings of work.
After giving up a run in the third he ran into trouble in the firth when, down by five runs, Notre Dame loaded the bases with only one out.
But Eaise struck out the next to batters to escape an damage.
“I knew I was coming out after that inning, and I just wanted to keep the score there,” Eaise said. “I knew that after Jackie came in, it would be all over.”
Billings lived up to the expectations by closing the game by pitching two scoreless innings.
Afterward, St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone credited Eaise, who scattered six hits with six strikeouts, for doing his job, especially in the potentially dangerous fifth inning.
“Kevin is a senior and he’s been in before,” the coach said. “We knew he was going to gut it out. We knew coming in here they (Notre Dame) were a hot team. They are a very dangerous team to play and we had to bring our `A’ game. Kevin did the job.”
The teams played through a scoreless first inning, but second Augustine got to losing pitcher Tom Mayer in the second inning.
Eaise walked to begin the inning, and one-out later, Levari sent a shot over the right field fence for his third home run of the tournament.
“I’ve been getting pitchers I can drive and I’ve been hitting them hard,” Levari said “It was huge because with our pitching stuff sometimes you only need one run when they’re on. And they were on today.”
Norte Dame got one of the runs back in the top of the third, but the Hermits all but sealed the win with Lonetto’s homer in the bottom of the third.
Josh Hood walked to begin the inning, and Gerry Peacock singled, preceding the home run of an inside fast ball, which was rocketed to left-center field.
Lonetto knew the ball was gone right off the bat.
“From many batting practices this year, having the ball go over the fence you know when you hit the ball in the first spot,” he said. “After four years, I knew it was going to go.”
The Hermits added a sixth run in the fourth inning on an RBI single by Billings.
South Jersey Non-Public A Championship
Notre Dame 001 000 0-1 6 0
St. Augustine 023 100x-6 8 0
WP: Kevin Eaise, LP: Tom Mayer
2B: Jack Billings, SA, Robbie Bucker, ND
HR: Ken Lavari, Nick Lonetto, SA