By Phil Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer
Only Gloucester Catholic baseball could enter a game with a 27-5 record and a chip on its shoulder.
But the Rams have set such a high standard -- winning more state titles than any program in New Jersey, brandishing their work ethic like a badge -- that they were feeling a little under-appreciated at the start of Wednesday's Non-Public South A championship game.
Two hours later, all was right in Gloucester Catholic's diamond-shaped world.
"In the big games, the Rams come out," Gloucester Catholic pitcher John Murphy said after firing a four-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 7-0 victory over St. Augustine Prep before a large crowd at Overbrook High School.
Junior shortstop Phil Dickinson (pictured) delivered a two-out, three-run triple and senior first baseman Pat Hiester cracked a two-out, two-run home run as Gloucester Catholic advanced to face Seton Hall Prep in the Non-Public A state championship game at 2 p.m on Saturday at Toms River East.
Seton Hall Prep (30-2) is No. 3 in the Newark Star Ledger state rankings.
Gloucester Catholic (28-5), which is No. 10 in the state rankings, will be seeking its fourth consecutive state title and 17th overall.
But one burden of all that tradition is that the Rams are a prime target for every team.
"We have a bulls-eye on our backs," Dickinson said. "We get everybody's best game."
The Rams didn't exactly struggle in their first season under coach Mike Rucci. But they have lost five games, including an 8-1 decision to Washington Township in the first round of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic on May 11 and a 4-2 setback to St. Augustine Prep in an eight-inning game on May 17.
"I challenged them," Rucci said of his players. "We hit a stretch there and I told them, 'There's two ways you can go here. Are you going to handle this the right way, like Gloucester Catholic baseball players?'"
The answer haas been emphatic: A seven-game winning streak, including four playoff victories by a combined score of 36-1.
"In the playoffs, we step our game up," Hiester said. "It's the tradition, the history, the crowd. It gets us so fired up."
Dickinson jumped on a 1-0 fastball with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, sending a blast to deep centerfield that scored all three runners and gave the Rams a 4-0 lead.
"It felt good to my team those three runs," Dickinson said. "We really needed it early in the game and from there there was no looking back."
Hiester made it 6-0 in the third, following Anthony Harrold's double with a blast over the left-centerfield fence.
"I ran around the field with the biggest smile on my face," Hiester said. "I think I can too fast but I couldn't wait to get to my teammates (waiting at home plate)."
The 6-0 lead was more than enough for Murphy, a right-hander who improved his record to 8-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.61. Using a fastball that touched 89 mph on a radar gun in the first inning as well as a sharp curve, the unflappable athlete retired 16 of the final 19 batters.
"He was a pitcher, not a thrower," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said of Murphy.
Murphy has 76 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings with just 12 walks. He needed just 99 pitches to shut down a St. Augustine Prep team that had won eight in a row.
Dickinson said the Rams were determined to use the big stage of the sectional final -- with a huge crowd circling Overbrook's manicured field -- to establish that they still represent the premier program in the state.
"This was pretty much a statement game," Dickinson said.
St. Augustine Prep 000 000 0 -- 0 4 0
Gloucester Catholic 042 001 x -- 7 7 0
WP: John Murphy. LP: Joe Gatto.
2B: SA-Mike Elfreth; GC-Phil Dickinson, Anthony Harrold.
HR: GC-Pat Hiester.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.