By Phil Anastasia
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- It started just before dawn on the first day of March, in a workout facility in an industrial park in Bellmawr.
It ended just before sunset on the ninth day of June, on a manicured baseball field in Toms River.
"These kids put in so much time," Gloucester Catholic coach Mike Rucci said of his players. "To see them celebrating after knowing everything they've done to make this happen, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Gloucester Catholic made history with a 2-0 victory over Seton Hall Prep in the Non-Public A state championship game on Sunday.
The Rams joined Cherry Hill West's legendary teams from the late 1980s and early 1990s as the only baseball program in New Jersey to win four consecutive state titles.
Gloucester Catholic (29-5) also won its 17th state title, more than twice as many as any other program.
"I can't even put it into words," said Gloucester Catholic senior right-hander Mike Shawaryn, who was the winning pitcher in his last game in a maroon and gold uniform. "I couldn't have done it with a better group of guys."
The victory in a taut game before a large crowd that circled the sunken field held extra meaning for the Rams' seniors as well as its first-year coach.
Rucci, who won three state titles for Gloucester Catholic as a player, admitted to feeling "100 percent" pressure in replacing legendary former coach Dennis Barth, who left the program after last season to become the head coach at Rutgers Camden.
"He was there for me the entire year," Rucci said of Barth, who was on hand Sunday to watch his former team capture another state title.
For the Rams seniors, the victory over Seton Hall Prep (30-3) stamped them as the program's only class to capture four state titles.
"It's unreal," said Gloucester Catholic catcher Jon Theckston, who suited up for all four state-title teams.
Gloucester Catholic took a 1-0 lead in the third as sophomore Fran Kinsey singled, stole second and scored on a two-out, RBI single by sophomore Anthony Harrold.
The Rams made it 2-0 in the fifth as junior Phil Dickinson singled, advanced on an error and scored on a fielder's choice by sophomore Sean Breen.
Shawaryn, a Maryland recruit who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 32d round on Saturday, worked six innings. He allowed four hits with seven strikeouts.
Sophomore John Murphy worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning for the save.
"He had everything going," Theckston said of Shawaryn.
The Rams got great defense from its middle infield, as second baseman Breen made a sensational play with runners on second and third to end the fifth inning, and shortstop Dickinson made a circus catch for the second out in the seventh.
The victory capped a long, eventful season that began with that pre-school workout at Sportz Central, included a few difficult losses and culminated with an eight-game winning streak that featured a 5-0 mark in the state tournament by a cumulative score of 38-1.
"First practice, 4:45 in the morning before school on March first," Theckston said of the start of another season that began in pre-dawn dark and ended with late-afternoon sunshine reflecting off another state championship trophy.
Gloucester Catholic 001 010 0 -- 2 6 0
Seton Hall Prep 000 000 0 -- 0 4 3
WP: Mike Shawaryn. LP: Mike Sgaramella.
2B: SHP-Kevin Mahala.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.