By Phil Anastasia
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- One pitch into the biggest game of his high school career, Denny Brady was facing a moment of truth.
He met that challenge and every other one on Saturday in leading the Buena Regional baseball team to the first state championship in the history of the program.
"That's Brady," Buena coach Harry Grose said after the Chiefs became the first public-school team from the Cape Atlantic League to capture a baseball state title with a 4-1 victory over Bernards in the Group 2 championship game.
Brady, a junior right-hander, made history in emphatic fashion on a warm sunny afternoon at Toms River East High School.
Brady mixed a fastball that sat around 87 m.p.h. and touched 90 m.p.h. in big moments with a sharp curveball and sneaky change-up to pitch a four-hitter with 11 strikeouts and one walk.
An East Carolina recruit who could develop into an intriguing draft prospect in 2015, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Brady retired the 11 batters in order, including the final two as blue-shirted Buena fans stood and cheered in the bleachers high above the playing field.
"This is for the seniors," Brady said. "We want to get them here and get them the win."
Brady also was a hitting star for Buena (22-5), which won 13 of its final 14 games. Brady delivered an RBI double in the first inning on a play in which the Chiefs took a 2-0 lead as another runner scored on a throwing error.
Matt Luisi was 2-for-3 with a run and Dom Lopez added an RBI for Buena, which was motivated by a perceived snub when the Chiefs weren't extended an at-large bid to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic in early May.
"Hey Diamond, we don't need you," Grose yelled to the cameras as the Chiefs celebrated with the championship trophy.
Said Brady: "We felt like we got robbed. We had that chip on our shoulder all year."
Bernards' senior lefty Brandon Ball (9-1) was a hard-luck loser. Bernards made four errors behind the Lafayette recruit, leading to two unearned runs, and Brady's double in the bottom of the first inning probably was catchable although it hit off the bottom of the fence.
"It went farther than I thought it would," Brady said.
Brady (10-0, 106 Ks in 62 innings) was in hot water one pitch into the game as Bernards' lead-off man Luke Bowerback slapped a double to left-field.
"My thought was to keep him there," Brady said.
Brady got a strikeout looking on a nasty curveball, retired the next batter on a ground out and struck out Bernards' clean-up hitter with another knee-buckling breaking ball.
"That's the way he is," Grose said. 'They get a double and he's like, 'OK, you got me there. But you ain't getting a run.'"
Bernards' lead-off man reached base in the second and third, but Brady shut the door with two strikeouts in each inning. In the fourth. Bernards' scored its run, thanks to a bloop single to center and a seeing-eye single to right, but Brady worked out of trouble with another strikeout with runners on the corners.
Brady sealed the deal for the Chiefs with three consecutive 1-2-3 innings. With his teammates bouncing around in excitement in the field and in the dugout, Brady struck out the final two batters of the game.
"I told him the story about Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson," Grose said of Brady. "They would start out throwing 92, 93 (mph). Then they would be throwing 90, 91 in the middle innings.
"Then somebody would get a lead-off double in the eighth and they would find 3-4 more mph on their fastballs and say, 'No, you are not scoring that run.'
"That's him. That's Denny Brady."
Bernards 000 100 0 -- 1 4 4
Buena 301 000 x -- 4 5 0
WP: Denny Brady. LP: Brandon Ball.
2B: Ber-Luke Bowerback; Bu-Denny Brady.
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