By Phil Anastasia
Here is the final Top 20 of the South Jersey baseball season with previous ranking in parentheses:
1. Pennsville (2) 28-3
The Eagles lost 5-0 to Shore in the Group 1 state semifinals so that takes a little edge off what was a sensational season. It's easy to question a Tri-Co Classic team's strength of schedule but Pennsville beat Gloucester Catholic (12-2), Bishop Eustace (7-2), Northern Burlington (8-1), Williamstown (10-1), Cinnaminson (10-6), Clearview (5-1) and Audubon (7-0). Notice that the smallest margin of victory in those games was four runs. Great work by coach Matt O'Brien and a loaded senior class led by Josh Shimp, Eric Lankenau, Mitch Walker, Drew Burdsall and others.
2. Gloucester Catholic (3) 25-6
The door was open for the Rams when Pennsville lost to Shore. But Gloucester Catholic lost that day as well, dropping a controversial 3-2 decision to eventual NPA champion St. John Vianney. The NJSIAA has admitted its rep "misapplied" the rule before the game and that GC should have been the home team. After a 9-0 win over previous No. 1 St. Augustine in the South A semifinals, GC looked poised to seize its fifth straight state title, which would have been a record. Most of the team is set to return next season, although the Rams will lose standout shortstop Phil Dickinson, centerfielder Mike Garafolo and pitcher Steve Mondile, among others.
3. St. Augustine (1) 24-5
The Hermits won 13 in a row after May 2, capturing the first Diamond Classic title in the history of the program. Senior RHP Joey Gatto was drafted 53d overall by the Angels and senior LHP Zach Warren went in the 23d round to the Pirates. SA was the besty team in a league that produced three state finalists and two state champions. It was a strong overall season for a program that has become a perenniel state power but that 9-0 loss to GC in the South A semifinals was a tough ending.
4. Bishop Eustace (4) 25-4
The Crusaders were 25-1 and ranked No. 1 in the state after they beat Hammonton 12-3 in the quarterfinals of the Diamond Classic May 17. As it turns out, that was BE's last win. The Crusaders lost 7-2 to Pennsville in the Diamond semis the next afternoon, dropped a 4-3 decision to Cherry Hill West on May 20 and then were stunned 10-0 by St. John Vianney in their first South A tournament game. Veteran coach Sam Tropiano knows baseball is a funny game and that was a funny ending to an otherwise sensational season. Senior LHP Devin Smeltzer, a 33d round pick by the Padres, senior catcher John Panchella and senior LF Mike Krusinski led the way.
5. Buena (12) 22-5
To the very end, the Chiefs were using their exclusion from the Diamond Classic as motivation. "Hey Diamond, we don't need you," Buena coach Harry Grose yelled to the cameras as his team celebrated their victory Saturday in the Group 2 title game. Buena won 13 of its final 14, with the lone loss to St. Augustine. Behind junior RHP Denny Brady, the Chiefs became the first Cape-Atlantic League public-school team to win a state title in baseball, beating Mainland by three hours.
6. Eastern (NR) 19-10
The Vikings won their second consecutive South Jersey Group 4 title even though they finished third in the Olympic American. This program has become the epitome of tournament-tough. Eastern beat rival Washington Twp. three times, including in the SJ 4 tourney, and defeated red-hot RV in the sectional title game. Senior SS Tom Flacco, a 32d round pick by the Phillies, led the way along with senior RHP Austin Friedant.
7. Washington Twp. (5) 23-7
The Minutemen put together another strong season, capturing the Olympic American crown by sweeping Cherokee and winning a game in the Diamond Classic and in SJ 4 play. Seniors Mark Scarpa, Colin McAllister and John Schoelkopf were mainstays.
8. Mainland (NR) 16-12
The Mustangs were perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. The No. 11 seed at the start of the SJ 3 tournament, the Mustangs allowed 7 runs in six post-season games en route to the first state title in the history of the program. Mainland relied on pitching and defense, the hallmarks of a well-coached and responsible team. Senior RHP Matt Tepedino along with junior RHP Nick Droboniku and sophomore RHP Kyle Gerace were the keys. Watch this team next season as many veterans of this championship run will be back.
9. Moorestown (15) 20-7
The Quakers finished strong with five straight wins before they dropped a 2-0 decision to eventual state champion Mainland in the SJ Group 3 finals. Senior RHP Scott Zimmer went all nine that day, striking out 21. Senior CF Tom Gamble was a 36d round pick by the Phillies.
10. Northern Burlington (6) 20-7
The Greyhounds were 17-3 after handling Haddonfield 10-0 in the first round of the Diamond Classic on May 10. But they faded a bit down the stretch, losing four of their last six. Still a strong season thanks to great work by the likes of senior Zach Gakeler and juniors Adam Rapp, Tyler O'Dell and Ryan Shinn.
11. Rancocas Valley (17) 17-8
The Red Devils won seven in a row to make it all the way to the SJ 4 title game before falling to Eastern. Seniors Mason Anderson and Drew Tumblety showed the way.
12. Audubon (8) 20-10
The Green Wave won another Colonial Patriot Division title, beat rival Gloucester Catholic in the first round of the Diamond and took eventual champion St. Augustine to the limit before dropping a 2-0 decision in the second round. Senior CF Eric Schorr set a South Jersey single-season record with 10 triples.
13. Haddonfield (7) 20-6
The Bulldogs suffered a stunning loss to rival Haddon Heights in the second round of the SJ 2 tournament but bounced back to win their last two games and capture the crown of the Camden County tournament. Seniors Carter Fichter, Mike McLaughlin and Mark Ostbye led the way.
14. Camden Catholic (14) 13-8
The Irish beat Holy Cross in the first round of the South A tourney and played defending champion Gloucester Catholic tough in a 4-1 loss. Shortstop Joey Craig and catcher Dom Messina were among a top group of seniors who pushed this program back into South Jersey prominence.
15. Holy Cross (11) 16-8
The Lancers won the BCL tournament title and finished with nine wins in their last 12 games. Senior Collin Stringham and senior David Noworyta, a 37th round pick by the Royals, set the pace.
16. Absegami (NR) 14-8
The Braves reached the SJ 4 semis before falling to RV. Junior pitcher/outfielder Matt Ardente will be one of SJ's top players in 2015.
17. Clearview (10) 16-5
The Pioneers earned a share of the Tri-County Royal title and were the No. 1 seed in SJ 4. Senior CF/LHP T.J. Dezzi was the team's leader.
18. Cherry Hill East (13) 17-10
This was a strong bounce-back season from 2013 for the Cougars. Senior LHP Mike Brambilla, senior RHP Nick DiEva and junior IF Jon Hansen were standouts for a team that was right in the mix in the Olympic American and SJ 4 competition.
19. St. Joseph (NR) 16-14
The Wildcats caught lightning in a bottle in the NP B tourney, stunning top-seeded Holy Spirit, rallying from an 8-0 deficit to beat perennial power St. Rose and reaching the state finals for the first time since 1977. Senior IF/RHP Alec Craig and sophomore CF Saleem Horne led the way.
20. Williamstown (20) 15-10
The Braves won a share of the Tri-County Royal title and won the Grand Slam Classic. Senior IF Jake Goffredi was a team leader.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Cherry Hill West (12-10), Cherokee (14-11), Cinnaminson (16-11), Hammonton (14-9), Holy Spirit (16-7).
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