Gloucester Catholic has been known to start rallies with a ringing base hit.
But the Rams specialize in more subtle starts to their uprisings: a walk, a hit batter, a bunt.
Or, in the case of the pivotal fourth inning of Gloucester Catholic's imposing 9-0 victory over St. Augustine on Friday in a clash of Top 3 teams in the Non-Public South A semifinals, a strikeout-wild pitch that landed the leadoff batter on first base and jacked up the volume in South Jersey's loudest dugout.
"That's them," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said after his top-ranked team failed to keep pace with the third-ranked Rams before a huge crowd at Joe Barth Field in Brooklawn.
A strikeout-wild pitch. A single. A fluke double that the centerfielder lost in the clouds.
A walk. A bunt that turned into an error on a play at the plate. Another bunt, this one for a single.
Another single. A sacrifice fly. Another infield error.
"Since probably before I was born, that's how they play," Bylone said. "They put pressure on you. They force your hand."
This win was Gloucester Catholic baseball in microcosm: commanding pitching by sophomore righthander Tyler Mondile, clean defense, and a relentless small-ball attack on offense.
"When a team gives you an opportunity, we take advantage of it," Gloucester Catholic junior rightfielder Fran Kinsey said. "Sometimes, all it takes is one chance."
Said Gloucester Catholic coach Mike Rucci: "That's our M.O. We like to put pressure on the defense."
Kinsey was 2 for 4, reached base three times, scored two runs, and snuffed out St. Augustine's best chance at avoiding a shutout with a peg that nailed a runner at the plate in the sixth.
Sophomore third baseman Nick Seccia, the No. 8 hitter, was 4 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs, and junior second baseman Sean Breen was 2 for 3 with an RBI, run, and defensive gem for the second-seeded Rams (26-4).
But the man of the hour for the four-time state champions, who will face St. John Vianney in the South A final Tuesday at Rowan, was Mondile, who belied his youth with a poised and powerful performance on the mound.
Mondile threw a three-hitter with four strikeouts. He didn't issue a walk, although he hit a batter in the seventh.
Mixing a fastball in the low-90s-m.p.h range with a curveball and change-up, Mondile faced just 25 batters. He retired 15 in a row from the first to the sixth.
"It's the best," Mondile said of pitching on an elevated stage. "I couldn't keep my excitement in. . . . My fastball felt amazing today."
Mondile's performance was reminiscent of the work of Gloucester Catholic junior ace John Murphy, who has been at his best in big games as a freshman and sophomore.
"This was really his first big game in high school, and he answered the bell," Rucci said of Mondile.
Third-seeded St. Augustine (24-5) had won 13 in a row and captured the championship of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic to rise to No. 1 in the Inquirer rankings. But the Hermits were hurt by four walks, three errors, and five wild pitches in the field and by an inability to hit the ball on the ground at the plate.
Of the Hermits' 21 outs, 15 were strikeouts, pop-ups, or fly balls.
"This game is evil," Bylone said. "We didn't play our game. We didn't play the way we played the last month."
Kinsey said the Rams, who have a chance to become the first team in New Jersey history to win five consecutive state titles, were motivated by their position below St. Augustine in the rankings.
"I'd be lying if I said we didn't take that No. 1 to heart," Kinsey said. "We want to be No. 1."
St. Augustine 000 000 0 - 0 3 3
Gloucester Catholic 010 602 x - 9 10 1
WP: Tyler Mondile. LP: Zach Warren. 2B: SA-Joey Gatto; GC-Nick Seccia 2.
Fran Kinsey of Gloucester Catholic talks about the semifinal win.