Jack Billings sparks St. Augustine past Bishop Eustace in Diamond Classic

St. Augustine pitcher Jack Billings is congratulated by catcher Lonetto after the final out of a 3-1 win over Bishop Eustace in the Diamond Classic.

Jack Billings finished what he started.

Billings sparked St. Augustine Prep at the start of Sunday’s Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic semifinal against archrival Bishop Eustace with a home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning.

Billings closed the book on the Hermits’ 3-1 win at Union Field in West Deptford by pitching the final 1½ innings, recording three strikeouts and getting the final out on a high fly to right field with the tying run on base.

“That must have been up there for 10 seconds,” Billings said of the last out of the taut battle between the top two teams in the Inquirer Top 25.

The victory propelled No. 2 St. Augustine (22-3), the defending champion, into the tournament championship Saturday at Eastern.

St. Augustine will face the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal between Eastern and Washington Township. That game was postponed because of unplayable field conditions at Deptford on Sunday.

Senior catcher Nick Lonetto drove in the decisive run with a first-inning single and senior lef-hander Jack Halbrunner earned the victory with 5 2/3 strong innings on the mound for St. Augustine.

“He was the star of the show,” St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said of Halbrunner, who allowed one run on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.

Senior shortstop Sky Duff was 3-for-3 with a triple and junior centerfielder Johnny Piacentino hit a solo home run for No. 1 Bishop Eustace (21-4).

“I’m as OK as you can be with a loss,” Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano said. “We’ll be better for this. We’re good.”

Billings stepped into the batter’s box Sunday with his confidence at a season high after Saturday’s two-homer, six-RBI performance against Seneca on the same field in the quarterfinals.

“I made a little change [Monday] in my mechanics,” said Billings, a Virginia Tech recruit. “I changed where my hands are, got my hands a little higher, turned my front foot in a little.

“I’m seeing the ball. After [Saturday], I was feeling pretty good.”

Billings laced the first pitch the opposite way for his sixth home run of the season, his third in the last two days.

“He’s locked in,” Bylone said.

Tropiano blamed his pitch call for the home run.

“He ambushed us,” Tropiano said. “That was my fault. I should have called a change-up or curveball. I tried to sneak a fastball past him.”

Lonetto’s two-out single drove home junior Cole Vanderslice, who had reached on a single and advanced on a ground out, for a 2-0 lead.

The Hermits added an insurance run in the sixth as junior Gerry Peacock singled, advanced on senior Kevin Eaise’s double and scored on a passed ball.

That was more than enough offense as Halbrunner and Billings combined to contain Bishop Eustace’s high-powered offense.

“They have quality pitching and we lacked the big hit when we needed it,” Tropiano said.

The team’s long-standing rivalry has ratcheted to another level in the last two seasons, with St. Augustine scoring a 4-3 win in the Non-Public A title game last season and Bishop Eustace turning the tables with a 4-1 win in the Tom Heinkel Tournament on April 21.

That was St. Augustine’s most recent loss, as the Hermits have won 11 in a row. The teams could meet again in Friday’s sectional semifinals if they both win South A openers on Tuesday.

“My blood pressure can’t take this,” Bylone said of tight games with Bishop Eustace. “But hopefully we’ll see them again.”

Jack Billings also earned the save in an earlier game in the Diamond Classic vs. Gloucester Catholic.

Bishop Eustace 000 100 0 – 1 5 1

St. Augustine 200 001 x – 3 8 0

WP: Jack Halbrunner. LP: Joe Mascio.

2B: SA-Kevin Eaise.

3B: BE-Sky Duff.

HR: BE-Johnny Piacentino. SA-Jack Billings.

45th Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic

Tuesday: Semifinals

Washington Twp. at Eastern, 4 p.m.

Saturday: Finals

St. Augustine vs. Washington Twp.-Eastern winner at Eastern, 2 p.m.