Josh Hood sparks St. Augustine past Egg Harbor Twp.

Josh Hood figures the St. Augustine Prep baseball team is like a truck rolling down the highway of the regular season.

But every game, somebody has to step on the gas.

Hood, a senior shortstop and University of Pennsylvania recruit, got the Hermits off to a fast start in Friday’s clash of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Inquirer Top 25.

Hood’s solo home run in the top of the first inning set the tone as St. Augustine beat Egg Harbor Township, 5-2, in a Cape-Atlantic League American Division battle of unbeaten teams.

“I wanted to be a spark,” Hood said. “After I came in the dugout, [starting pitcher] Cole Vanderslice said, ‘Thanks for getting us the lead.’ He said it’s so much easier to take the mound when we already are ahead.”

Vanderslice, a junior righthander and Villanova recruit, went five innings and held Egg Harbor to two runs on one hit with four walks, two hit batters and five strikeouts to earn the win for St. Augustine (8-0), the No. 1 team in the rankings.

Senior righthander Jack Billings, a Virginia Tech recruit, pitched two scoreless innings with three strikeouts to earn the save.

Billings also delivered an RBI single, as did sophomore second baseman Ken Levari.

“Any time we leave EHT with a win, I feel lucky,” said St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone, whose team will face Malvern (Pa.) Prep in the first round of the Tom Heinkel Memorial Tournament Saturday morning at Bishop Eustace Prep.

St. Augustine could see No. 4 Bishop Eustace in the final or consolation game on Saturday afternoon. That would mark the Hermits’ third major challenge in a week, since they played defending Non-Public A state champion Delbarton on Saturday and squared off with EHT on Friday.

“We knew coming into the season we would be a target for everyone,” Hood said. “And as we keep winning and winning, the target is getting bigger and bigger.”

Second-ranked Egg Harbor Township (8-1) had runners in scoring position in five innings but couldn’t fully capitalize on its opportunities.

Senior Angel Murray reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch in the third and junior Trey Henry drove home the Eagles’ other run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.

Junior righthander Collin McLaughlin struck out six in four solid innings of relief for Egg Harbor Township.

“We showed we belonged,” Egg Harbor Township coach Bryan Carmichael said. “We just didn’t get the big hit in the big situation.

“That will come with time. I’m happy with what I saw today.”

Hood got the Hermits out in front before a large crowd on a brisk, bright afternoon by driving a high fastball over the fence in right-center field.

“I was just trying to take it up the middle,” Hood said.

Bylone said Hood’s homer relaxed the Hermits and their coach.

“I was a little relieved,” Bylone said. “It’s so hard to score here, even with the wind blowing out. I thought somebody was going to catch one and I’m glad it was us.”

Hood said the Hermits’ pitching and production from the middle of the lineup have been the keys to the team’s undefeated start.

“We’re just trying to keep the mind-set,” Hood said. “We’re on a roll and it’s hard to stop a moving truck.”

St. Augustine 111 002 0 – 5 8 2

Egg Harbor Township 001 100 0 – 2 3 2

WP: Cole Vanderslice. LP: Mike Dodd.

2B: SA-Kevin Eaise, Gerry Peacock.

HR: SA-Josh Hood.