This was the game the Bishop Eustace baseball team wanted, even if it wasn’t the field the Crusaders wanted to play it on.
It was the rematch of last year’s Non-Public A championship game. But it was the consolation game Saturday afternoon, after the Crusaders and St. Augustine both lost their semifinal matchups in the annual Tom Heinkel Memorial Tournament.
And so Bishop Eustace moved to its own JV field — while Malvern Prep and Episcopal Academy played for the tournament title on the varsity field.
The setting was a bit of a letdown.
“But it didn’t matter — after the way we lost to [St. Augustine] last year, we wanted this game,” said pitcher Matt Orlando, the powerful righthander who led Bishop Eustace, ranked No. 4 in South Jersey by the Inquirer, to a 4-1 win over No. 1 St. Augustine.
Orlando gave the Crusaders six strong innings — allowing one run on three hits while notching five strikeouts — before handing the ball over to Sky Duffy, who recorded the save, completing an afternoon that marked the only two losses of the season for the Hermits.
“They came in as the No. 1 team in the state — we came in knowing we had to keep our foot on the gas the entire time,” said Crusaders centerfielder John Piacentino.
Piacentino led the way offensively for Bishop Eustace, going 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs.
He knocked in two runs off a single in the first inning, setting the tone for the game despite the fact that, later in the first inning, Bishop Eustace had the bases loaded with no outs and left all three runners stranded.
“We were a little flat in the beginning — it wasn’t our best game, but hats off to Bishop Eustace,” said Hermits coach Mike Bylone, who’s team fell to 8-2 after dropping its first game of the afternoon, 3-2, to Malvern Prep.
Before his team batted in the bottom of the third inning, Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano — who notched the 650th victory of his career on Saturday — was adamant in telling his team that two runs weren’t enough. The memory of his team coughing up a three-run lead in last year’s South Jersey championship was still fresh.
Piacentino took those words to heart. He led off the third inning with a home run; the Crusaders manufactured another run in the inning to take a 4-0 lead that was more than enough for Orlando, who was cruising. His only run allowed was unearned in the fourth inning — off a single by Nick Lonetto — and he didn’t let up a hit after that. Orlando was also 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored.
“I thought [Orlando] did a fantastic job,” said Tropiano, whose Crusaders improved to 8-2 after dropping its first game of the afternoon, 7-5, to Episcopal Academy. “We lost focus for stretches in the first couple innings in [the Episcopal Academy game]. … But for the most part, we played seven solid innings [against St. Augustine].”
Tropiano noted that his 650th win was special, particularly because he was able to share it with Bylone, who played for Tropiano when he notched his first win as a high school coach — he was then coaching at St. Augustine — in the early 1980s.
“He was there for No. 1 and No. 650,” said Tropiano, who otherwise did everything he could to downplay the milestone. “So that’s kind of neat.”
St. Augustine 000 100 0 — 1 4 2
Bishop Eustace 202 000 x — 4 7 1
2B: SA- Cole Vanderslice, BE- Matt Orlando; 3B: SA- Vanderslice; HR- BE- John Piacentino.
WP: Matt Orlando; LP: Gerry Peacock.