Gloucester Catholic's Cody Brown says he likes to be "completely clueless" on the mound.
In Tuesday's sectional title game against two-time defending champion St. Rose of Belmar, ignorance was bliss for the junior lefthander.
Facing an unfamiliar lineup, Brown threw a complete game, allowing just five singles and striking out seven in Gloucester Catholic's 4-2 victory in the Non-Public South B final before a large crowd at Joe Barth Sr. Field in Brooklawn.
Brown also made the defensive play of the game – by happy accident.
"Natural instincts took over," Brown said of his decision to intercept catcher Greg Haines' throw to second base in the fifth inning, starting an unconventional and unintentional pickoff play that helped the Rams preserve a 1-0 lead.
Elliott McCummings, Tim Patterson and Brett Tenuto delivered RBIs for Gloucester Catholic (23-7), which won its 27th sectional title and advanced to Saturday's state final against North Jersey champion Morristown-Beard in Toms River.
The Rams will play for their 14th state championship with a young team that has just one senior in the starting lineup, Haines.
"Truthfully, we expected to win it," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said of the sectional title. "We're young, but at this time of the season, that's not an excuse. These guys have played 25 or more games. They all play summer ball. We've played some good teams."
McCummings, a sophomore leftfielder, hit two doubles. His first knocked in Brown, who had reached on an error, for a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Patterson, a junior first baseman, delivered a two-run single, and Tenuto, a sophomore designated hitter, added an RBI single as the Rams tacked on three runs in the sixth against St. Rose righthander Kyle Kennett, who has signed with Rider.
Those runs were important as St. Rose rallied for two runs in the seventh before Brown got the final out on a slow chopper to third baseman Joe Brooks, who charged and made a strong throw.
Brown powered through the first six innings, allowing just three hits and no runs with all seven of his strikeouts. Brown said his lack of knowledge of the Monmouth County team was an advantage.
"I like to be completely clueless," Brown said. "That way, I don't have to worry about anything. I can just throw."
Haines said Brown's unfamiliarity with the St. Rose lineup worked in the pitcher's favor.
"You can overthink things, especially at this time of the year," Haines said. "He was just throwing and hitting his spots."
Brown was in trouble in the fifth as Chris Reynolds reached base on an infield error and Joe Marronaro followed with a bunt single. But with runners on first and third and no outs, Brown was the key man in an unusual double play.
First, Brown struck out Nick Morrissey swinging. On the pitch, Marronaro broke for second base. Morrissey's swing forced Haines to hesitate before firing toward second to try to throw out Marronaro.
Brown plucked the throw out of the air. He whirled to third, catching Reynolds off the bag and creating a rundown that the Rams executed for the second out.
"That was a big break," Barth said. "I said to [Haines], 'Did you change the call?' He was supposed to throw to second."
Brown said he suspected Haines had no chance to throw out Marronaro because of the hesitation created by the swing. The pitcher said he just grabbed the ball out of the air and tried to make a play.
"I just turned and looked," Brown said. "It worked this time."
St. Rose 0000002 - 253
Gloucester Catholic 010003x - 472
WP: Cody Brown. LP: Kyle Kennett. 2B: GC-Pat Kane, Elliott McCummings 2.