Ian Murphy is no stranger to state titles.
He sat in the dugout last year and celebrated with teammates as Gloucester Catholic captured the Non-Public B crown with a victory over Newark Academy.
But there's a big difference between staying connected to a team while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and playing a pivotal role.
When Gloucester Catholic took the field to battle top-seeded Immaculata in the South B title game Tuesday at Diamond Nation, Murphy started the game in the dugout.
He ended the 5-1 victory on the pitcher's mound.
"It just feels so awesome to finally get back out on the field and be a part of it," Murphy said after the Rams captured their state-record 27th sectional title.
Gloucester Catholic (19-8) will seek to secure its 19th state title Saturday in the Non-Public B state final vs. DePaul Catholic (15-13) at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township.
Murphy's return to the mound has helped Gloucester Catholic surge into position to extend its New Jersey record for state titles and earn its second crown in a row.
A hard-throwing senior righthander who has signed with St. John's, Murphy had thrown just 6 1/3 innings this season when Tuesday's sectional final began on Immaculata's home field in Flemington.
Murphy missed all of his junior season after his surgery in April 2017. His arm still wasn't fully healed at the start of this season, although he was able to contribute to the cause as a hitter for the first time in three years.
"I hadn't batted since freshman year," Murphy said. "But I wanted to try to do something to help the team."
Gloucester Catholic coach Adam Tussey said Murphy approached him in the offseason and asked about the possibility of getting some at-bats as a senior, especially since there was serious doubt about whether he would be recovered enough to pitch.
"He's such a great athlete," Tussey said. "I said, 'Sure, let's try it.' "
Murphy batted .323 with 12 runs, 12 RBIs, two doubles and two home runs in 31 at-bats. He made an impact at the plate, but he still worked to return to the mound.
"He worked so hard," senior ace Andrew Vail said. "It fired us up to see how much he wanted to get back out there on the mound."
Murphy said he started soft-tossing in December. But he didn't throw off a mound with any real velocity until April.
He made his first appearance April 25 against Glassboro, going 1 1/3 innings, then threw two-thirds of an inning against Delsea on May 1. He made three more appearances before Tuesday, all in short stints.
"I was feeling better and better," Murphy said. "I feel great now."
With Vail's pitch count past 100 on Tuesday, Tussey walked to the mound, took the ball from the Maryland-bound lefthander, and waved Murphy into the Rams' biggest game of the season.
Facing a team with a 21-3 record and averaging 7.5 runs, Murphy was close to perfect. He worked 2 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings, allowing one walk with two strikeouts.
He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, getting the last out on an infield pop-up.
"I'm so happy for him," Tussey said. "He worked so hard to get this opportunity, and then he took advantage of it."
Murphy knows will be back in the dugout when the Rams take the field for the start of another state championship game, just like last season.
He could stay there all day. Or he could head to the bullpen to get ready to take the mound again.
Either way, his senior season has been something special. He has contributed at the plate and has pitched 8 2/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and a 1-0 record and 0.81 ERA.
Best of all, he had the baseball in his hands when his team needed him the most in the South Jersey finals.
"These four years, we practice every day, practice night and day, probably more than any other team," Murphy said. "To do all that and not play that much, it stinks. It's tough to handle.
"But getting back out there as a senior and finally playing with my teammates, it makes it all worth it."
Saturday at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township
Gloucester Catholic (19-8) vs. DePaul Catholic (15-13), 4 p.m.
Gloucester Catholic's road to final: Beat Mater Dei, 14-0; St. Rose, 12-1; and Immaculata, 5-1.
Gloucester Catholic players to watch: Shortstop Evan Giordano (.538, 49 hits, 14 doubles, 12 home runs); outfielder Lillo Paxia (.641, 32 RBIs, 20 walks); outfielder Jason Bobiak (.355, 29 runs); infielder Tyler Cannon (.425, 26 RBIs); first baseman Luke Lesch (.387, 30 RBIs); outfielder Jake McNellis (.419, six stolen bases).
DePaul Catholic's road to the final: Beat Morris Catholic, 10-0; Hudson Catholic, 6-4; and Gill St. Bernard's, 8-4.
DePaul Catholic players to watch: Pitchers Kyle Lesler and Steve Orlando combined for the victory over GSB and should be available to throw Saturday.
Fast fact: Gloucester Catholic has won 18 state titles, more than twice as many as any other New Jersey team.
Pick: Gloucester Catholic, 7-3.
St. Augustine (25-4) vs. Delbarton (22-8), 7 p.m.
St. Augustine's road to the final: Beat Paul VI, 3-2; Bishop Eustace, 12-11; and Notre Dame, 6-1.
St. Augustine players to watch: Third baseman/pitcher Jack Billings (.440 with five doubles; 4-0 with 1.73 ERA with 50 Ks in 24 1/3 innings); shortstop Josh Hood (.419, eight doubles, 14 home runs); catcher Nick Lonetto (.348, 11 doubles), pitcher Cole Vanderslice (5-0, 3.00 ERA, 35 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings); outfielder Kevin Eaise (.356, 10 doubles).
Delbarton's road to the final: Beat Pope John, 1-0; Don Bosco Prep, 2-0; and Seton Hall Prep, 8-0.
Delbarton players to watch: Shortstop Anthony Volpe (.509); pitcher Jack Leiter (6-2, coming off no-hitter with six strikeouts in win over Don Bosco).
Fast fact: St. Augustine won the state title in 2011.