By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
TOMS RIVER — Baseball is a game that will break your heart, and a group of young St. Augustine Prep Hermits learned that lesson the hard way on Saturday afternoon at Toms River East High School.
Delbarton freshman pinch hitter Kyle Vinci rapped a single up the middle in the bottom of the seventh inning, scoring Mark Darakjy with the winning run as the Green Wave walked off with a 2-1 win and its first Non-Public Group A state championship since 2002.
“We have some long faces in the dugout right now, but we had a hell of a year. A year we didn’t expect, but when you get to this game, you want to win it. It’s hard for the seniors, especially since they did such a great job this year. I couldn’t be more proud of this group. It’s just a tough game to lose,” said St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone. “We’ll start thinking about next year right away, but this one hurts. That’s what we talked about (after the game) in right field, that if this doesn’t motivate these young kids, nothing will. A win would have gone a long way with this young group, but sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.”
The game promised to be a pitching duel, featuring a pair of juniors — Delbarton lefty Billy Price and Prep right-hander Kevin Eaise — who both pound the zone and make it difficult for opposing offenses to mount rallies against. Price pitched a complete game, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out seven and walking just two. Eaise, after having a little trouble locating in the first two innings, matched him pitch-for-pitch into the seventh inning before giving way to Cole Vanderslice after walking Darakjy to start the seventh.
“We knew Price was going to come out throwing well. I had command of all my pitches today, fastball, slider; everything was working pretty well. We’ve been in close games all year, with our pitching being able to keep the runs down, and we’ve played tough teams all year. But (Price) pitched a really good game,” said Eaise, who allowed just one run and one hit to go along with five strikeouts in six innings of work. “We were waiting. We knew (runs) were going to come eventually, but we were only able to get one.”
Delbarton (21-7) took an early 1-0 lead in the second when Darakjy doubled to right-center field and came around to score on a throwing error on a drag bunt by Tom Colicchio. St. Augustine (24-7) rallied to tie the game, 1-1, in the top of the sixth when Joe Bonczek reached on a perfectly placed drag bunt, stole second and scored on a slow roller to shortstop by Greg Elfreth that was mishandled.
Once Vanderslice entered with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, Colicchio sacrificed Darakjy over to second base, setting up Vinci’s heroics.
“It was a great high school game and I had the best seat in the house. Two pitchers just battling; Kevin did his job and they are a good team. Hats off to Price, he held us to three hits or so. It was a great high school game. Unfortunately, this game is brutal. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose in a game like this,” Bylone said. “We tried to do some of the little things that win baseball games. If we’re not going to hit, we have to do something else. We got the big bunt for a hit, the steal and then the error. We had a couple of tough calls over at first base, but it was nothing that cost us the game. But any little advantage in a game like this, that team is going to win if they get that advantage.”
“We knew it was going to be a close game. They beat a lot of good teams this year, and good teams to get here, so we knew it was going to be tough going,” Eaise said. “The seniors really helped us out the whole year. They stepped up the whole year and showed us how to play. Hopefully, we can follow in what they showed us next year.”
With only a handful of seniors departing from the roster, Eaise said he believes the Hermits can make a run to get back to the state championship game for a third straight season.
“We’re a close team. We felt the same thing last year coming in,” he said. “We’ve all felt it, and we’re all young, so hopefully we’ll have a little bit of a different interview next year.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays