GLASSBORO – In more ways than one, the senior-laden 2014 St. John Vianney baseball team starts with senior catcher Anthony Santoro: he is the leadoff hitter, the leader of the pitching staff and was the only player in this talented Lancers senior class to start from day on as a freshman.

Tuesday against four-time defending NJSIAA state champion Gloucester Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public A final, the Lancers’ biggest win in more than three decades ended with its four-year starting backstop.

Santoro punched a single through the right side and into right field with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to score junior left fielder Nick Gugliara from second with the winning run and the Lancers (19-7) walked off with a win over the Rams for their first sectional title since winning the overall Non-Public A championship 1981. St. John Vianney will play the winner of Wednesday’s North Jersey Non-Public A final between Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph of Montvale Saturday in Toms River at a time and site to be announced.

St. John Vianney beat Gloucester Catholic, 3-2, Tuesday to win its first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1981. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“That’s a situation you dream about in the back yard, in practice, basically anywhere you ever play a baseball game,” said Santoro, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI and reached base three times. “Being up in the bottom of the last inning with a chance to win a state championship is something every baseball player hopes for and not a lot of people get so to come through is an incredible feeling.”

“I told him during the mound visit, ‘These last four years all come down to this,’” St. John Vianney coach Mike Morgan said. “This senior class has been working toward this for four years and he’s worked as hard as anybody. I couldn’t be more proud of him, and I couldn’t be more proud of all these guys.”

Gugliara began the winning rally by slapping a single deep into the hole between third base and shortstop, his second hit of the game and third time on base. Senior third baseman Pat Devenney then failed to drop a sacrifice bunt with his first two strikes, but worked a walk to put runners on first and second for Santoro.

After Gloucester Catholic junior starter and University of Maryland recruit John Murphy got ahead 1-and-2 with a well-spotted curveball and an overpowering fastball, Santoro stayed on a curveball from Murphy and hit it under the glove of diving second baseman Sean Breen, chasing Gugliara home with the winning run.

Nick Gugliara single starts the 7th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

“First of all, that’s the best pitcher we’ve faced this year or probably any other year,” Santoro said of Murphy. “But I noticed that he fell into a pattern of fastball-curveball, so after he got the fastball by me, I felt pretty confident that he was going to come back with the curveball. I just had to stay on it an go with it.”

“I got the green light coming around third and I just put my head down,” said Gugliara, who went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and reached base in all three appearances. “I didn’t want to slow up or trip and get thrown out. I just focused on getting to the plate, getting to the outside of the catcher and touching the plate. When I slid in safe, it was the greatest feeling, knowing we won.”

“A ton of credit goes to the guys at the bottom of the order – Gugliara and Devenney,” said senior first baseman Joe Rotelli, who went 2-for-3 with a long double to left-center to improve to 9-for-15 during the NJSIAA Tournament with five doubles, a homer and nine RBI. “We take pride in having one of the best lineups in the state and that’s one-through-nine and those guys came up huge today starting rallies for the guys at the top.”

Joe Rotelli bangs a double from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

The walk-off hit made a winner out of senior left-hander Justin Chin (9-0), who beat top-seeded Bishop Eustace and the four-time defending champions in his last two starts. He allowed two earned runs on five hits with one walk and three strikeouts and again benefited from a solid St. John Vianney defense that did not commit an error.

“Unbelievable. Nine-and-0 just about says it all,” Morgan said of Chin. “He’s been locked in, throwing strikes from start to finish. He got squeezed there a little bit at the end and he fought through it. It’s awesome for him and awesome for the 15 seniors on this team.”

“The last two games, I’ve tried to take a little off my fastball and focus more on location and getting some more movement,” Chin said. “Against good hitters, they are going to be able to hit the fastball if it’s over the middle of the plate, but if I can locate it and move it a little bit more, they won’t be able to hit it hard.

“By the end of the game though, I was reaching back and throwing it harder. That’s when all of the weight-lifting helps.”

Justin Chin K ends the 6th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Santoro also drove in the first run of the game with the first of back-to-back, two-out RBI singles that gave St. John Vianney a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Gugliara reached on an error by starting pitcher John Murphy, moved to second on a sacrifice by Devenney, and scored when Santoro lined a 1-and-2 curveball from Murphy into right-center.

“The first curveball I hit, he (Murphy) left up in the zone and I was able to take it to right-center like I wanted to,” Santoro said. “The second one he threw me was a quality pitch. If I wasn’t looking for it, it would have been tough to do anything with it.”

Santoro moved to second on a throwing error by the Gloucester Catholic cutoff man and his courtesy runner Vincent Durso scored when senior Chris Loney delivered his own RBI single to right-center. In the four tournament wins hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the order, Loney went 6-for-11 with a home run, double, eight runs scored and six RBI after his 1-for-3 game on Tuesday.

Anthony Santoro RBI 1B, takes 2nd after throw hits him from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Chris Loney RBI 1B in the 4th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

“Hitting number-two in this lineup gives you a lot of options,” Loney said. “I can drop a bunt down, I can hit behind the runner, or I might get a fastball I can drive. We have plenty of good hitters so there are always chances to score runs or drive in runs.”

St. John Vianney’s error-free game was its first of the tournament, but the defense had made only one error in each of the first three games. Senior shortstop Chris Morris was the defensive star Tuesday, scooping up eight of the 12 ground outs rolled up by Chin and also snagging a line drive.

“The defense is the biggest difference between our team now and last year and even earlier this year,” Santoro said. “We’ve lost some games over the last couple years because we just made too many mistakes in the field, but these last few games, we’ve been solid in the infield and the outfield.”

With St. John Vianney leading 2-0 and Chin four outs away from a second straight shutout, the Rams showed the late-game toughness that won them four straight championships – two in Non-Public B and the last two in Non-Public A. After a two-out double down the left-field line by senior shortstop Phil Dickinson, Breen hammered a nearly-identical double down line to cut the SJV lead in half in the top of the sixth. Chin, however, struck out junior first baseman and clean-up hitter Anthony Harrold – who led Gloucester Catholic with five home runs this year – to strand the tying and go-ahead runs on second and third.

Sean Breen RBI 2B in the 6th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Chin then retired catcher Tre Todd on a ground out to Fisher at second for the first out of the seventh inning. After running the count full, sophomore designated hitter Tyler Mondile – who pitched a shutout against St. Augustine in the sectional semifinal – blasted a one-out triple off the right-field wall that just missed clearing the fence for a game-tying home run and was nearly tracked down by Lancers right fielder Evan Pietronico.

"That scared me a little bit," Chin said. "Evan made a great attempt at it, I thought he was going to get it for a second. I just had to move on to get the next batter."

Mondile scored on a ground-out to shortstop by Fran Kinsey to tie the game at 2 in the seventh. Even with the tying run on third base and one out, Morgan chose to play the middle of the infield back and trade a run for an out, trusting his offense could come through in the bottom of the seventh.

Fran Kinsey ground out ties the game in the 7th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

“We still had the bottom of the inning, so I was more concerned with keeping them to one run, or at least no more than one run,” Morgan said. “I had confidence our guys would find a way to score in the seventh, so one run didn’t bother me in that situation.”

Morgan and this group of Lancers seniors - which accounted for nine of the 10 starting positions on Tuesday - have been crossing their fingers that everything would come together before graduation day of 2014. It started with Santoro's eye-opening freshman year and a solid showing by Pietronico in part-time duty in 2011. In 2012, Rotelli transferred from Holmdel to take over at first base and over the subsequent years, the Lancers filled in the open positions with players like Fisher, Morris, Devenney, Fisher and Loney, all while Chin overcame some 2013 shoulder discomfort to emerge into the team's top pitcher.

"When I talked to coach Morgan about possibly coming to play here, he told me 'we're going to win a championship here whether you come or not,'" Rotelli said. "I knew this was the team that gave me the best chance to have a moment like this."

Despite running out a lineup of players who had accomplished plenty on an individual level, St. John Vianney had not been able to translate the talent into tournament success. St. John Vianney lost 1-0 to Middletown South (11-14) in the Monmouth County Tournament first round and fell, 8-4, to Shore Conference Class A Central rival Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals after beating the Caseys twice during the regular season.

In the four years since last reaching the South Jersey Non-Public A sectional final – when the Lancers lost to eventual group champion Christian Brothers Academy – St. John Vianney went 1-4 in NJSIAA playoff games and this group of seniors lost in the first round in each of their first three tournament appearances.

“We’ve been building toward this,” Santoro said. “Most of us were all starters by the time we were sophomores and there’s been a lot of learning and definitely a lot of frustration with losing in the first round because we knew we were better than that. But this section is as tough as it gets and we needed to learn how to win these games.

“At the beginning of the year, we were a team of individuals. People think baseball is an individual spot because everyone is up at the plate by themselves, but it takes a team of guys working together to win and we just didn’t play together. It took a while, but we finally came together and it paid off.”

 

 

Box Score

St. John Vianney 3, Gloucester Catholic 2

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

R

H

E

Gloucester Catholic (26-6)

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

2

5

3

St. John Vianney (19-7)

0

0

0

0

2

0

1

3

7

0

 

Gloucester Catholic

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Phil Dickinson, SS

3

1

1

0

0

0

Pete Farlow, CF

2

0

0

0

1

0

Sean Breen, 2B

3

0

1

1

0

0

Anthony Harrold, 1B

3

0

1

0

0

1

Tre Todd, C

3

0

0

0

0

0

Tyler Mondile, DH

3

1

1

0

0

1

Fran Kinsey, RF

3

0

0

1

0

0

Nick Seccia, 3B

3

0

1

0

0

1

Mike Garafolo, LF

2

0

0

0

0

0

Totals

25

2

5

2

1

3

2B: Dickinson, Breen
3B: Mondile
SB: Seccia
CS: Harold

St. John Vianney

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Anthony Santoro, C

4

0

2

2

0

0

-- Vincent Durso, CR

0

1

0

0

0

0

Chris Loney, CF

3

0

1

1

0

0

Evan Pietronico, RF

3

0

0

0

0

0

Joe Rotelli, 1B

3

0

2

0

0

0

Chris Morris, SS

3

0

0

0

0

0

Anthony LaVigne, DH

3

0

0

0

0

2

Drew Fisher, 2B

3

0

0

0

0

0

Nick Gugliara, LF

3

2

2

0

0

0

Pat Devenney, 3B

1

0

0

0

1

0

Totals

26

3

7

3

1

2

2B: Rotelli
SAC: Devenney
CS: Gugliara

Gloucester Catholic

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

John Murphy, L (8-2)

6.1

7

3

1

1

2

0

 

St. John Vianney

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Justin Chin, W (9-0)

7.0

5

2

2

1

3

0

 

Pitches-Strikes: Murphy 102-73, Chin 112-69
Groundouts-Flyouts: Murphy 7-9, Chin 12-5