CAMDEN - As Jason Groome signed autographs following his impressive outing in a losing effort Monday at Campbell's Field in Camden, the young autograph-seekers surrounding him could only hope that they were awaiting keepsake from a future pitcher for the local Major League Baseball team that just happens to have the No. 1 pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 9.

Groome himself would like that reality too. Although the day is drawing closer with each outing, he's just not ready to give it too much thought just yet.

In front of an announced crowd of 6,005 at the former home of the now-defunct Camden Riversharks and facing a fellow MLB Draft prospect on one of the state's top programs, Groome put his best foot forward over six innings despite taking a loss in a 1-0 Gloucester Catholic victory over Barnegat.

Groome officially pitched a complete game and allowed one unearned run on two hits and two walks while striking out 14 - including eight consecutive punchouts to close out his 97-pitch outing.

Barnegat senior Jason Groome. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)
Barnegat senior Jason Groome. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)

"(The crowd) was a lot bigger than the (Perfect Game) All-American Game," Groome said, referring to a national showcase game in San Diego's Petco Park in August. "I'm just so happy so many people showed up and it sold out. It was great."

Although he suffered the loss and officially slipped to 1-2 for the season, Groome answered a seven-run outing last Saturday against Toms River North in the Ocean County Tournament with arguably his most impressive performance given the stage and the competition. His fastball was consistently in the 91-to-94 mile-per-hour range and he kept the velocity throughout the start. Groome said he found the feel for his curveball in the fourth inning, which might explain how he struck out the final eight hitters who stepped in against him.

"I noticed my stride was really getting cut off (in the Toms River North start) so I was really focusing on that in the bullpen," Groome said. "I actually got to throw off of a mound (in the bullpen). Against Toms River North, I had to throw off of flat ground. I think that was mainly my concern in getting hit around. I was leaving a lot of fastballs up and they made me pay for it."

Groome entered the season as the near-consensus No. 1 available player in this year's draft class and although draft experts are finding it less likely now that the Philadelphia Phillies will tab him with the No. 1 pick in a little less than a month, Groome showed Monday he - and perhaps even Phillies fans - won't make it an easy for hometown team to pass on him.

"If the Phillies were to take me, it would just mean all my hard work paid off," Groome said. "I know the draft isn't the biggest picture, but it would be pretty awesome to go one-one. I'm just taking it day-by-day and living in the moment."

Mound adversary Tyler Mondile - a right-handed Florida State recruit and projected early-round pick in the June 9 draft - walked out of Campbell's Field Monday with his fifth win of the season. Mondile topped out at 95 miles-per-hour and pitched a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and one walk.

While Mondile wiggled out of trouble in the rare instance it arose, Groome was not as fortunate. An error and a passed ball cost the Bengals in the third inning, but the rally started with a single to right by right fielder Jason Bobiak. The line drive to right field was the only batted ball off Groome to reach the outfield grass.

Bobiak moved to second base on a passed ball and scored on a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. The Rams again tried to bunt with a runner on second with none out, but Barnegat catcher Max Ritner erased the lead runner with a throw to third base and Groome and Ritner combined on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double-play to end the inning.

Barnegat, meanwhile, put the leadoff man on in four of the first five innings against Mondile but came up empty each time. The Bengals loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the second inning, but Mondile struck out two batter's around a suicide squeeze attempt that the Rams pitcher thwarted with a glove-flip to home plate for the force out.

"I give all the props to Mondile," Groome said. "He pitched a great game, like me. They came out on top on a couple of errors. I'm not mad, I'm just happy we had such a great turnout.

"I really don't try to focus on who's back there. I just go out there, locate and throw strikes and try to get a win. Unfortunately, we had some costly errors, we didn't really swing it that good, but there's nothing you can do."

Monday also marked the first game in which Groome has hit since an opening day game against Point Pleasant Boro, which was wiped from the record book when the NJSIAA ruled Groome ineligible for the first 30 days of the season for violating the state's transfer rule. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and a single to left field and also battled Mondile in an eight-pitch at-bat before striking out.

"I was told he could swing today and for the rest of the season," Barnegat coach Dan McCoy said of Groome, referring to Groome's advisers. "This was not a Dan McCoy rule. He's our four hitter and we're not going to see another kid like (Mondile) the rest of the way, so I was pretty excited to see the at-bats we had against Mondile."

Right fielder Anthony Lani also chipped in with a singled through the middle and Ritner dropped down a bunt for a base hit on a bunt-and-run play that loaded the bases in the second inning with none out.

In addition to the top-flight performance by two noteworthy pitchers in front of a capacity crowd, Monday's game at the waterfront ballpark situated under the Ben Franklin Bridge raised money for two causes - one for each of the pitchers. Groome chose to donate his share of the proceeds to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia while Mondile gave his entire share to the family of Audubon High School student Kari Jenkinson, who is battling brain cancer.

"This is a beatiful site," Groome said. "You've got all these people here and I'm just happy we had the crowd that turned out. It went to a great cause."

The benefit game was set up by Jeff Randazzo the adviser to both Groome and Mondile.

McCoy said Groome's next start will be in a tournament game, which would either come Saturday in a potential Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16 game or potentially on Monday in the NJSIAA Tournament opening round. Barnegat is the No. 8 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and hosts No. 25 St. John Vianney Wednesday with senior right-hander Jared Kacso slated to pitch. If Barnegat survived the opening round, Groome would take the ball Saturday at home against either No. 9 Middletown North or No. 24 Mater Dei Prep.

The NJSIAA Tournament pairings will be made official later in the week, with Barnegat qualified for the South Jersey Group II field.

"One of the things that I sometimes maybe forget to do is just take a step back and look around," McCoy said. "I told the guys to do that tonight. There were 6,000 people here. I thought the guys played well. It was a good high school baseball game with two good arms on the mound. We had our chances, we just didn't get it done. If we ever figure that out, we're going to be pretty good."

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