Red Bank Catholic Loses Heartbreaker to Five-time Champ St. Augustine
During the bottom of the sixth inning of the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A final, junior Kyle Neri - arguably the most productive hitter on the St. Augustine baseball team - lay face-down, writhing in pain, bleeding from his mouth and looking like he would have to exit the game.
Two innings after being hit in the face with a fastball from Red Bank Catholic sophomore Alex Stanyek, Neri punched Red Bank Catholic in the proverbial gut with his final swing of the sectional championship game.
Neri hit a game-winning RBI single to the fence in left in the eighth after the Hermits tied the game in incredible fashion in the bottom of the seventh to stun the Caseys, 6-5, and give St. Augustine its fifth straight South Jersey Non-Public A championship.
"I'm going to be a dog for my guys," Neri said. "If I need to take a hit to the face, then I'm going to take it.
"We're young but we want it. We work as a team and we work as brothers, and that's what we are. We're a brotherhood."
Red Bank Catholic stormed out to a 5-0 lead by the top of the second inning, but the four-time defending sectional champions chipped away over the course of the game thanks, in large part, to six Red Bank Catholic errors committed in the game.
"You're not going to win a state championship committing six errors," Hausmann said. "We had our opportunities. There were some calls that probably didn't go our way that would have helped, but the bottom line is, if you don't take care of the ball, you're not winning a game like that. It's actually surprising we were one out away with the way we handled the ball."
Still, with the defending champs breathing down their necks from the fourth inning on, the Caseys two pitchers on Thursday - senior Dylan Wanagiel and Stanyek - continued to respond. Wanagiel stranded runners on the corners to preserve a 5-2 lead after giving up unearned runs in both the third and fourth innings.
"He did his job," Hausmann said of Wanagiel. "He gave us everything he could and when he got in that jam in the fifth, we decided to go to Alex and he understood what we were trying to do. He was as good as we needed him to be today, we just didn't give him enough help."
Stanyek took over with runners on the corners and none out in the fifth and found himself with the bases loaded and one out with the score now 5-3. Junior Josiah Ragsdale hit a ground ball to second base and Nico Gonzalez fielded it, reached to tag the runner and threw to first in time for what appeared to be an inning-ending double play.
The initial call on the tag play was made by the first-base umpire, while the second-base umpire did not give a signal. As Red Bank Catholic excitedly bounced off the field thinking it was out of the jam, St. Augustine checked with the second-base umpire, who indicated the runner was safe. The umpires then conferred and decided the second-base umpire should have the final say and ruled the runner safe, putting a fourth Hermits run on the board and runners back to second and third with two out.
"He (the first base umpired) called him out, then he called him out at first," Hausmann said. "My college coach text me and said he definitely called him out twice and I saw it the same way. Still, with a five-run lead, it shouldn't come down to one play."
Stanyek bounced back with a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
In the sixth, Stanyek struck out the first two batters that he faced before losing his handle on two pitches. The first glanced off the front part of senior Brody McKenzie's helmet, giving him first base.
Neri was not so lucky. Stanyek ran a fastball in that hit the St. Augustine junior outfielder square in the face, leaving him with a swollen lip following the game. Despite visible and audible pain, Neri stayed in the game to run the bases and return to his position in the following half-inning and ultimately got back in the batter's box as well.
"When it happened, I didn't see anything," Neri said. "I didn't really feel anything because it was just adrenaline. I'm pretty sure I was punching the ground, I'll I knew is when I got back to my feet, I was going to first base. But it was all adrenaline. I have been spitting up blood for the past hour, but I wasn't coming out."
Again, Stanyek regrouped with a big strikeout to end the threat.
"I think it got to him a little bit," Hausmann said of Stanyek. "You never want to hit anybody, let alone in the face. You can't help but feel bad, so trying to focus on the next hitter can be tough but he did the best he could with it and got us back in the dugout. He gave us a chance."
Red Bank Catholic continued to come up empty at the plate and St. Augustine needed just one run to send the game to extra innings in the bottom of the seventh. Stanyek seemed to have other ideas, striking out the first two batters of the inning to move RBC within one out of the program's first sectional championship since 1997.
With Ragsdale, the No. 9 hitter, at the plate, Stanyek induced a routine ground ball to second base that could have ended the game, but Gonzalez bobbled the ball and Ragsdale was ruled safe on a close play at the bag.
"I knew I hit it hard, but I just rolled over it," Ragsdale said. "I looked up real quick and saw him bobble it, so I knew I was going to get there and it was going to be another opportunity to win this game."
Ragsdale immediately stole second and third uncontested, but Stanyek was again set up with a 1-2 count, one strike away from clinching the title for Red Bank Catholic. Ragsdale was darting off the bag with each set by Stanyek, seemingly trying to distract him, while Hausmann could be heard imploring his pitcher to focus on the batter and not worry about the runner.
Then, the Ragsdale did the unthinkable. With leadoff hitter Ryan Taylor - the team's top average hitter - at the plate, Ragsdale took off for the plate right before Stanyek went into his delivery. RBC catcher Shane Andrus came out of his crouch, Stanyek uncorked a pitcher over his head and Ragsdale crossed home plate with a straight steal of home to tie the game at 5-5.
"My third base coach kind of whispered to me to go and I was going to go, but at first he (Stanyek) stepped off," Ragsdale said. "As soon as I saw his leg go up, I knew I was going to get there. I was shocked a little because we never do that, but when I stole second and third, I knew I could get home. I've thought about doing that before but I've never actually done it."
RBC went quietly in the top of the eighth and St. Augustine went back to work in the eighth to finish the job. Stanyek retired the first batter, but junior Ryan Weingartner singled and took second on an errant pickoff throw - Red Bank Catholic's sixth error of the game.
Hausmann opted to walk McKenzie, who reached base in each of his five trips in the game. Neri made RBC pay on the first pitch, lofting an elevated curveball to the base of the fence in left, with Caseys freshman Sean Griggs unable to make the play.
"I knew then and there that I was getting a curveball first pitch," Neri said. "He was going to try to scare me off the plate, he thinks I'm going to duck, but I knew it was coming. I was prepared."
"I don't know why they intentionally walked (McKenzie)," Ragsdale said. "Kyle is one of the best hitters on this team. I knew when he came to the plate, I knew we were going to win the game right there."
Red Bank Catholic's day started off in promising fashion, with sophomore Frank Scrivanic drawing a one-out walk and scoring when junior Matt Scrivanic's line-drive single to left was mishandled, which also can Matt Scrivanic an opening to make it all the way to third base with one out.
Senior Shane Panzini then lined a single to right to put RBC up 2-0 before St. Augustine could head to the plate. Wanagiel then pitched around a pair of errors in the first for a scoreless frame.
In the top of the second, St. Augustine's defense committed the costly error to lead the inning off, followed by a bunt single by senior Anthony Borriello, who was playing through a left-shoulder injury that left him in pain whenever he swing the bat.
Senior shortstop Sean Ettore then bunted the runners over and Stanyek followed with a shot to the left-center gap on a 1-2 count for a two-run double that pushed the RBC lead to 5-0. Frank Scrivanic then came through with an RBI single on a 1-2 count for a 5-0 Caseys lead.
Stanyek also made a brilliant diving catch at the right-field warning track to end the third inning, robbing starting pitcher Jackson Vanesco of an RBI double.
Vanesco settled in after a rocky start by going seven innings, during which he allowed three earned runs on six hits while walking one, hitting a batter and striking out seven. He threw 111 pitches before turning the game over to sophomore Marco Levari who picked up the win with one scoreless inning. Gonzalez beat out an infield single with two out but Levari retired Andrus on a fielder's choice to set up the final half-inning.
With one more out prior to Ragsdale's dash to the plate, Red Bank Catholic would have been heading to the Non-Public A championship with Panzini preparing to pitch in an overall state title game as he gets closer to the Major League Baseball Draft. Panzini has put his best foot forward in recent weeks and would have given the Caseys a chance against a powerhouse team from St. Joseph of Montvale.
Instead, it will be St. Augustine trying to capture its second overall group title during this five-year run.
"He was really looking forward to pitching in a state final and we almost got him there," Hausmann said. "It would have been great to give him the ball for that, not just because of the kind of pitcher he is but because what he has done for the program and the work he has put in. It would have been fun to see him out there, but we just couldn't get there."