St. Augustine Falls to Delbarton in the Non-public A State Final
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The Non-public A state championship game between Delbarton and St. Augustine Prep at Veterans Park had everything a rabid high school baseball fan could ever want.
It featured the Green Wave and Hermits, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the state, respectively; there were three Major League Baseball draft picks on the field, including Delbarton shortstop Anthony Volpe, a first-round pick of the New York Yankees; both starting pitchers had been selected in the draft this week; each team had veteran players who had been in state championship games before — including last year, when the Hermits beat Delbarton. And the game was being played at Bob DeMeo Field, perhaps the best ballpark in the state.
Of course it would take more than seven innings to decide a winner in a matchup like this.
Ace pitchers Jack Leiter of Delbarton and Jayson Hoopes of St. Augustine battled through tough lineups all day long, and each threw more than 100 pitches as the Green Wave and Hermits were tied, 3-3, after seven innings. But Delbarton pushed a run across in the top of the eighth on a bloop single down the right-field line by senior Shawn Rapp, who also closed the door as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the inning as Delbarton hung on to win, 4-3, and reclaim the state championship.
It was the third meeting in as many years in the state championship game for Delbarton and St. Augustine, with the Green Wave winning in 2017 and the Hermits scoring a 1-0 victory a year ago.
“I’m very proud of this group. (Leiter) was dealing. They have multiple draft picks on that team and they’re here for a reason, just like we were. I’m extremely proud of this group. As much as this hurts right now, you just have to look at all that we accomplished this year. We were faced with a lot of adversity this year and you can go one of two ways. This group chose to buckle down and get the job done. I saw it progress as the year went on. It seemed like every week we had another injury or another pitcher go down, but it was next-man-up. This was a different team this year and we’re not used to facing a lot of adversity like we did this year, but they showed a lot of character,” said St. Augustine Prep coach Mike Bylone. “We weren’t expected to be here. This team is so young and we had a lot of injuries, but I’m so proud of this group. We got here and battled them into the eighth inning. We’re only losing two position players. We’re relatively young and this is a great experience. I just told them to remember this feeling. I remember saying that the other years we lost, and we seem to find our way back into this game. It hurts, it’s going to sting for a little bit because we were so close, but tomorrow I’ll wake up, the sun will come up, and we’ll look at the roster and see that almost everyone is coming back.”
“Obviously it’s tough for us. Everybody wants to win, but I’m so proud of this group. I just told them that I wouldn’t want any other guys on my team except for this group of guys, and I know they are going to come back,” said outfielder Cole Vanderslice, one of just six seniors on the Hermits’ 24-man roster. “That feeling stuck with us my sophomore year, and it’s going to stick with them this year. I expect to see them back here next year with that same intensity and that same fight that we’ve always had on our teams. I couldn’t be more proud of this group. Even though we didn’t come out on top, I love each and every one of these guys.”
Delbarton (26-3) got off to a great start in the top of the first when Volpe launched a two-run homer to left, and Leiter — son of former Yankees and Mets pitcher Al Leiter — breezed through the Hermits’ lineup the first two innings, recording three strikeouts. But Prep shaved the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the third when Vanderslice, who was hit by a pitch to start the inning, was sacrificed to second and stole third, then raced home on a passed ball. Hoopes, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs but also has a scholarship offer to the University of Virginia, settled in after Volpe’s home run and the Hermits rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth.
First baseman Rob Ready got things started with a leadoff double, and a pair of walks loaded the bases. Pinch runner Alex Hunt scored on an infield error and then Vanderslice drew an RBI walk after a 10-pitch at-bat. In the sixth, however, the Green Wave loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of walks and a hit batsman, and tied the game on an infield error. Kenny Levari came on in relief of Hoopes in the seventh and held Delbarton scoreless, but Kyle Vinci led off the eighth with a booming double to center, and after a sacrifice bunt he scored on Rapp’s looping fly ball down the right-field line. St. Augustine (24-5) put the tying run on in the bottom of the eighth as Jack Peacock drew a two-out walk, but Rapp got the final out on a wicked sidearm slider, and the dog pile ensued at the mound.
“It’s a game of momentum swings, it’s just who capitalizes on them and who doesn’t. I thought after Jay turned that double play up the middle (to end the fifth), I told our guys, ‘this is our time to get a run.’ But everything happens for a reason. I know they’ll be back here next year,” Vanderslice said. “Of course it feels a little different (than in 2017) because I don’t have another chance to come back here. But this is a special program and it means a lot to me, knowing all that I’ve put into this program — and everybody here, not just me. It’s going to stick with me for awhile. These guys are going to have to pick me up now.”
Hoopes’ effort was impressive, as Volpe’s home run was the only hit he allowed in six innings of work, and he also struck out seven batters while throwing 107 pitches. Leiter was just as good, striking out seven and allowing just four hits with his 111 pitches in six-plus innings. Rapp — a former IMG Academy player who is committed to the University of North Carolina — fanned three and allowed just one hit in 1 2/3 innings of relief.
“I am so proud of (Hoopes). Jay got us here, and there’s nobody else I’d rather have on the mound,” Vanderslice said. “I love that kid to death, and I’m so proud of him and the way he pitched today. Same thing with Kenny, I know things didn’t go his way, but I love that kid and I don’t want anybody else on the mound closing that game. I’ll ride it out with my guys and that’s something I’ve been saying all year.”
“He just left that one pitch up and that put us in a hole, and with Leiter on the mound you don’t want to get in a hole, but he settled in and battled,” Bylone added. “He did what he’s been doing. I’m happy for him, but also sad for him because he pitched his tail off and should have gotten a ‘W.’ But that’s baseball. I’d love to play these guys in a three-game series. It’s the finality of it that hurts so much.”
Following a quick team meeting behind the dugout, Bylone and Vanderslice tried to put things into perspective.
“All the losses feel the same. I’m not a moral victory guy. We came here to win this game,” Bylone said. “But, in a couple of days I’ll look at the experience this group had and that we’re bringing almost everybody back, so I expect some good things from this group in the coming years.”
Added Vanderslice, “You can’t dream of anything better than this — well, maybe a little better, if you come out with the win — but it’s exciting. As an 18-year-old kid, playing in these big games, a lot of kids don’t get these opportunities. I know we didn’t come out with the win here, but it’s something I’ll never forget and it will make us all better baseball players in the end. Today, they just got the breaks, and that’s baseball. You don’t want to lose, obviously, but it happens. We have all kinds of young guys, that’s why I’m so confident they’ll be back here. We have a lot of young talent, and guys who pick each other up, and that’s what makes a good baseball team, so I know they’ll be back here.”