By Bob Behre
As it turned out all that separated St. Augustine from Delbarton in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game was a botched bunt by the Hermits.
Yes, St. Augustine (26-4) botched an attempted bunt in the bottom of the fifth inning and it produced the game’s only run as the Hermits edged Delbarton, 1-0, in a pitching masterpiece by both the winning and losing pitchers.
Righthander Cole Vanderslice pitched a two-hitter, struck out six and walked one to outduel Delbarton’s Jack Leiter, that is if one can outduel someone when that pitcher also limits your team to two hits. Leiter struck out eight and walked two and did not allow an earned run.
Small ball was going to be huge in this battle of high-level future Division 1 righthanders and St. Augustine would be the one to break through in fortuitous fashion.
Leiter carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, having permitted just two walks. St. Augustine right fielder and No. 6 hitter, senior Kevin Eaise, led off and hit a bouncer toward the third base bag that took third baseman Justin Kim into foul territory. Kim could manage just a soft throw to first and Eaise beat it out for the Hermits’ first hit.
Joe Bonczek and Kenny Levari followed with fielder’s choice bouncers to the right side that would get Eaise to third with two outs. That brought up No. 9 hitter Kevin Foreman.
“Kevin’s fast and I saw the third baseman back a bit so I asked him to try to bunt for a hit,” said St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone. “Kevin was supposed to wait for the ball to hit the ground.”
Well, the best-laid plans can go awry and often do, but sometimes, in baseball, that’s not so bad. Foreman offered at a bunt and missed the ball. Eaise, jumping out of his skin for a chance to score the game’s first run, left too early and got him self hung up.
“Foreman was bunting for a hit and I was supposed to go at contact,” said Eaise, “but I got a little excited.”
Delbarton catcher Willie Schwarick got equally excited and fired down to third as Eaise turned back for home, anticipating a rundown. Schwarick’s throw, however, ticked off the top of Kim’s glove and into right field.
“As I was heading home I heard all our guys going crazy,” said Eaise. “It was unbelievable.”
Shawn Rapp, Delbarton’s No. 3 hitter, gave the Green Wave a chance in the top of the seventh when he led off with an infield single. Rapp stole second on a 0-1 pitch with Schwarick at the plate. That gave Delbarton three shots to get Rapp home.
But Vanderslice would retire the next three batters in order to close the door on Delbarton.
“I felt very good coming in,” said Vanderslice. “It’s extremely important to feel confident and it’s a lot easier to play when you’re confident. My defense is so good behind me they make me comfortable.” Spotting your fastball real well with a complementary nasty curveball doesn’t hurt one’s confidence either.
St. Augustine had dropped a crushing 2-1 decision to Delbarton in the 2017 Non-Public A final and lost the 2016 championship game to Seton Hall Prep. The Hermits had won their only state title in 2011.
“It’s such a grind just to get to this game,” said Bylone of the grueling Non-Public A field in South Jersey. “To get here three years in a row says a lot about our guys and how hard they’ve worked.”
Vanderslice, a junior committed to Villanova, had defeated Delbarton and Leiter back on April 14 when he allowed one run on five hits over five innings in a 6-1 Hermits victory. Leiter went four innings in that early-season encounter, permitting three runs on two hits but none of the runs were earned.
So, Leiter has pitched 10 innings this season against St. Augustine, arguably the state’s most prolific lineup, and did not allow an earned run.
“For the most part,” offered Leiter when it was suggested he pitched a heck of a game. “I made a couple bad pitches, gave up a run. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to. Vanderslice was really good today."
Leiter’s coach saw it differently. “That’s a tremendous lineup and he shut them down for the most part,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel. “The stars weren’t aligned for us today. We had one senior on the field tonight and we were a much better team tonight then we were in April.”
Delbarton (22-9) was seeking its fourth Non-Public A state championship.