By Bob Behre
Gloucester Catholic struck for four runs in the top of the first inning then unleashed talented freshman lefthander Anthony Solometo on DePaul as it rolled to a 10-3 victory in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton on Saturday.
The championship was Gloucester Catholic’s state leading 19th and second straight in Non-Public A.
Solometo, already committed to North Carolina, exhibited some fine examples why the Tar Heels like him as he shut out DePaul on four hits over the first five innings, striking out 10 and walking four. He dazzled the productive DePaul lineup with a high 80s fastball and devastating breaking ball.
“For a freshman to step up like he did and throw strikes and control it, that’s pretty special,” said third-year Gloucester Catholic coach Adam Tussey. “We had communication with our catcher and knew he was staying strong. It certainly helped that we gave him a quick cushion.”
The 6-2, 180-pound Solometo, in fact, got seven of DePaul’s first eight outs by strikeout as the Rams built a 7-0 lead through three innings.
Luke Lesch, a 6-4, 225-pound lefty-hitting first baseman, capped the Rams’ four-run first inning with a towering two-run home run well beyond the right field wall. Gloucester Catholic had scored two runs earlier in the inning when DePaul’s defense botched a sacrifice bunt by Lillo Paxia. Two runs scored when the throw went to an uncovered first base.
Seeing Paxia, the No. 3 hitter, bunt is not surprising for the regular Gloucester Catholic followers. Paxia, in fact, was carrying a .640 batting average to the plate in the first inning, but his bunt triggered a big inning.
“Our guys know anyone can be asked to bunt and Lillo and Bobiak did a great job getting theirs down in the first inning,” said Tussey.
Gloucester Catholic continued to force the action in the second inning when the Rams stole a run with two outs. Jason Bobiak drew a two-out walk with Ryan Nutley at third base. Bobiak then broke for second with Paxia at the plate. Bobiak got himself in a rundown as Nutley raced home from third. Nutley beat the return throw home as Bobiak retreated safely to first.
Andrew Colligan capped a two-run third inning with a two-out RBI single to center field that extended the lead to 7-0. Nutley led off the fourth with a double to left-center field and came around on Evan Giordano’s booming triple to center field to stake the Rams to an 8-0 advantage.
Solometo left after five innings, having thrown 95 pitches, and DePaul, surely relieved to see the big lanky lefty with the high leg kick depart, reached reliever Ian Murphy for three unearned runs in the sixth. Scott West doubled home a run and two runs scored when Lesch let a slow roller slip under his glove.
DePaul committed two more errors in the top of the seventh as Gloucester got two runs back to lift the lead to 10-3. Tyler Cannon singled home a run and Nick Nocella scored a run when Lesch bounced into a double play.
In the end, it looked very much like the Gloucester Catholic teams that won so many of those 19 championships under former coach Dennis Barth.
“I learned so much from coach Barth as a player and as a coach,” said Tussey, a 2005 Gloucester Catholic grad. Tussey was an assistant under Barth in 2009-’10. The 2010 Rams won the Non-Public A state title. Barth just finished his sixth season as the Rutgers-Camden head coach.
And Tussey’s Rams have already won two state titles in his three seasons at the helm.