Chris Oakley wanted Friday’s game against the Gloucester Catholic High School baseball team.
St. Augustine Prep needed the contest.
Fresh off an early exit in the Diamond Classic and playing through what has been an inconsistent stretch for the team, the Hermits landed a huge confidence-building victory prior to the start of the Non-Public A South playoffs by topping Gloucester Catholic 4-2 in eight innings at Joe Barth Field.
Oakley pitched a complete game — the longest outing of his career — while limiting the Rams to three hits with five strikeouts. The clash between St. Augustine and Gloucester Catholic could be a preview of the Non-Public A South title game. The Rams (21-5) are the top seed in the section while the Prep (16-6) is No. 2.
“That’s a huge win, they’re a great team, they’re a team that does all the little things right,” said Oakley, who improved to 7-1 on the season. “They’ll exploit you if you make a mistake, I made a couple of mistakes today and they took advantage of it right as I thought they would.
“This is an even bigger team win for us rolling into the playoffs next Friday, got a lot of momentum going in there and we’ll see what we can do.”
St. Augustine wasted little time jumping on Gloucester Catholic starter Tyler Mondile, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning for a quick start. Designated hitter Joe Gatto led off the game with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Mike Elfreth. The Prep made it 2-0 on a two-out double by Jay Higbee that plated catcher Barry Buchowski.
Oakley kept the Rams at bay for the most part from there.
Gloucester Catholic did cut the Prep’s lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the third on a fielder’s choice grounder by right fielder Fran Kinsey. With St. Augustine unable to add insurance runs, the Rams worked their way back to even the score at 2-2 in the sixth. Third baseman Sean Breen roped a ball to left field that Higbee got his glove on but could not reel in. Breen reached third on the play and came home on the next at-bat when designated hitter Anthony Harrold singled down the first base line.
Oakley didn’t get rattled after the game-tying run scored, striking out the next batter he faced before Buchowski picked off Harrold at first to end the sixth. Oakley came back in the seventh and retired the Rams in order to send the game to extra innings.
“The best way to beat Gloucester Catholic is to make as little mistakes as possible and to capitalize on the one, maybe two mistakes they make a game,” Oakley said. “Personally for me, pitching that long, I just try to stay calm, stay focused, sometimes the energy level around the park here got crazy, then it got quiet, their bench is loud, so staying focused for eight innings was definitely a challenge for me today.”
The Prep’s offense, which managed just two hits after the first inning, came back to life in the eighth.
Nine-hole hitter and second baseman Nick Enos led off the frame with a single and scored the go-ahead run when Gatto stepped to the dish and laced a single into right-center field that Rams center fielder Mike Garafolo bobbled.
“I was just looking fastball the whole way,” Enos said. “I was thinking one-spot fastball and he put it there, and luckily I was able to get it over the shortstop’s head.”
Prior to the at-bat, Prep coach Mike Bylone asked Enos to take a pitch. Enos had other ideas.
“I said, ‘Coach, he’s been giving me a first-pitch fastball all day. I know it’s coming,'” Enos joked. “Pitch came and I jumped all over it. I was loving it.”
The Hermits tacked on another run when Elfreth connected on a single to score Gatto for a 4-2 lead. Oakley worked an easy bottom of the eighth, striking out the first batter he faced before forcing the Rams into a pair of groundouts.
“They’re nice, aggressive hitters, so I figured I’d go right at them and trust our defense,” Oakley said. “We have a very nice defense and I just tried to let them do the job today and it worked out for us.”
The Gloucester Catholic victory marks the fourth straight triumph for St. Augustine since losing back-to-back games to Millville and Eastern on May 9 and May 11. This was easily the most impressive win for the Prep over that span.
“To beat a team of their caliber, especially this late in the year, that just gives you confidence,” Bylone said. “That right there was a good sign. It was good team character and a great team win.”