Rutgers Prep continues to roll in first year of NJSIAA Tournament eligibility

Rutgers Prep continues to roll in first year of NJSIAA Tournament eligibility


Rutgers Prep continues to roll in first year of NJSIAA Tournament eligibility



It’s safe to say the Rutgers Prep baseball team is taking the NJSIAA Tournament by storm.

In their first year of eligibility the Argonauts have earned a spot in the very last game, punching a ticket to Saturday’s Non-Public B final with a 7-3 win over Moorestown Friends at Rowan University Tuesday.

Junior Anthony Brancato belted a two-run triple and sophomore pitcher P.J. Strahm tossed a two-hitter over six innings for Rutgers Prep (16-11), which advances to face Morris Catholic at a site to be determined. In four state tournament games — their first four ever — the Argonauts have outscored foes, 46-18.

“We couldn’t be prouder,” head coach Larry Santowasso said. “We had a great run the last few years and we would always say, ‘What if, what if, what if?’ The seniors now were freshmen when we started that run.”

One of those seniors, Spencer Diggins, drove in the game-winning run in the fifth inning, a single to left center that scored fellow senior Malcolm Kelsey and gave Rutgers Prep a 4-3 lead.

“This was our goal from the beginning, from day one,” said Diggins, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI. “I’m so proud of my guys. We’ve got so many good hitters.”

The Argonauts pounded out 14 hits. Brancato doubled and scored on Diggins’ single to get things started in the second inning. In the third inning senior Colby Smith singled to center to score Strahm, who had reached on an error. Then a sacrifice fly by Brancato scored senior Paul Nemergut, pumping the lead to 3-0.

But Rutgers Prep suffered a meltdown in the field over the next two innings, committing four errors as Moorestown Friends (17-5) tied things up at 3-3.

Luckily for the Argonauts, Strahm held things together on the mound. The Milltown resident and St. Joseph-Metuchen transfer worked six strong innings, allowing two hits, one earned run and four walks while striking out four. He is now 6-4 on the season.

“He got us out of some major situations,” Brancato said. “Best I’ve ever seen him pitch.”

Added Santowasso, “He’s a competitor; nothing really fazes him. The kids feel a lot of confidence when he pitches and that’s half the battle.”

Things were still touch and go in the top of the sixth when singles by Matt VonRoemer and Kelsey chased Moorestown Friends starter Colin Gregory (8-2). Then Brancato cracked a 2-2 pitch to deep center for a three-bagger, making it 6-3

“He got ahead of the count on me, but I got around on the ball pretty well and drove it,” Brancato said.

Diggins singled him home for some additional insurance.

“I trust my hitting,” Strahm said. “In the dugout I was real stressed. They responded really well.”

The same could be said for an entire program making its debut on such a stage. Sensing his team was primed, Santowasso scheduled up in the regular season.

“I knew we would take our lumps along the way, but it was about how we were going to take them,” he said. “When you lose to Hunterdon Central, Watchung Hills and Immaculata the way we did and not give up, I knew we had what it takes to get where we’re at.”


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