VOORHEES – The road to the championship is grueling.
To win the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, you need to win four games — three in less than 24 hours. It takes scoring runs, but more importantly having enough arms to produce quality innings on the mound.
Turning to an unlikely starter in junior Jon Cole, the Bishop Eustace Prep baseball team made the most out of what was clearly an emotional weekend.
Learning on the bus ride to the game that he would get the ball in the final, Cole delivered his best performance of the season.
Generally the team’s closer, Cole fired a complete-game four-hitter as Bishop Eustace defeated Eastern 4-1 Sunday to capture its sixth tournament title in the 42nd edition of the unofficial South Jersey championship.
“Going in, I was really nervous,” Cole said. “I didn’t think I would go seven, but I was going off adrenaline and was feeling good.”
“I’m just as shocked as anyone that he could persevere for seven innings,” Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano said. “We planned to go with three guys and we didn’t even plan to go with him as the starter. He was going to be the middle guy. But he had so much success when we played them last week that we decided to go with him.”
Bishop Eustace won the Olympic Conference interdivision game 7-1 on Wednesday.
The Crusaders (20-5), the new No. 1 team in the Courier Post Top 15, made the routine plays behind Cole on Sunday and used a three-run second inning to help secure the sixth tournament title in school history. Nate Steele, Kevin Lammers and Chris Jones had RBIs in the decisive inning.
Steele would add an RBI single in the fourth.
The Crusaders reached the title game by defeating Northern Burlington 8-0 in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal. Eastern (21-5) defeated Mainland in the other matchup.
“I just have so much respect for Mr. Hartmann,” said Tropiano, who won his 600th career game with Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Gloucester Catholic. “He cares so much about South Jersey baseball and does everything for these boys.
“Every year we play in this, we make it very important. I know not all teams make it important and not all teams can make it important because they have playoff games (Monday). For us, it’s a big part of our season and one of our major goals is to win this.”
The title is the first since 2012. The Crusaders also won it in 1987, 1991, 1999 and 2004.
“We had to focus and take it one game at a time,” said senior Nick Browne, who played a freshman on the 2012 team. “Everyone played a part of the two victories today.”
Pitching proved to be the difference in the title run. Bishop Eustace defeated Cherry Hill West in the first round, and dropped Gloucester Catholic, Northern Burlington and Eastern over the last two days all while allowing just four total runs.
Tyler Phillips won the first two games, while Justin Hagenman blanked Northern Burlington.
“Our pitching has carried us all season,” Tropiano said. “We’ve had a ballyhooed offensive juggernaut for a while, but this year it’s been our pitching. This tournament symbolizes our season.”
Just two batters into the final, Eastern was up 1-0 on a Joey Caruso RBI single that scored Matt Woods. But Cole limited the damage.
And in the fourth, now trailing 4-1, the Vikings had three runners get into scoring position but failed to capitalize.
“(Cole) did a great job,” Eastern coach Rob Christ said. “He kept it close to the zone and kept us off balance. He struggled a little early but had good internal fortitude. It looked like he generated confidence when they took the lead.”
“Jon has been lights out this year,” Jones said. “When he got the ball, I knew we were going to get something great.”
Cole faced just one batter over the minimum in the final three innings.
“I came in with a fresh arm today,” Cole said. “I haven’t had many starts in big games. I wanted to keep it low, and it worked.”
“He got stronger. He smelled the end,” Tropiano said.
Offensively, Jones went 4-for-6 in Sunday’s two games and played a stellar shortstop throughout the tournament. Going into the final, the senior believed it was gut-check time, an opportunity to see just how good the Crusaders were.
“We’ve become a family in this last week,” he said. “This is truly something special.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2432; firstname.lastname@example.org
BISHOP EUSTACE 4
• Player of the game: Junior right-hander Jon Cole tossed a complete-game four-hitter.
• Play of the game: Nate Steele’s RBI single in the third gave Bishop Eustace a three-run lead and chased Eastern starter Tyler Ronkczka.
• Well said: “He got stronger. He smelled the end.” – Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano on Jon Cole