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St. Augustine and Bishop Eustace are Major Contenders for the No. 1 High School Baseball Spot in South Jersey

St. Augustine and Bishop Eustace are Major Contenders for the No. 1 High School Baseball Spot in South Jersey
It was one of the classic games of last year’s high school baseball season, a South Jersey semifinal disguised as a state championship.
 
St. Augustine won a 12-11 slugfest in last year’s South Jersey Non-Public A semifinal. The Hermits would eventually go on to win not only the South Jersey title, but the state championship.
 
As another season begins, this game is a good footnote since the top two South Jersey teams, at least before the games began this week, appear to be St. Augustine and Bishop Eustace.
 
What else is new?
 
Both teams have been perennial Top 10 (and really Top 5) contenders in South Jersey for quite some time.
 
Each has some big-time players returning.
 
Start with junior Kenny Levari who had his best game ever in the aforementioned 12-11 win over Eustace.
 
He went 3 for 4 with a double, two homes and seven RBI. His three-run homer in the top of the seventh against the host Crusaders gave the Hermits a 12-11 lead.
 
Moving to this year, very few teams could lose a pitcher heading to Notre Dame and still have one of the best staffs in South Jersey if not beyond.
 
The Hermits Gerry Peacock, a Notre Dame recruit, will miss the season with an elbow injury that will require surgery.
 
Senior righthander Cole Vanderslice, who is signed with Villanova, will be the staff leader. Vanderslice made a strong final impression when he pitched a 2-hitter in the Hermits 1-0 victory over favored Delbarton in last year’s Non-Public A state championship. He struck out six and walked one in an efficient 91-pitch effort. He finished 6-0 as a junior.
 
The Hermits have two other pitches who have committed to Division I schools, senior Jason Hoopes (Virginia) and junior Robert Ready (East Carolina).
 
Eustace lost all-South Jersey second baseman-pitcher Sky Duff, now at the University of Pittsburgh. (Duff is already a regular for Pitt, with a .296 average in his first 19 games).
 
Still, the Crusaders have plenty of offense returning led by shortstop Matt Orlando, a University of Maryland recruit. While Orlando is likely to be a position player in college, he was 7-0 last season for the Crusaders.
 
Johnny Piacentino leads the offense after hitting six home runs last year. He is headed to Penn State.
 
Both teams have plenty of Division I recruits, future Division I prospects and two of South Jersey’s top head coaches in Mike Bylone of St. Augustine and Sam Tropiano of Eustace.
 
There will be plenty of other teams that figure into the mix in the race for No. 1 this year in South Jersey, but don’t be surprised if St. Augustine and Eustace are battling for the top spot in June.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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