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St. Augustine and Eustace Could Battle..

St. Augustine and Eustace Could Battle.. St. Augustine and Eustace Could Battle for the Top Spot in South Jersey Baseball, Non-Public A

In South Jersey high school baseball, the usual teams are expected to contend for the No. 1 ranking. What is interesting is the two major contenders are in the same Group, which should make for an interesting postseason.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s preseason rankings, St. Augustine was No. 1 and Bishop Eustace was No. 2.

These two teams also compete in what may be South Jersey’s most difficult section, South Jersey Non-Public A.

Last year it was a classic championship game when St. Augustine earned a 4-3 win in eight innings over Eustace in the final.

In that game, Jack Billings drove in both the tying run with a sacrifice fly and the winning run on an RBI single and closer Cole Vanderslice earned the win by retiring the 10 batters he faced.

Both teams actually entered this season with the proverbial chip on the shoulder.

Eustace, of course, will be looking to avenge the loss to St. Augustine. Meanwhile, St. Augustine will use last year’s 2-1 loss in the state final to Delbarton as incentive.

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Vanderslice, who is just a junior, is among the many Division I recruits on St. Augustine. He has made a commitment to Villanova.

Three other pitchers have made Division I commitments: seniors Jack Billings (Virginia Tech) and Jack Halbrunner (Bryant) and junior Gerry Peacock (Dartmouth).

The offensive leader is senior Kevin Eaise who batted .427 with 36 RBI. He was also 6-2 with a 2.35 ERA. Eaise is headed to the University of Pennsylvania along with Josh Hood (.365). The Hermits were 24-7 last year and could win more this season.

Eustace, which was 23-7 a year ago, might have the best returning lineup in South Jersey (although St. Augustine might challenge that).

Junior Matt Orlando is among the top two-way threats in South Jersey. Last season he batted .519 and had a 6-1 record as a pitcher. Orlando picked up this year where he left off last season in Eustace’s opening 8-1 win over Timber Creek.

Orlando allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings. More impressively he struck out 11 and walked none. He has made a commitment to the University of Maryland, a popular destination for some of South Jersey’s top baseball players.

Senior infielder Sky Duff is another of South Jersey’s top layers. He batted .410 last season. Duff had two hits in the opening win over Timber Creek.

It’s possible that Eustace and St. Augustine could meet before the postseason. Both will be major candidates to receive bids for the 16-team Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, which invites 16 of the top teams in South Jersey to the single-elimination tournament that takes place in May.

South Jersey Non-Public A is difficult enough and would have been even tougher had Gloucester Catholic been included in this group.

The Rams are the defending state Non-Public B champions. Gloucester Catholic once again will compete in Non-Public B. They have competed in Non-Public A frequently in the past.

Gloucester Catholic is ranked No. 3 in the Inquirer preseason Top 25. The Rams will play at St. Augustine on April 29.

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Author: Marc Narducci

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