THE HITTING has been timely, if not overpowering. The pitching has been outstanding, and today, Shawnee (18-6) is on the verge of capturing the Group 3 state championship when it travels to Toms River East to face JFK-Iselin.

The Renegades have pretty much breezed their way to today's final, marching through their three South Jersey games by a combined 22-2 score. Ace Anthony Montefusco got the ball rolling with an 8-0 shutout over Cumberland in their first game. Sophomore pitcher Mike Cogliano turned in a senior-like performance in a 5-0 South Jersey semifinal win over Highland, then Montefusco was his overpowering self in the 9-2 S.J. final win at Clearview.

Tuesday's 5-0 triumph over West Windsor-Plainsboro North featured a 14-strikeout, one-hit Montefusco masterpiece.

Bad news for JFK-Iselin is that Montefusco, bound for George Mason, is eligible to throw today. For the year, the

senior righthander is 8-2, with 119 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings.

"He has been terrific for us all season," Shawnee coach Brian Anderson said recently. "When he gets it going, it's something to watch."

Not if you're standing at the plate.

Not a great exit

Losing is never easy. Especially when you're a senior and your high school career has come to a close.

But losing in uncharacteristic fashion stings just a bit more, and Gateway's and Cherokee's players still must feel as if they stepped on a beehive.

Both teams are very fundamentally sound. Gateway rode a total team effort, and the pitching and hitting of Dom DePasquale, to the Group 1 sectional title, while Cherokee's balanced pitching staff and loaded lineup carried it to the S.J. Group 4 title.

That both teams fell short in the state semis isn't shocking; the opponents are always worthy. But it's the way the two lost that left bitter tastes in players' and coaches' mouths.

Cherokee committed nine errors in an 8-6 loss to Toms River North, yet still had a chance with runners on first and second and nobody out in the final inning.

Gateway had seven miscues in a 6-2 loss to David Brearley.

"It just wasn't our day," Cherokee coach Marc Petragnani said. "I think we didn't react to the field well.

"Once one or two errors happened, I think the yips developed a little bit. Instead of somebody looking to make a big play, I think we started wondering who was going to make the next error."

For Gateway, after building a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, the Gators commited six errors the next two innings, allowing Brearley to take a 5-1 lead. The Bears' final run in the sixth also came courtesy of a miscue.

"You hope that when players make mistakes, they can forget about it and move on with the game," said Gateway coach Frank Alloway, whose team won its second-ever sectional title. "But in a game with the magnitude of a state semifinal, it's hard to do that."

Goodbye and hello

It's always tough to watch a player finish his high school career. For many, it's the best time of their lives.

Plenty of seniors were so much fun to watch this season. There was Bishop Eustace's Kevin Casey and his total command on the mound, and the defense of his unheralded teammate, third baseman Jimmy Coyle . . . there was the quickest bat we've ever seen in high school baseball, which belonged to Millville's Mike Trout, who will be a first-round draft pick on Tuesday . . . there was the quick feet of Buena's Ken Miles, whom we'd pay to watch go from first to third any day of the week . . . there was the outstanding class of catchers, including Seneca's Troy Foster and Pitman's Kevin Gibbs . . .

There was the hard-popping fastballs of Shawnee's Montefusco, Cherry Hill East's Ryan Martin and Camden Catholic's Brian Rice . . . there was the leadership of Paul VI's Brian Workman . . . the knuckler from Haddon Heights' Pat

D'Ascenzo . . . the fierce competitiveness of Gateway's Depasquale and teammate Rick Ponto . . . and there was the overall outstanding play of Gloucester Catholic shortstop Steve Bruno, who also will be taken in next week's MLB draft.

And looking ahead, some of the things we can't wait to see next year are Eustace catcher Greg Brodzinski and Seneca pitchers James Coughlin and Kevin Comer. We're also looking forward to watching a ton of youngsters at Paul VI get better and Washington Township shortstop Nick Favatella and his hard-nosed overall play, and Wade Geis and John Flacco

delivering at Audubon, and Haddonfield's Chris Davis slamming more home runs, and Kevin Fahy's Gloucester team keep improving. Can't wait to be back on the sideline next year, soaking up the sun (hopefully more than this year) and some more great baseball. *

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