The best batteries, of course, are those with full juice.

So it is at St. Joseph's Prep.

Kyle Mullen and Kevin Gillen have been outstanding all season as coach Chris Rupertus' "1-1" pitching punch (neither can be called No. 2). And behind the plate, sophomore Ray Toto has been a blue-chipper most of the way.

Why not all? Well, he wasn't the starter as the season began.

Now, aside from the fact he bats third and leads the Hawks in many offensive categories, the 6-foot, 195-pound Toto does yeoman work as an on-field handler for Mullen and Gillen.

Understated version, admittedly.

"I mostly just let them pitch," Toto said. "I do give them advice every once in a while, but I mostly just let them go. They know what they're doing out there."

Saturday at Glen Mills, the twice-postponed PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal between the Prep and West Chester East finally took place. As the Hawks triumphed, 2-1, thus earning a spot opposite Parkland in a semifinal today, 2 p.m., at Spring-Ford High, Toto went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and his out (liner to center) was one of the game's hardest-hit balls.

He also helped to guide Mullen, a senior righthander working on 4 days' rest, to a seven-strikeout two-hitter. (Should have been one, actually. A catchable popup was misjudged.)

Toto became the catcher about 2 weeks into the season, at the suggestion of assistant coach Dennis Hart. His previous position was third base and he'd played shortstop last year below the varsity level.

"I'd always played catcher in outside ball," Toto said, "just hadn't happened here yet.

"I felt confident taking that job. I wanted to show the coaches I could do it. We actually wound up losing that first game, with Kyle on the mound [March 31 vs. Archbishop Ryan], but overall I felt good about how things went."

Mullen, who's bound for Saint Joseph's, has made eight postseason appearances over 3 years. His ERA in 45 2/3 innings is 0.77 and he has permitted 29 hits and 21 walks while striking out 51. (Even his TRA - total run average - is eye-popping at 0.92).

"I don't think he's ever lost in a playoff," Toto said, speaking the truth. "He always has incentive, but in a playoff it's like he's in a different world. He's so focused on every pitch, whether he's blowing it by somebody or throwing a curve in the dirt that guys can't get to.

"I had to step up my game, so I could block those curves. Coach Hart and coach Turner [Eddie, another assistant] have really helped me with that."

The Prep's two-spot in the third inning Saturday featured unearned runs. Dan Turner (Eddie's brother) and Gio Morales reached on an error and a walk, while RBI went to Greg "Buddy" Brooks (fielder's choice) and Jeff Lynch (sacrifice fly).

In the seventh, an error gave West Chester East two-out life. The runner stayed at first, however, as Mullen ended the game with a strikeout.

"I thought the guy was going to go. Try to move into scoring position," Toto said.

When Toto, who lives in Drexel Hill, was asked which Prep hurler listens to him more, he laughed and said, "Probably Kev, though Kyle's cool, too. When we're in the dugout, all I really say is to keep up the good work and keep throwing strikes."

As for his on-field comments/suggestions . . .

"Whether they do anything with them is totally up to them," Toto said. "It's their senior year. I'm just here to help them."

And he does. Again and again, in multiple ways.

Also today:

In AAA, the semifinal between Neumann-Goretti and Abington Heights is set for 4:30 at Wenger Field, in Fredericksburg, about 20 miles northeast of Harrisburg. *