Luck and good fortune is a byproduct of hard work.

That's the way it always has been at Gloucester Catholic High, where the Rams have built one of the most decorated programs in South Jersey history. Yesterday, in the Non-Public South B final, countless hours of hard work and sweat paid off against St. Rose.

The Rams, with a 4-2 win that secured their 28th sectional title and 17th since state titles were instituted in 1972, will play the winner of Morristown Beard and St. Mary's of Rutherford in pursuit of their 14th state title.

Against St. Rose, the Rams used a signature play, which turned out to be a different signature play than the one called to offset a fifth-inning rally by the Purple Roses.

"When the batter swung I hesitated," catcher Greg Haines said. "I was going down to second the whole way. The play was all [Cody Brown]."

"I asked [Haines] what happened," Catholic coach Dennis Barth said. "I didn't know what happened. I know the play was supposed to go down to second."

On the strength of an RBI double by Elliott McCummings, Catholic held a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth. Brown (8-1), a junior lefthander, looked to be in complete control as he faced 14 hitters through the first four innings and had allowed a pair of hits.

St. Rose's Chris Reynolds led off the fifth with a cue shot toward third base that changed directions twice before Joe Brooks got his glove on the ball but then fumbled it for an error. Joe Marrcilaro followed with an attempted sacrifice bunt but the ball took a quirky hop over Brown's glove for an infield single. A wild throw allowed Reynolds to move to third.

With a 2-1 count to Nick Morrissey, Brown unleashed a high fastball that Morrissey swung through. The swing put Morrissey in front of Haines, who double-clutched before he threw toward second attempting to cut down a stolen base.

But Brown speared the throw and caught Reynolds off third with a throw to Brooks. Reynolds became the second out and the threat fizzled.

"The play works sometimes," Brown said. "It was supposed to go through [to second base] but it was at me so I caught it. I saw [Haines] had some trouble getting rid of the ball and that caused the kid at third to flinch."

The throw-back to the pitcher is one of Catholic's plays. It is something the Rams work on throughout March when most teams are thinking about getting in front of a fire. So, Brown did work a play, just not the one called for in this moment.

That said, both teams struggled offensively and a 1-0 lead was not something Catholic wanted to sit on.

"At this time of the year, we can't use the young excuse," said Barth, who had just one senior, Haines, in the starting lineup. "But I think we had a lot of nervous swings early in the game. That has a lot to do with [St. Rose's Rider-bound senior Kevin Kennett]. He's been to this game three times and showed why."

In the sixth, Catholic scored three runs on a walk and three singles, including a two-run hit to left-center by Tim Patterson, to take a 4-0 lead into the seventh. St. Rose rallied for two runs but a great fielding play and strong throw by Brooks at third pulled down the curtain on the Purple Roses' season.

"That's a big hit," Barth said. "[Brett Tenuto's] single after that was big, too. I've been around long enough on both sides to know that's not safe. We got the job done today." *

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