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Pitman, Audubon, Gloucester Catholic prepare for state baseball titles

Three. That's the number of South Jersey high school teams in contention for a state title in baseball and the number that will take the field tomorrow.


That's the number of South Jersey high school teams in contention for a state title in baseball and the number that will take the field tomorrow.

Three programs, three coaching styles, and, of course, three classifications will be put on display as Pitman, Audubon and Gloucester Catholic shoot for the highest title available in New Jersey.

"We're not young anymore," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said. "The thing is, even if we are young it doesn't change our approach. Our goal every year is to win a state title and that's not going to change no matter what we look like in March."

The Rams (23-7), who are in Group B, are in pursuit of their first state title since 2007 and 14th overall. They will play at 2 p.m. against Morristown-Beard on the campus of Toms River North. Barth is going for his seventh title, which would be the most for any coach in program history.

"We have a different makeup this year," said Barth, whose offense is built around speed not power hitting, such as in 1980 when the tandem of John Yowler and Joe Alter pounded opponents into submission during a perfect 24-0 season. "But we still do things the same way."

Gloucester Catholic might have the thickest record book, but Audubon certainly is no stranger to this situation. Under head coach Rich Horan, the Green Wave, winners of 15 of 17 heading in Saturday's Group 2 final, has won five state titles, including three in a row in the mid-1990s when Brett Laxton dominated South Jersey hitters before moving on to LSU, where he won a national title.

This year, the Green Wave, which will play West Essex at Toms River South in a 12:30 start, struggled out of the gate to go 1-3 but since then a young pitching staff has matured and now the sky's the limit. An ambitious schedule early on certainly set the table for Audubon, which proved that anything is possible in a comeback win over Haddon Township in the Group 2 semifinal when the Wave found itself down a run and down to its last out.

"With the young kids we have it's important for them to learn a tournament atmosphere like this as early in the season as possible," Horan said earlier this season. "Anytime you can play a game in which every pitch and every play is competitive, it's a learning experience."

The Wave certainly learned from its early woes and now looks to be one of the best teams in South Jersey, despite missing out on this year's Diamond Classic, won by Lenape.

Making things even more interesting, Horan has shown a propensity to think outside the box this year as he kept Wade Geist off the mound in favor of sophomore Kevin Kramer, who kept Audubon in the game against Haddon Township and then picked up a complete-game win on Wednesday in the Group 2 state semifinal against Spotswood. Audubon walked away with a 13-3 win.

"Why wouldn't we go with him," Horan said. "He's shown time and again he belongs on this level and that he can get the job done. I have faith in my entire staff and right now, Kevin has earned his spot in the rotation."

Meanwhile, Pitman, by virtue of a 7-6 win over Robbinsville, will play in the Group 1 final for just the second time in school history. While the program might not have the history of Catholic or Audubon, it certainly has built off recent success, including a pair of appearances in the South Jersey Group 1 final in 2008 and 2009.

"That certainly helped us [in the South Jersey Group 1 final] against New Egypt," said Reid, who will go to senior Steve Schuler (9-1) for the final, against Whippany Park in an 11 a.m. start at Toms River East. "I think it really helped us against Robbinsville. Having that game washed out and then going back up there the next day, I think that showed a lot of character on our part." *

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