For St. Joseph's Prep, the feeling coming into the season was: "Wait till next year."

Well, next year is now.

With a group of mostly underclassmen, the Hawks have soared to the top of the standings, clinching first place in the always-deep Catholic League South Division.

Many predicted as much - just not this season. The Prep has only four seniors on its roster, with most of its starters coming from the junior class.

Head coach Chris Rupertus said he and his staff predicted success sooner than a year away, just not so soon.

"We knew that by midseason we were going to have a very good team," Rupertus said. "As it turns out, we became very good well before the midseason mark."

As it normally does, the Prep traveled south to Florida for some early-season games. The result was a mixed bag, as some of last year's junior-varsity performers took their time assimilating themselves with the remaining few from last year's championship runner-up team.

"We knew coming in that there might be some physical errors, and we can't freak out about it," Rupertus said. "But they've responded, as young guys often do, to the positive encouragement and feedback."

New guys such as sophomores Steve Bruno (shortstop), Kevin Gillen (pitcher), and Kyle Mullen (pitcher) have seamlessly moved into open spots next to returning junior starters Brett Tiagwad (second base), Tim Edger (centerfield), and Aaron Haas (first base).

The result has been a stress-free bunch that rivals last year's cool customers, who nearly won the Hawks their first crown in league history.

"Last year's looseness came from the fact that we were a veteran bunch," Rupertus said. "And we knew when to be stern and when to let loose. This year, we're loose because they do what they're told. We never have to ask to have anything done twice."

If the Hawks finally win that elusive title, however, they may be asked to win another one next year.

Standing in the way, of course, are any number of potential land mines. Chief among them is Archbishop Ryan, which sewed up the ever-important first-place prize in the North Division on Monday. The Raiders, like the Prep, have earned a free pass into the semifinals.

First splinters. When he broke his hand in April, Chestnut Hill's Anthony Cafagna joined a select group in the Inter-Ac this season.

He, along with Germantown Academy's John Barr and Penn Charter's Mark Adzick, had played significant varsity ball since his freshman year. Each had also injured himself during this, his senior season.

Barr, a centerfielder/pitcher bound for Virginia, hurt his shoulder but has since returned. Adzick (pitcher/Wake Forest) strained a chest muscle and missed several starts on the mound but still played first base.

Cafagna, who had pitched marvelously up until that point, sat for more than two weeks, the first missed time of his high school career.

"It's been hard since it's my senior year," said Cafagna, a righthander. "Since freshman year I've played in every varsity game."

After committing to Richmond in February, Cafagna breezed through the early part of the season, going 5-1 with an ERA under 1.00. He returned Friday, hurling the Blue Devils past the Haverford School and into at least a tie for the Inter-Ac crown.

Seedings. The much-loved seedings meetings for District 1 will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Westover Golf Club.

At stake are 22 playoff berths in Class AAAA, nine in AAA, four in AA, and five in A. Games played before the semifinals will be at the site of the higher seed. First-round dates begin Monday for AAAA, next Wednesday for AAA, May 29 for AA (quarterfinals), and May 25 for A (semifinals). Each championship game is scheduled for May 31.

The top four finishers in Class AAAA head to states, and the final two in AAA and the district champions in AA and A move on to the PIAA tournament.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane

at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.