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Sam Carchidi: Gloucester Catholic remains baseball force

If it's the NJSIAA baseball playoffs, it's time for Gloucester Catholic High to make a lasting impression. That's what history tells us, anyway.

If it's the NJSIAA baseball playoffs, it's time for Gloucester Catholic High to make a lasting impression.

That's what history tells us, anyway.

The Rams have won 13 state titles and 19 sectional crowns, and no team has won more of either.

So is Gloucester Catholic, which has limped through the regular season, about to make a customary charge through the South Jersey Non-Public A tournament?

It wouldn't be surprising.

Oh, the Rams, who are seeded just seventh in the nine-team field, have a herculean task in front of them. They open the playoffs Tuesday by playing powerful Notre Dame, the section's No. 2 seed. And if they win, they would have to beat either the defending champion, St. Joseph of Metuchen, or talented Holy Spirit to earn a spot in the sectional final.

That said, things seem to be falling into place for the Rams, who began the season 8-8 but have won six straight.

"We haven't peaked yet," Rams coach Dennis Barth said, before adding, "I hope."

For one of the few times in the 35-year history of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, Gloucester Catholic did not qualify for the 16-team tournament. At the time, it didn't deserve it. It was still trying to find its identity.

"Our goal isn't to win the Diamond or finish No. 1 in South Jersey," Barth said matter-of-factly. "Our goal every year is to win a state title."

Which is why he loaded his schedule with top-notch competition, hoping it would pay dividends during the NJSIAA tournament.

"Parochial A has some great teams, teams like Don Bosco Prep and St. Joe Montvale," Barth said, referring to North Jersey powers, "so we had to step up the schedule. We played two nationally ranked teams - Malvern Prep [of Pennsylvania] and St. Albans of Washington, D.C. - and a four-time state champion in Virginia," Notre Dame Academy.

Gloucester Catholic dropped all three of those games and also suffered a 4-3 loss to powerful St. Joseph of Montvale, but Barth said the experience would be beneficial.

Early in the season, the Rams were very unlike Gloucester Catholic in the field. Routine plays became adventures.

The addition of junior Steve Bruno, a power-hitting shortstop who transferred from Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep and became eligible about two weeks ago, has solidified the infield.

"Defensively, we're as good as anybody right now," said Barth, whose team has vaulted to No. 10 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings and will play at top-ranked Sacred Heart at 4 p.m. Sunday. "Bruno has solved some problems."

He has also jump-started a lineup that features Mike "Eli" Eliasen, a senior who has signed with Fairleigh Dickinson. Eliasen can dominate with his bat, but his arm is his best weapon. When Eliasen is on the mound, Gloucester Catholic will be tough to beat.

The Rams' problem is that their No. 2 pitcher, Beau Gallagher, has been injured for most of the season and may not be available in the playoffs, perhaps forcing Barth to use freshman pitchers.

Still, never underestimate Gloucester Catholic's tournament tradition. And don't be surprised if the Rams are playing on June 7.

That's the date of the state final.

Seven double-digit seeds scored upsets Monday and advanced to the second-round of the NJSIAA tournament.

They were 10th-seeded Gateway in Group 2; 13th-seeded Cumberland, 12th-seeded Highland, 11th-seeded Kingsway, and 10th-seeded Deptford in wacky Group 3; and 13th-seeded Cherry Hill East and 10th-seeded Mainland in Group 4.

Will the craziness continue in Friday's second round?

Stay tuned.

The intriguing championship game of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic has been finalized.

Sacred Heart, No. 1 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings, will face second-ranked Shawnee at 1 p.m. Saturday at Deptford.

Both teams have excellent pitching, but Sacred Heart has a slightly more potent lineup - witness a team batting average hovering around .400.