When the NJSIAA baseball tournament rolls around, Audubon High seems to rise to another level.
It's happening again this year as the fifth-seeded Green Wave have reached another sectional final.
Yesterday, Audubon outlasted top-seeded Haddon Township, 9-5, and moved into Friday's South Jersey Group 2 final against sixth-seeded Buena, a team the Green Wave defeated in last year's sectional quarterfinals.
In last year's tournament, Audubon was seeded ninth and Buena was seeded No. 1.
So that makes two straight seasons in which the Green Wave have knocked off the section's top seed.
To the casual observer, yesterday's win was an upset.
Those who follow South Jersey baseball closely, however, know it was not an upset, know that Rich Horan-coached Audubon is one of the pillars of the South Jersey baseball scene.
Especially at tournament time.
Audubon has won seven sectional titles since 1993 - although it hasn't captured one since 2002 - and even when it doesn't win a championship, it usually goes deep into the NJSIAA tournament. Take last year, for instance, when the Green Wave lost to Gateway in the Group 2 semifinals.
"We have a great tradition at Audubon," said senior shortstop Steve Rizzo, who went 3 for 4, scored three runs, and pitched a scoreless inning to notch the save yesterday. "Coach Horan has won five state titles, and he preaches how to get it done. You can't fail with him as a coach."
Audubon saw its 5-0 lead trimmed to 5-4 as Haddon Township erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fifth. You could feel the momentum changing, and then . . .
With two outs and no one on base, Audubon countered with a four-spot of its own in the top of the sixth.
"You can't let it get to you," said Rizzo, referring to Haddon Township's rally. "We stayed calm and let the bats do the work."
In two tourney games, the bats have been working overtime. Audubon has averaged 11.5 runs and 13 hits in the tournament, which it started with a 14-2 romp past Overbrook.
Horan said there was no secret as to why his teams peak in the postseason.
"We get kids who work hard, and if you start [the season] slow and keep working hard, good things will happen," he said. "They enjoy being with each other, and they're a great group to coach."
"We're one of the hardest-working teams in South Jersey," agreed winning pitcher Wade Gies, a blossoming 6-foot-6 sophomore who contributed three hits and four RBIs. "We work hard all year."
The hard work and the tradition seem to help the team members relax during the NJSIAA tournament.
On the flip side, Haddon Township, a young team that hasn't won a sectional title since 1979 and is trying to build an Audubon-like tradition, seemed to be pressing yesterday as it made five errors.
"That's not indicative of the way we've played," Township coach Dave Dale said. "We've gotten good pitching and good defense all year. I thought we were a little tight today . . . and when you give a good team extra outs, it bites you in the rear end. Good teams take advantage."
Audubon, which will use lefthander Zach Fadio against talented Buena on Friday, is a good team. With three more tournament wins, it can call itself a