Bishop Eustace and Gloucester Catholic, two teams that have benefited from in-season additions, will be aiming for NJSIAA South Jersey titles in their respective sectional baseball finals tomorrow.
Both teams are surging. Gloucester Catholic has won 12 straight. Eustace has won seven of its last eight, including a 10-5 upset over top-ranked Sacred Heart in Friday's South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals.
Gloucester Catholic has been rolling since junior shortstop Steve Bruno, a transfer from Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep, became eligible on May 8. The Rams are 10-0 in that span.
Likewise, Eustace has been aided by the addition of outfielder Dan Sieracki, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in January and had surgery that prevented him from playing until a few weeks ago.
In 20 at-bats, Sieracki is hitting .400 with four homers, including a grand slam that locked up the win over Sacred Heart.
"It was touch-and-go on whether he'd play [this year] and he worked and worked and worked to get back," Eustace coach Sam Tropiano said.
Upon his return, Sieracki, one of two senior starters, was used as a designated hitter until playing left field against Sacred Heart. "He did a great job out there," Tropiano said.
Having beaten The Inquirer's No. 1 team doesn't give the Crusaders any guarantees. In fact, they are viewed as underdogs, according to the seedings.
Third-seeded Eustace (21-8) will face top-seeded St. Rose of Belmar (24-2) tomorrow at Mercer County Park. The game is scheduled for 3:45 p.m, but Eustace is trying to get the game moved to 2 p.m. because its graduation is later that night.
"It doesn't get any easier," said Tropiano, referring to the team's quest to bring home its fourth sectional title in the last seven years.
Eustace, which did a superb scouting job on run-happy Sacred Heart and did not allow the Lions to steal any bases, has a pretty good pitcher of its own. Junior righthander Kevin Casey, a curveball specialist who is 9-0 with a 2.25 ERA, will start for the Crusaders and will oppose one of two righthanders, Connor Smith or Casey Cannon.
Offensively, Eustace is led by sophomore catcher Greg Brodzinski, who is hitting .421 with 9 homers and 42 RBIs. Chris Bzozowski (.415), Rory McTear (.398), Kevin Stephens (.378) and Jimmy Yezzo (.366) are also key hitters.
Gloucester Catholic, which won last year's Non-Public B title but is now in Non-Public A, has its sights on its 20th sectional title and, with two mores wins, its 14th state championship.
The seventh-seeded Rams (20-8) will face fourth-seeded Christian Brothers Academy (19-8) in the South Jersey Non-Public A final at Mercer County Park at 3:45 p.m.
Gloucester Catholic senior righthander Mike Eliasen (5-2, 2.59 ERA) is expected to oppose Pat Light, who allowed just one hit in five semifinal innings against Bishop Ahr.
Bruno has been a catalyst for the Rams, hitting .559; 12 of his 19 hits have been for extra bases, including three homers and seven doubles, and he has 15 RBIs in 10 games.
"We were having problems getting over the hump - and he put us over the hump," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said.
The Rams have also received solid production from freshman rightfielder Steve Wilgus (.432), second baseman George Spingler (.371), designated hitter Nick Core (.354), catcher Bill Donovan (7 homers, 36 RBIs), and first baseman Rob Wilgus (34 RBIs), a senior who is Steve's brother.
Public-school state semis.
Maple Shade (Group 1), Buena (Group 2) and Timber Creek (Group 3) are local teams that will compete in state semifinals tomorrow against the Central Jersey champs.
Maple Shade will meet Robbinsville, a second-year school in the tourney for the first time, at Rider; Buena will face Allentown at New Egypt; and Timber Creek will tangle with Wall Township at the College of New Jersey. All games are tentatively slated for 4 p.m.
In the Group 2 sectional final, sixth-seeded Buena overcame a 4-0 deficit as it jolted fifth-seeded Audubon, 11-9, and won its first-ever crown. Mike Ney (five RBIs) ripped a grand slam and catcher Joe Cifaloglio, who has recovered nicely from a severe knee injury, and Marco Carolla each had three hits to spark Buena's comeback.
Maple Shade coach Mike "Buster" Webb did not coach the sectional final because of what he called a "family situation." Justin Lazzery was the interim coach and may coach again tomorrow, when the Wildcats will start Chris Szymczak (5-1, 2.14 ERA).