WEST WINDSOR - A dropped fly ball with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed two runs to score and put a stunning end to Gloucester Catholic's baseball season yesterday.
The error enabled Christian Brothers Academy to escape with a 5-4 win and capture the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship at windswept Mercer County Park.
With two outs in the seventh and a runner on first, Gloucester Catholic pitcher Mike "Eli" Eliasen hit leadoff hitter Anthony Cirillo with a pitch. Eliasen argued that Cirillo stuck out his left arm to get plunked, but his plea was denied.
Dan Avella, who had delivered a run-scoring single after fouling off four 3-2 pitches in the fifth, then sent a pop fly to shallow left-center field.
"The wind was howling," said Eliasen (5-3), who allowed just one earned run. "It started out in center and it kept carrying over to left, but, hey, that's baseball."
Leftfielder Sylvio DiCristo dropped the ball. One run scored easily while Cirillo rounded third and headed for home. Shortstop Steve Bruno's throw home was high, and Cirillo scored the winning run.
The CBA players ran onto the field and mobbed Avella.
Many of the Gloucester Catholic players fell to the ground, stunned.
"I was upset when I hit it," Avella said, adding that "the wind was a definite factor."
CBA had dropped a 1-0 decision to St. Joseph Metuchen in last year's sectional final, losing on an eighth-inning wild pitch.
"Sometimes, the gods are on your side, and obviously they were today," CBA coach Marty Kenney said.
CBA (20-8) will play Don Bosco in Saturday's state final.
Gloucester Catholic, which started the season 8-8, had its 12-game winning streak snapped and finished 20-9.
The Rams left 10 runners stranded and were 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
"I was worried because we blew a lot of scoring opportunities," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said of his feelings as the seventh inning started.
Rightfielder Steve Wilgus had three of the Rams' 10 hits.
Gloucester Catholic, aided by four passed balls in the first four innings, played small ball as it built a 3-0 lead.
In the top of the first, singles by Eliasen and Wilgus, along with a hit batsman (Bruno), loaded the bases with no outs. Bill Donovan followed with a sacrifice fly.
Third-inning singles by Wilgus and Bruno, a passed ball, and a run-scoring wild pitch gave the Rams a 2-0 lead.
DiCristo's RBI fielder's choice made it 3-0 in the fourth off starter Pat Light.
After CBA scratched out a fourth-inning run, Donovan's infield single gave Gloucester Catholic a 4-1 lead in the fifth, which ended when Mike Gartland bounced into a bases-loaded double play.
CBA, helped by three errors, got to within 4-3 by scoring a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth. But Gloucester Catholic used a pitchout on a suicide squeeze and retired the runner at third to maintain the lead.
That set up CBA's seventh-inning rally, which started with Matt Luongo's one-out, bad-hop single, which bounced off Bruno.
Gloucester Catholic had a 10-5 edge in hits but was victimized by five errors and four unearned runs.
Glou. Catholic 101 110 0 - 4 10 5
Christian Brothers 000 120 2 - 5 5 1
WP: Mike Rossi. LP: Mike Eliasen. 2B: CBA-Zach Tanenbaum.