WEST WINDSOR - An hour before the first pitch, Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano looked across the field at the St. Rose baseball team.
"That's a good team," Tropiano said. "They pitch, they play defense, and they are scrappy on offense. They're 25-2 for a reason."
Those reasons became clear in the South Jersey Non-Public B championship game, as St. Rose made all the plays in a 4-1 victory over Bishop Eustace yesterday at Mercer County Park.
The Purple Roses combined strong pitching from junior righthander Casey Cannon, stellar defense, and just enough offense to advance to Saturday's state championship game.
On a warm, sunny afternoon, shaky defense caused Bishop Eustace (21-9) to fall behind early. The Crusaders did not rally until a seventh-inning uprising that proved to be too little, too late.
"They were the better team today," Bishop Eustace senior rightfielder Kevin Stephens said.
Junior righthander Kevin Casey worked a complete game for Bishop Eustace. He allowed six hits and struck out five. Three of St. Rose's runs were unearned.
The other run scored on a wide relay to first base on what would have been an inning-ending double play.
"When you get here, you've got to play a clean game," Tropiano said. "They absolutely played a clean defensive game. They did a nice job.
"It's one-and-done in this tournament. You can't mix in a bad game."
Tropiano said his team might have been emotionally flat after its sectional semifinal win over Sacred Heart, the No. 1 team in South Jersey in The Inquirer's rankings.
"We didn't have that fire in the belly until the last inning," Tropiano said. "We needed that intensity."
St. Rose took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when leadoff man Chris Bresnahan reached on an infield error, went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on an Owen Stewart groundout.
In the second, St. Rose added another run as Scott Cebulski and Vinny Vinci singled and Matt Rodgers hit an RBI groundout. On the run-scoring play, Bishop Eustace nearly turned two, but the relay throw was wide.
In the third, an infield error opened the door for two more unearned runs, which scored on Cebulski's two-out double.
"That's the way we play: We've got to scratch out runs to win," St. Rose coach Jim Agnello said. "In tight games, the team that catches the ball, that is where it's supposed to be, is usually the team that wins."
Bishop Eustace managed just three singles against Cannon, a crafty pitcher who mixed a sneaky fastball with some effective off-speed stuff. He faced just 21 batters in the first six innings before the Crusaders managed to bunch Greg Brodzinski's single, a walk, a wild pitch, and Chris Bzozowski's RBI groundout for a last-inning run.
Tropiano said he was proud of his team for its late-season surge after a slow start. The Crusaders won seven of their final nine games, and have just three seniors on the roster.
"We'll be back," Tropiano said.
Bishop Eustace 000 000 1 - 1 3 2
St. Rose 112 000 x - 4 6 0
WP: Casey Cannon LP: Kevin Casey
2B: SR: Scott Cebulski, Vinny Vinci.