WEST WINDSOR - Throughout the game, the animated baseball players in the Gloucester Catholic dugout, with Mike "Eli" Eliasen as the ringleader, shouted goofy, difficult-to-understand chants that sounded a little like when the Mass was said in Latin.

But they were a little more colorful.

The Rams were alive and enjoying themselves for, oh, about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Unfortunately, the game lasted a few seconds longer.

And in those few seconds, a momentous win turned into one of the most painful defeats in the program's proud history.

One second, Eliasen seemed poised to be mobbed for pitching Gloucester Catholic - a team that had to fight just to qualify for the NJSIAA tournament - to the South Jersey Non-Public A championship at Mercer County Park.

Seconds later, after a dropped fly ball with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed two runs to score and gave Christian Brothers Academy a 5-4 victory, it was the Colts who were joyously jumping on one another.

"That's baseball," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis "Beans" Barth said bravely. "On a windy day, crap happens."

The fly ball that was dropped blew from left-center field to left and ended what had been a season of redemption for the Rams.

Last month, the Rams were 8-8 and didn't look as if they had a prayer to win an NJSIAA sectional title. They were just fighting to win a tournament berth, let alone a championship.

But then things started to fall into place. Shortstop Steve Bruno transferred from St. Joseph's Prep and gave the team a lift in the field and at the plate. Two freshmen, rightfielder Steve Wilgus and lefty pitcher Casey Brown, blossomed. Eliasen was moved to the leadoff spot and proved to be a catalyst for a lineup that also featured catcher Bill Donovan.

All of which produced 12 straight victories. No. 13 was agonizingly close.

But instead of gaining their 13th straight win, their 22d sectional title, and a shot at their 14th state crown, the Rams saw their season end.

Don't blame leftfielder Sylvio DiCristo, who dropped the fly ball in tough, windy conditions; blame the team's offense for not producing more runs, Barth said.

Gloucester Catholic stranded 10 runners and was 3 for 13 with men in scoring position.

"We dodged a lot of bullets," CBA coach Marty Kenney said. "They had two or three runners on base in at least five of the seven innings."

"We didn't get our bunts down and we didn't play our best," Barth said. "We blew a lot of opportunities."

That said, the Rams should be saluted for getting as far as they did.

"When we were 8-8, everybody counted us out," Barth said.

Steeped in tradition, the Rams brushed aside their mediocre start, attributing it to numerous out-of-conference losses to powerful opponents.

While other teams fattened their records against patsies, Gloucester Catholic faced heavyweights, some in state, some out of it, to prepare for the NJSIAA tournament.

The tough schedule helped the Rams get to the sectional final, where they seemed poised to celebrate as their fans stood and applauded when a fly ball was lofted with two outs in the seventh.

Finishing second-best in its strong section, and as one of the best teams in South Jersey, is an amazing turnaround from last month. Yet, based on the glum expressions the players wore as they walked to the bus, no one from Gloucester Catholic felt proud to finish as the South Jersey Non-Public A runner-up yesterday. No one felt excited about the team's 20-9 record or late-season run.

This was a loss that will take time to heal, a loss that could be the motivation for a state-title run in 2009.

Post a question or a comment for Sam Carchidi at http://go.philly.com/asksam.

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