WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Sam Tropiano has been around baseball long enough to know that the team with the more experienced pitcher, more talented catcher, and more potent lineup doesn't always win the game.
He just wishes he hadn't learned that lesson again yesterday.
"They outplayed us," Tropiano said after his Bishop Eustace Prep team lost to the Purple Roses of St. Rose of Belmar, 8-4, in the Non-Public South B championship game at Mercer County Park.
"I thought we had the better pitcher, the better catcher, the better lineup," he said. "But you have to give them credit."
For the second straight year, St. Rose played fundamentally sound baseball in ending Bishop Eustace's season in the sectional finals. This year, the Purple Roses turned three infield double plays and delivered enough two-out, two-strike hits to advance to Saturday's state championship game at Toms River.
"We wanted to try to keep them in the ballpark because they are a talented, talented team," St. Rose coach Jim Agnello said of the Crusaders. "We were able to do that and make the plays in the field."
Junior righthander Kyle Kennett improved his record to 8-2 by pitching a complete game for top-seeded St. Rose (20-5). Second baseman John McGrath had a double and a two-run single, and rightfielder Billy Kurtz an RBI double for the Purple Roses.
But the key to the victory was St. Rose's defense. The Purple Roses, from Monmouth County, turned double plays to end the first and fourth innings and another double play to short-circuit a potential Bishop Eustace rally in the fifth inning.
"They don't make mistakes," Tropiano said. "We've scouted them endlessly the last two years, and they've never had a bad game defensively."
Junior leftfielder Scott Carcaise hit a two-run home run, and senior first baseman Chris Branigan a two-run double for Bishop Eustace (24-8).
But it was a frustrating day at the plate for the Crusaders, who had been one of South Jersey's hottest-hitting teams. They managed just five hits off Kennett.
"We were overly aggressive," Tropiano said. "We were jumping out of our shoes. It's contagious. One guy hits an at-'em ball, and the next guy tries to hit it through them, and the next guy tries to hit it to Montana."
Branigan said Kennett was effective in mixing up his pitches.
"He kept us off-balance," Branigan said. "You have to give them credit. They made the plays. We came far this year, but not far enough."
Senior Kevin Casey pitched 52/3 innings for Bishop Eustace. He allowed 11 hits and struck out six.
"It's a tough way to end your senior year," Casey said. "But we had a great season."
Bishop Eustace 020 002 0 - 4 5 0
St. Rose 050 012 x - 8 11 2
WP: Kyle Kennett. LP: Kevin Casey.
2B: BE-Chris Branigan; SR-John McGrath,
3B: SR-Scott Gebulski.
HR: BE-Scott Carcaise.