TOMS RIVER, N.J. - The heel of one baserunner, the helmet of another, and the glove of a centerfielder combined to keep the Audubon baseball team one step short of glory.
West Essex used two unearned runs in the second inning to take a 2-1 victory Saturday in the NJSIAA state Group 2 championship game at Toms River South.
Audubon (21-6) was denied its seventh state title, and first since 2001, by two bad breaks and one great play.
What could go wrong did.
"That's exactly how I'm going to remember it," said senior shortstop John Flacco, who had two doubles and was robbed of a game-tying home run. "We had our opportunities, and oddball things happened.
"Things you don't see in baseball every day happened to us. You have to account for the unknown; that's what got us."
It culminated in the sixth inning when Flacco lofted a curveball over the 357-foot sign in right-center field and Lafayette-bound Andy Santomauro leaped and pulled it back for an incredible, game-saving catch.
"I got good bat on it. It's a short field," Flacco said.
"The centerfielder made a great play and snatched it from me."
Santomauro had it lined up off the bat.
"It seemed to be over the fence," he said. "I knew where the fence was the whole time. I took a couple of looks back, I had enough time, and jumped at the right time. Probably never a bigger catch in my career."
His heroics were set up by some unusual plays in the first two innings, in which Audubon got nothing out of an apparent RBI single, and allowed a run on a strikeout.
Flacco doubled to lead off the game and stole third, and Bret Phillips walked. Brian Flacco then singled through the right side for a seeming 1-0 lead. But the umpires convened, ruled that the ball had hit Phillips' heel, and called runner's interference.
Phillips was out, John Flacco was returned to third, and Brian Flacco stayed at first. After a popout, John Flacco was caught in a rundown after the brothers tried a double steal.
In the bottom of the second, a leadoff error and stolen base put Jimmy Kenny on second for West Essex (28-3). Tough-luck loser Wade Gies, who threw a three-hitter and struck out eight, got two consecutive strikeouts. But on the second, the ball got away from catcher Derek Wickersham, and his throw to first bounced off runner Vinnie Consenzo's helmet and into right field as Kenny scored.
After another strikeout, Tim Perrotta hit a double to make it 2-0 before Gies recorded his fourth strikeout of the weird inning.
Audubon cut the deficit to 2-1 in the third on John Flacco's double and Phillips' single, but didn't score again.
"The first couple of innings, that's baseball," Green Wave coach Rich Horan said. "As long as you play the game, you'll see something you haven't seen before. Some days they go against you; some days they go for you. It took a great catch to beat us."
Audubon 001 000 0 - 1 4 2
West Essex 020 000 x - 2 3 0
WP: Dan Gautieri. LP: Wade Gies. 2B: A-John Flacco 2; WE-Mike Rafanello, Tim Perrotta.