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Lenape is No. 1, but there's room to argue

The fact that there was not one truly dominant South Jersey baseball team certainly made things difficult in compiling the rankings. The final choice for No. 1 came down to the two teams that played for the South Jersey Group 4 championship - Washington Township and Lenape.

The fact that there was not one truly dominant South Jersey baseball team certainly made things difficult in compiling the rankings. The final choice for No. 1 came down to the two teams that played for the South Jersey Group 4 championship - Washington Township and Lenape.

No. 3 Gloucester Catholic could also make an argument, especially since the Rams beat Washington Township earlier in the season, but they also lost to Millville in the semifinals of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, the tournament that Lenape eventually won.

Washington Township (18-12) was No. 1 last week but lost to Jackson, 8-6, in the state Group 4 semifinal.

Meanwhile Lenape (23-5) hasn't played since ending its season May 28 with a 7-4 loss to Washington Township in the South Jersey Group 4 final. But Lenape will finish as the No. 1 team.

There are many examples in the top 10 in which a team is ranked below another that it beat during the season. The only explanation? It's been one of those crazy years.

Here are the arguments, pro and con, regarding the final two teams and how things were picked. In addition, Gloucester Catholic's case is also laid out.

Lenape's argument: The Indians went 2-2 against Washington Township, splitting with the Minutemen in the regular season and winning a 7-6 Diamond semifinal in nine innings before losing in the sectional final.

The Indians won the Diamond, which consists of the top South Jersey teams and forces schools to show depth in pitching.

Lenape beat Millville, 1-0, in the Diamond final. Millville finished No. 5 in the rankings. Lenape also went 3-0 against No. 7 Eastern, was 1-1 against No. 8 Cherokee, and scored impressive tournament wins over Toms River East and Clearview.

"It's a tough question but I think we warrant the No. 1 ranking," Lenape coach Phil Fiore said. "We basically played the same schedule and we had five losses and they had 12."

Fiore also mentioned that three of his team's five losses were by one run - to Cherry Hill West, Washington Township and Cherokee - which means the Indians were competitive in virtually every game.

Lenape also won the Olympic Conference American Division, the toughest in South Jersey and one that included four final top-10 teams. In addition to Lenape and Washington Township, the American also had Eastern and Cherokee. And unranked Cherry Hill East was no slouch.

Washington Township's argument: The Minutemen won what many would consider the most important game of the year - the South Jersey Group 4 final.

While coaches would say all games are important, given the choice, a team would much rather earn a South Jersey title than a conference or any other championship - other than a state title, of course.

Besides splitting with Lenape, Washington Township went 2-1 against Eastern and 3-0 against Cherokee. Township also beat South Jersey Group 2 finalist Buena and Tri-County Royal champion Williamstown.

"Can I tell you we're better than Lenape?" asked Washington Township coach Bill Alvaro Jr. "We split 2-2 and the other game led, 6-4, in the one they won in extra innings. They won the conference and we won Group 4 and I always say that anybody who wins Group 4 is my pick."

In the end, the fact that the teams played comparable schedules and Lenape won two of three titles, and had seven fewer losses was a major factor in the Indians' favor.

What about the Rams? Gloucester Catholic (24-7) won a state championship and beat a state champion (Pitman), yet the Rams finished No. 3.

Had Gloucester Catholic won that Diamond semifinal over Millville, then the Rams would have been able to play for the championship and make a better case.

Still, the resumé was impressive.

Gloucester Catholic beat Washington Township and Millville en route to winning the Grand Slam Classic in the first week of the season.

The Rams also had Diamond wins over Williamstown and Colonial Patriot champion Haddon Township and beat a good St. Joseph Montvale team in a nonleague game.

Gloucester Catholic competed in Non-Public B, which wasn't considered as strong as Group 4. That's not the Rams' fault but it is something to consider.

"It's hard to pick No. 1 because nobody had a year with one or two losses," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said.

Then he mentioned his own team's resumé.

"We played about every top-10 team, beat Washington Township but didn't play Lenape," he said. "In baseball it goes a lot with who is pitching that day."

Lenape appeared to have more prestige wins than Gloucester Catholic and also won the tournament both were in, which gives the Indians the edge.

Catching a draft. The Major League Baseball first-year player draft is from Monday through Wednesday, and this is not supposed to be a great year in terms of South Jersey high school players.

Last year, Millville's Mike Trout was the 25th player selected in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels.

There might be some South Jersey players picked, but next year's class, headed by Seneca junior righthander Kevin Comer, is considered much stronger.

One player to watch is Pennsauken senior pitcher-centerfielder Rolando Gautier, who missed the first nine games this season with an elbow injury. The injury kept him from pitching all season.

A 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefthander, Gautier says he has recently been cleared to pitch. As a senior, he batted .628 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 18 games. Gautier, who says he recently got over chicken pox, has a scholarship to Austin Peay.

"From what I heard, I do expect to get drafted," he said.

Among teams reportedly showing interest are the Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.

State tourney tidbits. Gloucester Catholic now has a state-best 14 state titles since the advent of NJSIAA state finals in 1971. That is as many as the next two South Jersey teams combined. Bishop Eustace has eight and Audubon has six.

All three schools are from Camden County.

The most impressive loss in a state final? That goes to Audubon, falling 2-1, to West Essex in Saturday's Group 2 title game. West Essex (28-3) is ranked No. 3 in the state by the Newark Star Ledger.

The loss will also be known as the game in which Audubon shortstop John Flacco was robbed of a potential game-tying home run.

With Audubon trailing, 2-1, in the sixth inning, Flacco's blast was caught by Andy Santomauro, who reached over the fence in right-center field.

"That never happened to me before and it had to happen in the state championship," Flacco said on Sunday. "It was a tough break, but our team had a great season."