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Comer, Seneca win state Group 3 championship

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Joe Banes was supposed to bunt.

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Joe Banes was supposed to bunt.

He hit a three-run homer instead.

"I missed the sign," Banes said after leading Seneca to a 12-3 victory over Paramus on Saturday in the Group 3 state championship game.

Kevin Comer pitched six strong innings to earn his fifth tournament victory, and Ryan Williams rapped three hits as the Golden Eagles won their second state title in front of a large crowd at Toms River East.

"This is what we've been waiting for," Comer said. "We've been working all year for this."

Comer allowed three runs on five hits. The righthander, who was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 57th pick in last week's major-league draft, struck out six and walked none.

The Golden Eagles backed their ace with a 14-hit attack that included a home run by Cameron Bahr and doubles by Banes and Williams.

The heavy hitting was typical for Seneca in the late stages of the state tournament: The Golden Eagles scored 52 runs in their final four games.

"It think it really hit home when the tournament started that this was our last year," said Williams, who also played a strong defensive game at shortstop. "It was like, 'This is it? Why not give it our all?' "

Paramus (25-5) played its final game under coach Joe Cervino, who is retiring after 30 seasons with more than 500 career victories.

Paramus took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Brian Criscone hit an opposite-field home run off Comer.

"That team can hit," Comer said. "They can swing the bats."

Seneca answered with five runs in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of two walks and a hit batter and getting a two-out, two-run single from No. 9 hitter Cory Smith.

"We knew we would hit," said Williams, who led off the inning with a double.

Comer struggled a bit with command of his curveball early in the game. But the hard-throwing righthander - who got the victory in every tournament win except the 24-14 triumph over Moorestown in the sectional final - allowed just three hits over the final five innings.

Two of those three hits were infield singles, both of which led to runs.

"Kevin was great as usual," Seneca catcher Mark Steen said. "He pitched a gem."

Seneca's Ty Lyons closed the game in style, using hard sliders to strike out the side in the seventh and pop the cork on a wild celebration.

"That was perfect," Comer said of Lyons' relief pitching.

Seneca had lost five of seven before the tournament, but the Golden Eagles won six postseason games by a combined score of 60-21 with a combination of timely hitting, strong pitching, and clutch fielding.

The Golden Eagles also enjoyed some serendipity.

"In baseball, you have to play defense, hit, pitch, and have a little bit of luck," Seneca coach Sean Cassel said.

Something was working for the Golden Eagles in the third, when Banes mistook a sign from third-base coach Dave Lafferty.

Banes thought the sign was to hit away. Lafferty was signaling for a bunt.

Next pitch: Three-run homer over the right-field wall.

"Coach told me in the dugout, 'That's OK,' " said Banes, who finished with four RBIs.

Williams said the rest of the seniors on the Seneca roster weren't surprised that Banes missed the sign, or that he hit a home run.

"That's Joe Banes," Williams said.

In the state tournament, that was Seneca, too.

Paramus    100 110 0 - 3 5 2

Seneca    504 102 x - 12 14 1

WP: Kevin Comer. LP: Joe Szorentini.

2B: P-Nick Henriquez, Brian Criscone. S-Ryan Williams, Joe Banes.

HR: P-Brian Criscone. S-Joe Banes, Cameron Bahr.