TOMS RIVER, N.J. - At the start of his senior season, Chris Fehr couldn't imagine himself as the starting pitcher in the state-championship game.
He still couldn't imagine it as recently as two weeks ago.
But Fehr completed a remarkable late-career run on Saturday, leading Audubon to an 8-6 victory over Waldwick in the Group 1 state final at Toms River East.
Fehr, a senior lefthander, earned his third consecutive tournament victory by pitching into the seventh inning, and Audubon withstood a late Waldwick rally to capture the program's seventh state title. Only Gloucester Catholic (15) and Bishop Eustace (eight) have won more state crowns.
"Watching what he did, it's what keeps you coaching," Audubon coach Rich Horan said of Fehr. "It just goes to show what can happen when you keep working, and when you are ready to step up when it's your chance to step up."
Senior shortstop Brian Flacco delivered a two-run single and junior catcher Derek "Boomer" Wickersham was 2 for 2 and reached base four times for Audubon (23-5).
Sophomore second baseman Justin Jannetti added three RBIs, and senior first baseman Keith Michalski and sophomore rightfielder Zach Welsher each had two hits and an RBI for the Green Wave.
"The run support was big," Fehr said. "It made my job a lot easier. All I had to do was throw strikes and stay ahead."
Audubon took a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Welsher led off with a single, Fehr walked, and Shane Furlong dropped a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line for a single to load the bases.
Flacco rapped a single to right field to drive home the game's first two runs.
"It was a fastball, and I just wanted to get a good swing on it," Flacco said.
Jannetti drove in another run with a sacrifice fly and Michalski added an RBI single.
"Getting those runs early was important," said Horan, who won his sixth state title. "It takes the pressure off."
The Green Wave added three runs for a 7-0 lead in the third as Welsher delivered an RBI single and Jannetti chopped a two-out, two-run single through the left side.
Fehr (7-0) was the winning pitcher in the South Jersey final against Pennsville after throwing 71/3 innings of relief. He was the winner in the state semifinals against Florence after 12/3 innings of relief.
But the state-title game was different. Fehr took the mound as the starter in the biggest game of the season.
"I never thought I would be the starter in this game," Fehr said. "I thought maybe I would relieve."
Fehr was comfortable on the mound. He used a fastball and curve to hold Waldwick (23-7) to one unearned run through six innings. He allowed eight singles, struck out six, and walked two.
"You couldn't ask for more than he did," Wickersham said.
After an error and a fly ball that dropped between two outfielders for a single, Fehr was replaced by junior lefthander Kevin Kraemer.
"I wished I could have finished it," Fehr said.
Waldwick capitalized on two more Audubon errors and used a three-run double by James Dertouzos to close to within 8-6 before Kraemer got the final out on a fly ball to Welsher.
"We remembered being here last year and losing" 2-1 to West Essex in the Group 2 state final, Flacco said. "The first thing we said this year was 'Let's get back there and win it.' "
Waldwick 0000105 - 6100
Audubon 043001x - 8104
WP: Chris Fehr. LP: Kevin Nitsche. 2B: W-James Dertouzos.