If you didn't know any better, if you watched from a distance, you might have shrugged your shoulders when Gloucester Catholic beat Don Bosco Prep in the Non-Public A state baseball final.

"Ho, hum," you might have thought after that 4-1 victory at Toms River North. "Gloucester Catholic wins again."

After all, that made 16 state titles for Gloucester Catholic - at least twice as many as any other program in New Jersey. That made nine state titles under veteran coach Dennis Barth, including three in a row and seven since 1999.

But there was nothing typical about this season, nothing pedestrian about the Rams' drive to the state championship, and nothing routine about the way Barth led his team to its familiar perch at the top of the mountain.

"We believe we practice as much as any team in the country," Gloucester Catholic senior Pat Kane said. "But all we have to do is show up and practice. He [Barth] works so much harder than us, planning, setting up practice, scouting.

"He'll do anything to help us. Anything."

Gloucester Catholic has great players, including five seniors who have signed with Division I colleges, a precocious freshman pitcher in state-final sensation John Murphy, and a bunch of other hard-ballers who love the game and play it the right way.

Yes, that talent goes a long way. And Barth, as usual, was the first person to credit his players after the Rams completed the drive for a "three-peat" with an imposing victory over a Don Bosco team that entered the state final with a 22-game winning streak and the No. 10 national ranking according to USA Today.

"These guys did the work," said Barth, who is The Inquirer's South Jersey Coach of the Year for baseball.

But here's the thing: This wasn't one of those years when the Rams rolled over the competition en route to the state championship. This year was different. This year was tricky. This year was difficult.

This might have been Barth's best coaching job, considering the Rams' injuries, their midseason struggles, and their emphatic finish. This season revealed the coach's unique ability to get the best out of his players.

The Rams lost two of their top players, senior infielder Joe Brooks and junior pitcher Mike Shawaryn, for most of the season because of injuries. They also lost their edge, laboring through a sluggish stretch that hit bottom in a 4-0 loss to Millville in the first round of the Diamond Classic.

"When you win this and you win that, you start to think you deserve it," Kane said. "We needed a reality check."

First, Barth got angry. He demanded that his players put their hats and uniforms in a box before leaving Maple Shade after the Millville loss, "so nobody knows where you're from."

Said senior first baseman John Brue: "It's the most mad I've ever seen him."

Next, Barth got creative. He made up three posters and hung them in the dugout at the Rams' home field in Brooklawn. The posters showed the seniors the progression of their careers in newspaper clippings - from state champs as sophomores, to nationally ranked state champs as juniors, to a team that appeared to be in decline as seniors.

"He asked us, 'How do you want to be remembered?' " senior third baseman Brett Tenuto said.

The Rams never lost again. They played their best baseball in the biggest games, beating tournament foes Holy Spirit, Holy Cross, Bishop Eustace, St. Augustine Prep, and Don Bosco in increasingly impression fashion.

From the outside, it probably looked like another typical June afternoon in Toms River for Gloucester Catholic: another vanquished North Jersey opponent, another state title, another dog pile of celebrating players on the infield grass.

But this one was different.

This one was special.

"He's the most dedicated coach there is," Kane said. "It's like, you know how much he cares and you never want to let him down."