Phil Anastasia: Gloucester Catholic heads west.

Playing the best to be the best

Posted: April 17, 2011

Anybody, anytime, anywhere.

That even goes for California powers in Pacific time in the Nevada desert.

"The mentality comes from the coaching staff," Gloucester Catholic senior centerfielder Steve Wilgus said. "They want to play the best teams we can play. To be the best, you have to play the best."

The Rams are the best baseball team in South Jersey. They improved to 6-0 with a 3-2 victory over Malvern Prep on Saturday morning in the first round of the Tom Heinkel Memorial Tournament at Bishop Eustace.

The Rams also might be the best team in New Jersey.

But state lines mean little to coach Dennis Barth and his high-powered team.

This program is so closely aligned with the Brooklawn American Legion program - founded in 1952 by Barth's father, Joe Barth Sr., and still going strong in its 60th year - that it adopts the same hard-eyed approach to the sport.

One, play as many games as possible. Two, play the best competition.

Three, repeat the first two season after season through the decades until it's embedded in the DNA of the program.

"We'll play anybody," Dennis Barth said after his team, which is No. 1 in The Inquirer Top 10, ground out the victory over Malvern Prep on a cold and windy morning on Bishop Eustace's junior-varsity field.

This year, that philosophy will take the Rams to Las Vegas to play in the Bishop Gorman Easter Classic, a 20-team tournament that should feature some of the best high school baseball in the country.

Gloucester Catholic will open Wednesday against Newbury Park of California. With a win, the Rams would play the winner of the Menlo (Calif.)-Cottonwood (Utah) game at a rare hour - 8:15 p.m. Thursday in Las Vegas, which is 11:15 p.m. back home.

Gloucester Catholic is guaranteed four games in the tournament, which includes the nationally ranked host team as well as perennial power Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif.

"As soon as we heard we were going to Vegas, we were excited," said Gloucester Catholic senior Cody Brown, a lefthander who threw a complete game and allowed just one earned run against Malvern Prep.

"You always want to see how you match up against the best teams. We feel like we're one of the best teams around, and this is another chance to prove it."

The Rams will bring 43 players to Las Vegas, including most of the junior-varsity and freshman athletes in the program. The junior varsity will play four games as well.

Wilgus said there's little chance any of the players will engage in misadventures that will recall the classic Las Vegas comedy The Hangover.

"None of us are 21," said Wilgus, a Monmouth recruit who scored the winning run against Malvern Prep after rapping a fifth-inning triple. "We're out there to play baseball. But I can't speak for the coaching staff."

Barth and his coaches are sure to enjoy themselves in Las Vegas. But it's a business trip for them, too.

This team relishes competition. That's why the Rams scrimmaged 15 times in the preseason, and why Barth continues to call coaches from around the state in search of good games.

"Coach says we'll play anybody anytime," Wilgus said. "The tougher the competition, the more you have to raise your game to meet the challenge. We're always looking for those challenges."

Malvern Prep 101 000 0 - 2 5 1

Gloucester Catholic 101 010 x - 3 4 2

WP: Cody Brown. LP: Sean O'Keefe. 3B: GC-Steve Wilgus.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.

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