"He's built for pressure," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said.
The junior collected two hits, scored two runs, and pitched two scoreless innings of relief in leading St. Augustine to a 4-3 victory over previously unbeaten Buena in a Cape-Atlantic League clash of Top 10 teams.
"We needed this game more than anything," Elfreth said of St. Augustine (4-3), the No. 8 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.
It's mid-April - although it felt like June with a big crowd wrapped around Buena's field on an 80-degree afternoon - but St. Augustine was in near-desperation mode after losing three of its last four. The defending Non-Public A state champions held a team meeting before making the short road trip to face the fourth-ranked Chiefs (5-1).
"We needed this win bad," Bylone said. "We've had a problem with intensity. These guys need to realize we've got a bull's eye on our back, now more than ever."
Buena broke to a 3-0 lead, thanks to Anthony Lopez' two-run double in the first. The Chiefs were cruising behind senior righthander Justin Geri, who pitched 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth.
"He deserved a better fate," Buena coach George West said.
St. Augustine trailed by 3-1 and was down to its last strike when Elfreth rapped an infield single to keep alive a rally that junior catcher Barry Buchowski had started with a walk. After an infield error, junior first baseman Jay Higbee tied the score with a two-run single to right.
Elfreth singled with one out and one on in the top of the ninth. After a walk and fielder's choice, Elfreth scored the winning run on senior second baseman Kyle Lindsay's chopper to deep short.
"We found a way," Elfreth said.
Elfreth, who lives in Washington Township, was a junior-varsity player last season. He sat on the bench and watched the Hermits, including his older brother, Rick, capture the first state title in the history of the program.
St. Augustine's starter Tuesday was 6-4 senior Kevin Baxter, who settled down to pitch four scoreless innings after the first. The next pitcher was 6-7 junior Chris Oakley, who worked a scoreless sixth and seventh.
"Coach told me I was coming in after the seventh," Elfreth said. "I wasn't going to let it get away. We needed this game too bad. I would have kept pitching to the 11th, 12th, 13th. I didn't care. I would have pitched until my arm fell off."
Elfreth faced the minimum of six batters. He struck out Buena's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, both looking, in the seventh, then fielded a hard grounder and tossed to first for the final out.
"Mike's just a ballplayer," Bylone said.
Moments earlier, Bylone tossed Elfreth the game ball.
"First varsity win," Bylone said.
The shortest guy on South Jersey's tallest pitching staff rose up just a little bit higher.
St. Augustine 001000201 - 451
Buena 300000000 - 391
WP: Mike Elfreth. LP: Jarred Corniell. 2B: B-Anthony Lopez.
Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, email@example.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports