"We've got some kids who played a lot for that team last year, and they are riding that experience right now," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said. "That experience is so valuable in high school baseball."
The Hermits (19-9) are 14-4 after a 5-5 start. They won two games in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, including a 10-3 victory over then-No. 1 Washington Township, and they beat Shore Conference teams St. Rose, Red Bank Catholic, and Christian Brothers, all on the road, in the first three rounds of the South A tournament.
"Three long road trips," Bylone said.
St. Augustine got a big lift Friday from junior righthander Chris Oakley, who pitched a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts in an 8-1 win over CBA. The 6-foot-7 Oakley, who has committed to North Carolina, entered the game with a 1-3 record.
"It was a big stage, and he stepped up," Bylone said. "It was a springboard for us and a springboard for him for next year."
Oakley's performance means the Hermits have senior ace Kevin Baxter, who is 9-1 and has allowed six runs in his last eight starts, rested and ready for Tuesday's South Jersey final.
St. Augustine also has gotten great work from veterans of last year's state-title run such as senior third baseman Christian Carmolingo, junior shortstop Christian Adorno, and junior catcher Barry Buchowski.
"Our goal every year is to try to get to the state final," Bylone said. "This team has put itself in position to make that happen again."
Rams roar. Gloucester Catholic (26-4) has won nine in a row to surge back into the top spot in the rankings.
Gloucester Catholic beat then-No. 1 Bishop Eustace, 4-0, in the South A semifinals Friday behind freshman righthander John Murphy, who pitched a four-hitter.
Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth compares Murphy, who has a 6-2 record with a 1.44 ERA, to former star Pat Sperone and injured junior Mike Shawaryn, both of whom were big-game pitchers as freshmen.
"He's like Sperone and Shawaryn in that he wants the ball and thinks he can get anybody out," Barth said. "All three were so mentally strong besides having great arms that you just forget they are freshmen and run them out there in any big game."
Champion Chiefs. Cherokee didn't win the Olympic American or the Diamond Classic, but the Chiefs captured a bigger prize in the South Jersey Group 4 title with a 3-0 victory over Lenape on Friday.
Pitching has been the key to No. 2 Cherokee's run to the sectional title. The Chiefs have gotten great work from senior starters Colin Perro and Jim Rossi, while junior Sean Kelly has been lights-out as a reliever.
"He's embraced the role," Cherokee coach Marc Petragnani said of Kelly's performance out of the bullpen.
Kelly is one of the hardest throwers in South Jersey. Petragnani said his fastball was clocked at 90 m.p.h. during a 4-1 win over Washington Township on April 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"If we need a strikeout, he's the guy most likely to get it," Petragnani said.
Petragnani said Rossi, who is 6-foot-1, will get the start against Central Jersey champion Manalapan in the state semifinals on Tuesday. Perro, who is 6-1, will start the state final if the Chiefs make it that far.
Kelly will work relief in both games, if necessary.
"We won that game Friday night and we were back on the practice field at 9 o'clock Saturday morning," Petragnani said. "These guys feel like they're not done yet."
Fifty-four years in the making. Hammonton won its first South Jersey title since 1958 with a 6-1 win over Ocean City in the Group 3 sectional title game Friday.
Hammonton coach Gary Sarno has high praise for his team's nine seniors, who are led by catcher A.J. Scibilia as well as second baseman Chris Matos and leftfielder Gregg Morano.
But the key for the Blue Devils, who were 9-20 last season, has been the play of sophomore Justin Smith. The lefthander is 10-1 on the mound, with all four tournament wins. He also is 8 for 8 at the plate in the tournament, according to Sarno.
"He has some walks in there, but he hasn't made an out in the tournament," Sarno said. 'He's such a fierce competitor."
Sarno said senior George Read will get the start in Tuesday's state semifinal against Freehold Boro, which won the Central title as a No. 8 seed. If the Blue Devils win that game, Smith will be rested for Saturday's state final.
"These kids have just played great baseball," Sarno said.
Caught in a draft. Area scouts have indicated that no South Jersey high school players are likely to be selected in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, which starts Monday.
Millville pitcher Andrew Biggs (6-3 record), Audubon pitcher Andrew Schorr (9-1 record, two no-hitters), and Pemberton catcher Jose Martinez (.532 average, 27 walks) are possible lower-round picks.
Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck said Biggs, who has signed with Delaware State, worked out for the Yankees May 27 in New York.
"All you need is one team to like you," Hallenbeck said.
Good sportsmen. The New Jersey Baseball Umpires Association (NJBUA) has named Washington Township as the recipient of the organization's 2012 South Jersey Sportsmanship Award.
NJBUA president Dave Borton will present the award to Minutemen coach Bill Alvaro at the South Jersey Baseball Coaches Association's All-South Jersey Baseball banquet on Thursday.
Washington Township went 24-3 and won the Olympic American title.
"These kids played every inning of every game," Alvaro said.
Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports