Junior shortstop Phil Dickinson delivered a two-out, three-run triple and senior first baseman Pat Hiester cracked a two-out, two-run homer as Gloucester Catholic advanced to face Seton Hall Prep in the Non-Public A state final at 2 p.m. Saturday at Toms River East.
Seton Hall (30-2) is No. 3 in the Newark Star-Ledger's state rankings.
Gloucester Catholic (28-5), No. 10 in the state rankings, will seek its fourth consecutive state title and 17th overall.
But one burden of all that tradition is that the Rams are a prime target for every team.
"We have a bull's-eye on our backs," Dickinson said. "We get everybody's best game."
The Rams didn't exactly struggle in their first season under coach Mike Rucci. But they have lost five games, including an 8-1 decision to Washington Township in the first round of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic on May 11 and a 4-2 setback to St. Augustine in an eight-inning game on May 17.
"I challenged them," Rucci said of his players. "We hit a stretch there and I told them, 'There are two ways you can go here. Are you going to handle this the right way, like Gloucester Catholic baseball players?'"
The answer has been emphatic: a seven-game winning streak, including four playoff victories by a combined score of 36-1.
"In the playoffs, we step our game up," Hiester said. "It's the tradition, the history, the crowd. It gets us so fired up."
Dickinson jumped on a 1-0 fastball with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, sending a blast to deep center field that scored all three runners and gave the Rams a 4-0 lead.
"It felt good to my team those three runs," Dickinson said. "We really needed it early in the game, and from there, there was no looking back."
Hiester made it 6-0 in the third, following Anthony Harrold's double with a blast over the left-centerfield fence.
"I ran around the field with the biggest smile on my face," Hiester said. "I think I ran too fast, but I couldn't wait to get to my teammates" waiting at home plate.
The 6-0 lead was more than enough for Murphy, a sophomore righthander who improved to 8-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.61. Using a fastball that touched 89 m.p.h. on a radar gun in the first inning as well as a sharp curve, the unflappable athlete retired 16 of the final 19 batters.
"He was a pitcher, not a thrower," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said.
Dickinson said the Rams were determined to use the big stage of the sectional final to establish that they still represent the premier program in the state.
"This was pretty much a statement game," Dickinson said.
St. Augustine 0000000 - 040
Gloucester Catholic 042001x - 770
WP: John Murphy. LP: Joe Gatto. 2B: SA-Mike Elfreth; GC-Phil Dickinson, Anthony Harrold. HR: GC-Pat Hiester.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.inquirer.com/jerseysidesports