By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WILLIAMSTOWN — St. Augustine Prep coach Mike Bylone guesses there are about a dozen different kinds of stressors when you’re a high school baseball skipper. That’s why most coaches never take their hats off — they don’t want to show off all the hair they’ve lost through the years.
But on Saturday morning during the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week, Bylone and his assistants could have just given the game ball to junior righty John Podgorski, gone down to Geets Diner on the Black Horse Pike, had a nice breakfast and come back two hours later to pack up the gear after a stress-free win.
Podgorski — who’s looking to secure a spot in the Hermits’ rotation along with returning starters Marco Levari and C.J. Furey — may have done just that after Saturday’s performance. He cruised through Williamstown’s lineup, twirling a complete-game 3-hitter with six strikeouts as St. Augustine Prep improved to 3-1 with an 8-2 win over the Braves. The Hermits racked up seven runs in the first two innings on just a couple of hits, and from there Podgorski took over.
He peppered the strike zone and really only ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, when Darrin D’Archangelo and Coy Camiscioli both scored on a two-out infield error. Other than that the Braves (1-2, 0-1 Tri-County Royal) were held in check. Prep won its third straight game following an Opening Day loss against Mainland.
“It’s a different year and we’re still trying to figure it out. We’ve had different lineups every game, depending on our pitching. C.J. is playing outfield this year and Marco is playing first base, and they are our Nos. 1 and 2 (on the mound) this year,” Bylone said. “That was a hell of an effort right there by J.P. Coach (Mike) Ney and I talked about it, and we put a lot of stock in it when a kid says, ‘I want to finish this game.’ Sometimes you look at a kid and they are like, hmm, I don’t know, but when somebody says they want the ball — whether they still have it or not — That goes a long way. And he still had it popping.”
With Podgorski going a full seven innings, that means everyone on Prep’s pitching staff will be available next week as the Hermits square off twice against Hammonton and once against St. Joe. On Thursday, St. Augustine used five pitchers who combined to throw 244 pitches in an 8-7, 11-inning marathon win over Bishop Eustace.
“I knew I had to get out here and eat up some innings considering we went 11 innings on Thursday and used up five pitchers. I felt like I had to get the job done. Last time I was a little tight so I made sure today that I stretched it out a little more and did some long toss, and that helped. And getting a big lead helped, for sure. That takes all the pressure off and makes everything seem easier, like it’s second nature,” Podgorski said. “This was my first start and I was trying to manage my pitch count. I’m sure I’ll do that better as the season goes on. I just wanted to stay around the strike zone because I can trust my fielders. The goal is always for us to come out with the win as a team. That’s our No. 1 goal. We have one goal every year heading into the season, and that’s to win a state championship.”
St. Augustine Prep (3-1, 1-1 Cape-Atlantic League American) took advantage of some wildness by the Williamstown pitching staff, as the Hermits were issued 13 walks and managed to score eight runs despite getting just three hits. Prep jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Joe Erace scored on a wild pitch and Jake Myers walked and eventually came around to score on a fielder’s choice by Manny Aponte.
Podgorski ran into a little bit of trouble in the bottom of the first after a hit batsman and a walk, but wiggled out of the jam by getting a strikeout and groundout. Then, in the bottom of the second, Prep blew the game wide open with a five-run rally that featured five walks, five stolen bases, two wild pitches, an infield RBI single by Levari and a two-run bloop single to right by Gabe Gillespie. That made it 7-0, and from there Podgorski took over.
“That was huge for us. To go 3-1 this week with the schedule that we had is a pretty good week for us and an encouraging sign. (Podgorski) was around the plate all day and was humping it up when he had to. I don’t know how many walks he had, but he wasn’t missing by much on a lot of those pitches,” Bylone said. “There are 12 different kinds of stress when you coach high school baseball, but this was a good win for us, and a good week.”
“This is a good Group 4 team, and they’re probably on the younger side, like us, but this is a confidence builder for me to know that I can come out here against a Group 4 team and have an appearance like this, and show up for my team,” Podgorski said.
There are a whole lot of new faces this year at St. Augustine Prep — Podgorski among them — as the Hermits graduated more than a dozen players from last year’s team that appeared in the state championship game. Bylone said it may take a few weeks to figure out what the identity will be for this year’s team, but said the expectations remain the same.
“We loaded up the schedule again. Part of that is our nonconference, which we always play tough teams, but now our division in the Cape-Atlantic League got tougher with Mainland and Ocean City,” he said. “We knew what kind of year this was going to be for us — we’re very young, and when you put that kind of schedule together you’re hoping you’re playing your best by the end of the year because that’s when it really matters.”
Podgorski echoed those sentiments. “We lost 14 seniors from last year, and a lot of them started, pitched, so there are a lot of new guys who have to step up, and I’m sure we’re all capable of it. We’re showing that we can do that so far this season.”
What’s next: St. Augustine Prep hosts Hammonton on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Williamstown hosts Delsea Regional on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays