By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — It’s been a frustrating spring for the St. Augustine Prep baseball team. Coming off a loss in the Non-Public A state championship game last year, the Hermits were looking to come roaring out of the gates in 2022, but rough weather meant the Hermits only got six games in during the first 20 games of April.
They took out that frustration on the Holy Spirit pitching staff on Thursday afternoon.
Senior shortstop Ryan Weingartner went 3-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and four RBIs to lead Prep to a convincing 11-2 win over the Spartans. St. Augustine remained undefeated at 7-0 ahead of a huge matchup against Kingsway today at 4 p.m. in Richland.
Weingartner’s 2-run homer came on the first pitch he saw in the fourth inning and gave the Hermits a commanding 8-0 lead. It was the third dinger of the season for Weingartner, who had just one all of last season. But he’s added 15 pounds to his now 5-foot-11 frame thanks to offseason work at ATS Fitness in his hometown of Berlin, Camden County.
“It was a first-pitch fastball, he left it over the plate. I’m obviously just trying to hit a line drive to get the inning started, and that ball happened to get out,” he said. “That was my third this year. Last year I only hit one. This offseason I put on some weight and really got after it in the weight room. I still pride myself on getting on base and not striking out as much, which I think I’ve worked on a lot this year. Anything to help the team win. Obviously, home runs are great, but I’m just trying to get on base.
“I started the offseason at 160 pounds and now I’m up to 175, so I really got after it with my strength trainer, C.J., from ATS in Berlin,” Weingartner added. “I’ve never really been the biggest guy, so the power comes from working out and getting after it every single day. Freshman year I was like 5-foot-4. I was a little guy.”
“He did get bigger. I always put a lot of stock in senior leadership, and we have a lot of them this year. He came up as a freshman and we DH’d for him. But he’s a captain now, he and Kyle, they are Nos. 3 and 4 in our lineup. Maturity is a big thing. Even Kyle (Neri) came up as a freshman and we’ve faced some pretty good pitchers over the last couple years. It’s just familiarity and knowing what we expect. That’s what I see out of them,” said Hermits coach Mike Bylone. “Even guys like Josiah (Ragsdale) and Ryan Taylor, last year was their first year but we played in big games with them. That’s why we schedule the big non-conference games, to get them ready. It’s just confidence. This is an older group. There’s not much I need to say to motivate them, they’re all seniors. It’s a senior-laden team and they want to go out with that ring this year.”
St. Augustine Prep (7-0, 2-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) scored three runs in the top of the first thanks to RBI singles by Mason Dorsey and Cole Frye, and that was plenty for starting pitcher C.J. Furey, who struck out five and allowed six hits and two runs in four innings. His fastball topped out at 88 miles-per-hour and he mixed in some solid breaking pitches as well.
“I thought he was good, with the exception of that one inning with a couple walks. They have a couple guys who can really stroke the ball,” Bylone said. “He’s battled, he pitched well against (Gloucester Catholic) and pitched well here. He’s only a junior. He pitched a little last year, but we have to battle-test him. He was keeping the ball down and that was the most important thing, especially on this field.”
Prep tacked on two runs in the top of the third to build on that early lead. Kyle Neri got things started with a booming double to left, Marco Levari walked and Frye was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Neri then scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-0 and Levari followed suit, pushing the lead to 6-0.
Matt Kouser pitched two innings in relief of Furey, striking out three and allowing just one hit, and Bruce Wadiak finished things up by twirling a scoreless seventh. Holy Spirit (6-4, 3-1 CAL National) was led by senior third baseman Ryan Spina, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Dorsey had two hits and two RBIs for St. Augustine.
“We’re lucky to have such great guys in our lineup and I think we are the deepest lineup in South Jersey — and maybe all of New Jersey. I think we really put the ball in play, and we’re fast. We’re really athletic, we steal bags, and when guys get into scoring position we hit them in,” Weingartner said. “We’re a veteran team so we’re doing a good job in the (days between) games to stay focused in practice and take it seriously because we know when we get on the field we’re trying to win every single game.”
The Hermits host Kingsway today and that won’t be an easy task. The Dragons are the best team in the Tri-County Conference, sporting an 8-0 record with wins over stalwarts such as Williamstown, Gloucester Catholic, Clearview, Bishop Eustace and Delsea.
“I’m just glad to be playing back-to-back rather than just one game a week with the weather we’ve been having,” Bylone said. “We have to enjoy this one and come back (Friday). That’s a huge game for us. I told them before the game, ‘tomorrow doesn’t matter, today is the most important day.’”
Added Weingartner, “we’re not overlooking anyone. Today was a big game for the Diamond (Classic), like coach said, so we just wanted to take care of business. We’re looking forward (to today) against a good team. We’ll get out there in Richland, at home, good crowd. We’re ready.”
What’s next: St. Augustine Prep hosts Kingsway, today, 4 p.m. Holy Spirit plays Red Bank Catholic in North Brunswick on Saturday at 4 p.m. as part of the Autism Awareness Challenge.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays