By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

RICHLAND — Austin Sofran, a senior catcher at St. Augustine Prep, had a little extra motivation on Friday afternoon when his Hermits hosted Kingsway at Levari Field. Not that anybody needed any extra motivation for a matchup of the top two teams in South Jersey and two of the best in the state, but had Sofran chosen to go to public school, the Swedesboro native would right now be wearing the black-and-red of the Dragons.

Sofran — the No. 9 hitter in St. Augustine Prep’s loaded lineup — went 3-for-3 and knocked in three runs to help the Hermits shrug off a slow start and ultimately pound out 14 hits en route to a convincing 13-4 win over the Dragons. Prep came in ranked No. 1 in South Jersey and No. 2 in the state, according to nj.com, while Kingsway was No. 2 in South Jersey and No. 5 in the state.

Prep’s Marco Levari had a shaky start, allowing two runs in the top of the first and four overall in his four innings of work, but he did enough to keep his team close until the bats woke up. That happened in the fourth inning. After scoring single runs in the first three innings, the Hermits (8-0, 2-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) rallied for three in the bottom of the fourth to erase a 4-3 deficit and take a 6-4 lead. They then added four in the fifth and three more in the sixth to blow the game wide open.

St. Augustine Prep’s Kyle Neri (right) congratulates Josiah Ragsdale after Ragsdale scores late in the Hermits’ 13-4 win over Kingsway. (Glory Days photo/Sully)

“I was definitely feeling it today,” Sofran said. “I was watching the ball in as much as I could. I’ve been out front a lot lately, so I was tracking the ball and feeling the barrel just going out. Kingsway is my hometown so I felt like I really had to show up this game. I haven’t been doing my best, but I’ve been trying to find some barrels. Being down in the No. 9 hole, I like it. I like being able to flip the lineup over. We’re strong, Nos. 1-9, so I’m just trying to do my job, flip the lineup, get some runs scored.”

Things didn’t look so good early for the Hermits as Kingsway leadoff man Gavin McCaffrey singled, reached second on an error, took third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch. Later in the inning Nate Maiers added a sacrifice fly to give the Dragons (8-1, 3-0 Tri-County Royal) a 2-0 lead. Kingsway took a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI groundout by Evan Mangifesta, but the Hermits rallied to take the lead for good in the bottom of the inning.

Sofran started the rally with a 1-out single and Ryan Taylor followed with a single. Jake Ruchser, running for Sofran, and Taylor both scored ahead of Josiah Ragsdale’s triple to right. That gave St. Augustine Prep a 5-4 lead, and Ragsdale trotted home on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Weingartner. In the bottom of the fifth, Prep center fielder Mason Dorsey (3-for-3, two RBIs) laced an RBI triple to push the lead to 7-4, and a few batters later Sofran ripped a two-run single to left to make it 9-4.

“We started off a little slowly. They scored two in the first, which is a little shocking with Marco on the mound, but we answered back and got one run each inning in the first three innings,” Sofran said. “It was a little bit of a slow start and even when we were tacking some runs on, they were talking the talk but we did our job, stayed within ourselves and scored some runs.”

Andrew Gaines fanned six and didn’t allow a hit in three innings of relief work for the Hermits. (Glory Days photo/Sully)

A five-run lead was plenty for Andrew Gaines, who didn’t allow a hit while striking out six in three innings of work after relieving Levari.

Levari allowed four runs, but only two of them were earned, and he allowed six hits, all of them singles.

“I just tried to throw strikes and let my defense make the plays, and really just trust my defense. Obviously, we made too many errors, and one of them was by me, but we’ll get through it. I felt pretty good. They are a pretty good hitting team and I thew a lot of first-pitch fastballs and they hit most of them,” Levari said. “I don’t think I should have let up that many runs, but they are a good hitting team. I didn’t pitch my best today. I just have to mix it up on the first pitch, I can’t go with too many first-pitch fastballs. I just have to mix in more pitches.”

“He’s definitely strong-minded and has a lot of confidence,” Sofran said of Levari. “He wants to win, so he’s going to do what he can. Our defense made a few errors here and there, but I think Marco had some strong stuff today. It could have been a little bit better with the defense, but he did what he was supposed to do.”

Dating back to last year, St. Augustine Prep has now won 11 of its last 12 games, the lone loss coming in last year’s Non-Public A state title game to St. Joseph-Montvale. The Hermits say they are poised to get back to that championship game again this year.

“This gives us a lot of confidence. They are a really good team. They came in No. 2 in South Jersey and we’re No. 1. I feel like we can beat anyone,” Levari said.  

Added Sofran, “we’re definitely coming together as a team. Last year, we were as tight as could be and I think now we’re starting to get going. We have a strong lineup and a strong defense. We’re trying to get back to that state championship game. This gives us more of a boost going into next week’s games. We have some conference games coming up and EHT in the distance, so we’re just doing our thing and trying to win games.”

What’s next: St. Augustine Prep hosts ACIT on Monday at 4 p.m. Kingsway travels to Williamstown on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; On Twitter @GDsullysays