Ace Jack Leiter was out of gas and out of pitches and the Delbarton lineup had been limited to just one hit through seven innings by St. Augustine pitching. The Green Wave needed a hero and quick.
North Carolina-bound Shawn Rapp stepped up on the mound and at the plate to deliver a 4-3 victory to Delbarton in the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship at Veteran’s Park’s Bob DeMeo Field last night in Hamilton.
Rapp blooped a single into right field to score Kyle Vinci with one out in the top of the eighth inning, then locked down Delbarton’s fourth state championship with a scoreless bottom of the eighth inning, setting off a jubilant celebration on the mound. Vinci had triggered the rally with a leadoff double off the wall in left-center field.
“I knew we’d come out on top,” said Rapp. “We’ve worked so hard. We have grit. Not many teams have the level of grit we have.”
Leiter (8-0), minus the stuff that enthralled MLB scouts and ensured him a scholarship to Vanderbilt, still limited St. Augustine to three runs, two of which were unearned, on four hits, struck out six and walked four in a gritty, determined effort.
Leiter had pitched a two-hitter a year ago and allowed just one run, which was unearned, when St. Augustine stuck a tough 1-0 loss on Delbarton in the Non-Public A final.
“We had a chip on our shoulder all year over the fact that we come up short in big games last year, like here and our county tournament,” said Leiter. “But we proved to ourselves we could win big games this year. We won the county, the conference and this one.”
Leiter, however, lost control of the Green Wave’s fate when he faced his last batter in seventh. He he got No. 9 hitter Kyle Neri to bounce out to his buddy Anthony Volpe at shortstop leading off the bottom of the seventh of a 3-3 game. It was an appropriate ending to the righthander’s high school career considering he and Volpe had been drafted by the Yankees this week, Volpe in the first round on Monday and Leiter in the 20th round on Tuesday. Leiter was considered a first round pick, too, but slipped in the draft because he had made it clear he intended to attend Vanderbilt. Volpe had also committed to Vanderbilt but is expected to sign soon with the Yankees.
Rapp, Leiter, Volpe, Vinci and the rest of the Green Wave had to overcome an equally gritty effort by St. Augustine righty Jayson Hoopes (6-0) who permitted just one hit over six innings, struck out seven, walked five and hit two batters. But Hoopes was through after allowing the tying run in the sixth and driving up his pitch count to within three pitches of the NJSIAA limit of 110.
It didn’t start well for Hoopes, a senior bound for Virginia who was also selected Tuesday in the MLB draft. The Chicago Cubs grabbed Hoopes in the 36th round. St. Augustine was seeking its second straight Non-Public A title and its third state championship overall.
Hoopes began the game by walking Delbarton’s leadoff hitter Mark Darakjy. That brought the dangerous Volpe to the plate and the 30th overall draft pick worked the count full. Hoopes seventh pitch of the at bat was a fastball that Volpe took a liking to and he deposited it beyond the left field wall for a two-run home run.
“It is ridiculous how Anthony rises to the moment time and time again,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel. “It’s not metrics. It’s the fabric of his game. He is remarkable.”
For Volpe, it is just baseball.
“Hoopes is a great pitcher,” said Volpe. “I wasn’t looking for a fastball, I was just reacting.”
Hoopes then walked No. 3 hitter Aidan Kane but he was lights out from there, holding Delbarton hitless over the next 18 outs while the Hermits climbed back into the game.
St. Augustine (24-5) manufactured its first run in the third inning when Leiter hit Cole Vanderslice with the first pitch of the inning. Vanderslice shut out Delbarton (26-3) in the final a year ago but was limited to 17 innings this season due to a shoulder ailment. Neri bunted Vanderslice to second and the latter stole third with leadoff batter Kevin Foreman at the plate. Vanderslice then raced home on a passed ball that was also ball four to Foreman.
The Hermits struck for two runs in the fourth inning to take a 3-2 lead as they patiently forced the struggling Leiter to throw a grueling 38 pitches, lifting his pitch count to a dangerous 81.
Cleanup hitter Rob Ready ignited the rally with a double to right-center before Leiter issued consecutive walks to Hoopes and Jack Peacock to load the bases with no outs. Brian Furey then hit a bouncer to the right side and first baseman Vinci fired home. But the throw pulled catcher Willie Schwarick off the base as Ready scored the tying run.
Vanderslice then put together an epic at bat that, had St. Augustine held on, would have been discussed in Richland for decades. Vanderslice saw nine pitches from Leiter, fouling off five of them, before drawing a bases loaded walk that gave St. Augustine a 3-2 lead.
But Leiter got the next two batters and, in fact, retired 9 of the last 10 batters he faced, amazingly getting himself to the seventh with one batter left on his pitch count. He, importantly, struck out Vanderslice, the No. 8 hitter, for the final out of the sixth on his 109th pitch. That gave him one more batter with Rapp heating up in the bullpen.
“Hoopes is a great pitcher and he has a long stride,” said Leiter. “We were both working from the left side of the rubber. After throwing those 81 pitches, I moved to the right side of the rubber.” That adjustment very well may have save Delbarton’s fate, as did the irrepressible Rapp.
Hoopes got the first two batters in the Delbarton sixth and the Green Wave appeared dead in the water. But Vinci drew a four-pitch walk and Leiter put forth a remarkably at bat of his own, drawing a walk, too, on Hoopes’ eighth pitch to him. Rapp fell into an 0-2 hole but Hoopes, his command fading, hit him with the next pitch to load the bases.
That brought up Schwarick, the No. 7 hitter, who hit a bouncer to shortstop that was booted as Vinci stormed home with the tying run.
Jason Strollo batted for Leiter in the eighth after Vinci’s leadoff double and dropped down a perfect sac bunt to move Vinci to third. Rapp stepped in and proceeded to write his name prominently in the Delbarton athletic history books. Rapp got a fastball on a 1-2 pitch from righty reliever Kenny Levari and blooped it into right field for a single that scored Vince for a 4-3 lead.
“It was inside and at my eyes,” said Rapp. “I was sitting away, away, away. But it was a fight-off swing. I’ve been waiting for one of those bloopers all year.”
Rapp had an eventful seventh in relief of Leiter, walking Foreman and allowing a single to Anthony Sofran. But Foreman had been erased before the single on a 1-3-6 caught stealing. Rapp then struck out Levari on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning. His eighth inning would be much more impressive.
Ready led off the bottom of the eighth and hit a slow bouncer to the left side. Volpe had to charge in and to his right, turn and fire to first to get the first out. It was vintage Volpe, making a play no high school shortstop had the right to make.
“I didn’t think about it,” said Volpe of the difficult play. “I just made a play, reacted.” And so did the Delbarton fans.
Rapp struck out Hoopes for the second out before walking Peacock on a 3-2 pitch that looked mighty good. Then, on a 2-2 pitch to Brian Furey, Rapp through a curveball up in the zone that was good for a swinging strike three and all the Non-Public A marbles.
Shatel has been through so many big games in his coaching career, be it his baseball team or the amazing ice hockey program he has developed at the Morris Township-based school. But veteran coach sounds like a fan when discussing his boys.
“Shawn was coming off a tough outing against Seton Hall (a 7-5 win in the sectional semifinals),” said Shatel. “But he’s a competitor and we believe in him. I can’t say enough about his performance in that moment tonight.”
Leiter was tough on himself after his shaky performance. “You should be talking to Rapp, he’s the one with the big hit,” said Leiter. But Leiter did set up Rapp nicely with a short end-game.
“Jack reeled it in,” said Shatel. “He’s pitched a lot for us down the stretch. He’s the guy we want on the bump and he got us deep into this game. We have the best pitcher and position player in New Jersey and they rise to the occasion. They perform in big moments and they put their mark on this game, as usual.”
Delbarton had won Non-Public A championships in 1996, 2002 and ‘17 and lost in the 2009 final. St. Augustine won Non-Public A crowns in 2011 and ’18. The Hermits were also runners-up in Non-Public A in 2016 and ’17 and in 1994 in Parochial B.