Heads held high

Despite falling short of a third straight state title on Thursday, Gloucester Catholic baseball’s band of brothers remains as tight as ever.

Last Thursday’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group B state final did not go the way Gloucester Catholic baseball imagined it would.

Gloucester Catholic huddles prior to taking infield practice at Thursday’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group B State Championship.

The two-time defending state champion Rams walked onto Bob DeMeo Field at Veterans Park in Hamilton poised to win a third straight state title against St. Mary’s of Rutherford, a school that hadn’t won a state title in more than 20 years. However, few things went the Rams way. A couple fielding mistakes, some baserunning errors and a few strikeouts in critical situations proved costly as Gloucester Catholic’s reign atop Group B came to an end in a 4-3 loss.

As St. Mary’s celebrated with the championship trophy out in right field, the Rams huddled together one final time in left field, the final meeting for a senior core that added three sectional titles and a pair of state championships to the storied program’s trophy case over the past four years.

Despite the result, frustrations were kept to a minimum after the game. There was no yelling, no finger pointing and no excuses made. After the huddle broke up, there was instead a lot of love with players hugging each other. The Rams weren’t going to let one loss define their season.

“It definitely stings, but we’ve really come together as brothers the past four years,” senior Lillo Paxia said. “Win or lose, nothing is going to separate us. We’re always going to talk to each other.”

It’s one thing for teams to stick together when they are winning and things are going well. But head coach Adam Tussey talked of how proud he was of how his team has stuck together even through the team’s six losses over the course of 2019. Thursday’s defeat was easily the toughest of them all.

“We’re big on respecting the game and respecting your opponents,” Tussey said. “We always say we want to win with class and we want to lose with class. Our guys, we lost with some class today. We didn’t point the finger. No arguing or anything like that was going on. It was a ‘I got your back as a brother’ kind of scenario right there.”

Tyler Cannon watch as his throw soars toward first base.
Luke Lesch is greeted by his teammates as he steps on home plate after hitting a home run.

Gloucester Catholic’s 2019 senior class had nothing to be ashamed of. The strong senior core helped increase Gloucester Catholic’s state title quota to 19. The team featured a powerful lineup with Paxia finishing the season with a .508 batting average, senior Tyler Cannon mashing a team-high five home runs and senior Luke Lesch tallying 12 extra base hits, including his first home run of the season in Thursday’s state final.

However, Tussey doesn’t feel statistics or Thursday’s performance are what define the Gloucester Catholic senior class. He believes they are defined by something numbers can’t measure.

“Their character defines them,” Tussey said. “Their work ethic. These guys are all going to bounce back. I have a feeling guys are going to want to try to practice tomorrow or do something tomorrow because they love the game, they love working hard, they love playing hard for each other.”

There was no denying the pain in Paxia and the rest of the Rams’ eyes after falling short of a third straight championship. But as he watched his teammates walk back to the dugout and receive a huge round of applause from the many parents and fans in attendance, Paxia talked of how sometimes, there are bigger things in baseball than wins and losses.

“We’re all competitors, we want to win,” Paxia said. “But it’s our last game together. You have to look at the bigger picture sometimes. (Losing) is going to happen. We can’t always be in the light. We won two years out of the four. We’ve done a lot together. It’s all right. The game, it’s hard sometimes. But we all love each other. It’s no big deal to us. It’s OK.”