By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Wildwood Catholic High School baseball program had won exactly two state playoff games in its history coming into this season.
On Tuesday, Ben Church did a lot to help the Crusaders increase that number by one.
Church struck out 13 batters in a complete-game effort on the mound and also went 4 for 4 with a double and four RBI at the plate as 12th-seeded Wildwood Catholic upset No. 5 Mater Dei, 7-1, in a first-round South Jersey Non-Public B game.
“It feels good to be a part of it, especially since not many other (baseball) teams at our school have won a playoff game,” Church said. “Hopefully, this will carry some momentum for us as we go into the next round.”
Wildwood Catholic (7-10) will travel to No. 4 Holy Spirit in the next round, either Thursday or Friday. Holy Spirit was a 10-0 winner over Wardlaw-Hartridge in its tournament opener Tuesday.
Wildwood Catholic lost twice to Holy Spirit in league play earlier this season.
Church allowed Mater Dei its only run and only lead in the second inning, but the Crusaders took the lead for good with three runs in the top of the third. They then added single runs in the fourth and fifth before plating two more in the sixth.
Church hit an an RBI double, two-run single and RBI single to account for his four RBI. Teammate Justin Klemick went 2 for 4 with a two-run triple and RBI single. Klemick and Giacomo Antonicello each scored two runs.
Church needed 104 pitches to go the distance on the mound. He walked just one and scattered five hits.
“That’s arguably one of my better games, especially hitting and pitching combined,” Church said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Wildwood Catholic’s only other state playoff victories came against St. Joseph in 2010 and Holy Spirit in 2004. Current Crusader coach Jimmy Norris was a player on the 2010 Wildwood Catholic team.