It was a tough road for St. John the Baptist.
The Cougars began the season with a young, mostly untested crew. To advance to the CHSAA finals, they had to earn two wins over St. Dominic, which swept them in a three-game series during the regular season. Finally, they had to knock off top-seeded Chaminade to take the crown in a best-of-three series at Farmingdale State.
No. 3 St. John the Baptist did all that, beating the Flyers, 4-1, in a deciding Game 2 Monday to win its second straight title. But as hard as it was, it paled compared with what designated hitter Dylan Boyle had to do.
A day after his grandmother, Marianne Cummings, died of colon cancer, he picked up his bat and walked to the plate, batting second in the bottom of the first. What happened then, he said, "was for my grandmother."
Boyle, who found out about his grandmother's passing after the Cougars' Game 1 win on Sunday, blasted an RBI triple to rightfield and later scored to give St. John the Baptist a 2-0 lead.
"He wanted to be there for his teammates," coach John Habyan said. "If you play ball long enough, there's bound to be a situation [like that]. But for the most part, grandmothers, mothers, brothers, sisters, they want you to play. You think about them and you have a heavy heart and you do it."
St. John (18-6) won behind an impressive all-around performance by Patrick Lagravinese.
Lagravinese's two-run double in the second made it 4-0. He shined with the glove at shortstop, making a skidding, backhanded grab in the hole to get the first out of the sixth inning. Then he came in to pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth and got a strikeout swinging on a 2-and-2 fastball.
"He's my closer and he has three different ways" to beat you, with his bat, glove and pitching, Habyan said. "And that's what he usually does."
Lagravinese came in to pitch after three straight walks. "I just wanted to throw it through the strike zone," he said. "I was really amped. I like coming in in situations like that . . . I didn't let anyone down and I was pumped."
Chaminade (16-4) threatened repeatedly but stranded 12 runners, unable to cash in on nine walks. Cougars starter Frank DeMaio was the source of most of that frustration: He stranded eight in his four innings, including two on third with one out.
"I pitch better when there's guys on base," he said.
Added Habyan: "He's a heart-and-soul guy. You think you've got him on the ropes, but he digs down and he gets out of it. The train never completely comes off the tracks."
DeMaio, who got the win, is one of only three seniors on the team -- something that added to the underdog persona, Lagravinese said.
"Everyone thinks we're not going to be on top,'' he said, "and that makes everyone work harder and practice longer."
The result is a team that matured at the right time.
"They didn't even get hot," Habyan said. "They got better. You look back at the last three weeks, we're only giving up one or two runs, we're playing good defense, we're getting hits. That's not a hot team . . . They evolved."
St. John is the first team since Holy Trinity in 1997-98 to win back-to-back Catholic league titles. The last time the Cougars did it was in 1981-82, and both of their present coaches, Habyan and assistant Ralph Dalton, were on that team.
Chaminade's Luke Zeccola was named CHSAA player of the year. St. John the Baptist's Noah Lorenzo, the winning pitcher in Game 1, took home tournament MVP honors.