By Kyle Kondor
The Bordentown Post 26 baseball team is ready to defend its title this year.
The Mercer County American Legion League defending champions are in the midst of their 2014 campaign, hoping to take home their fifth league title in eight years.
Before Bordentown’s winning streak, Hamilton Post 31 had—for 11 consecutive seasons from 1996-2006—been the only MCALL team to hoist the league title; year and year out, Rick Freeman’s Post 31 team was the clear cut favorite to win the league.
The tides have since changed, and Post 26 manager Tom Dolan, now entering his 16th season as manger of the team, finally knows the feeling of coaching the team that’s favored to win the MCALL.
“It’s never good to be the favorite,” Dolan said. “We’re just going to have to focus every day and know that everyone’s probably going to come with their best against us.”
Last season, Bordentown finished 27-6 overall, with a 21-2 record against MCALL opponents.
Despite the loss of pitcher Dan Hornyak and slugger Mike Kendall, who have exceeded the league’s age limit, most of Post 26’s key players have returned this season.
Bordentown fields a team with several players from high schools all over the state, including Bordentown Regional High School, Northern Burlington, Burlington Township and Rancocas Valley, among other strong baseball schools.
The team has a handful of players on its roster who have made commitments to play at the college level, and therefore those individuals who pitch have had to limit the amount of innings that they’ve thrown this summer.
“That could be a problem,” Dolan said. “The guys who are limited are just staying loose by throwing bullpen sessions and throwing long toss when they’re not pitching.”
In fact, several of the team’s players represented Burlington County in the Carpenter Cup championship game at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, on June 20. The team, made up of Burlington County’s best high school baseball players, finished as the tournament’s runner-up for the second consecutive season.
Now that the tournament is over, a few of the pitchers who participated will be able to return to their normal roles on the Bordentown legion team.
Though Post 26 has had to deal with that minor setback, and will continue to do so, the team hasn’t seen a decline in success so far this season.
As of press time, the team had won all 12 of its games, and its loaded pitching staff had posted a league-best five shutouts without having let up more than three runs in any game.
University of Pittsburgh commit Zack Gakeler and Florida Gulf Coast University commit Ryan Shinn are two of several players on Bordentown’s roster who have contributed to the team’s impressive start, despite being limited on the mound.
“We can’t let statistics and everything get to our heads,” Gakeler said. “We just have to stay humble and go out there and do what we do every day.”
Bordentown’s offense may not be quite as notable as its pitching thus far, but as of mid-July the team still managed to plate 4.9 runners per game for a total of 59 runs on the season.
A lump some of those runs were scored in the team’s impressive 10-0 route of Ewing Post 314 in five innings by way of the mercy rule on June 5. Aaron Crichlow’s fastball, clocked at over 90 mph, proved to be too much for Ewing on that day, as he struck out seven while allowing only two hits. Post 26’s usual number two hitter Tyler O’Dell notched one of Bordentown’s four doubles in that game.
So far this season, O’Dell has lived up to his expectations as one of Bordentown’s leaders and returning starters from last year.
“I wouldn’t say there’s extra pressure on me, I just feel obligated to do well,” O’Dell said.
Post 26 still has a long season ahead. As of press time, the team was scheduled to play 21 games within the next 22 days, all for a chance at repeating as league champions.
“There’s a lot of competition within our team this year, and that’s going to bring out the best in all of our guys,” Dolan said.