Last summer, the Hamilton A’s United States Amateur Baseball League team became the Lawrence Lenapes, but the name was the only thing that changed.
Head coach Al Ari was approached by the Lawrence Babe Ruth organization, who asked if he would consider a move to the town. Since Lawrence residents made up the majority of the roster, he agreed. Plus, Ari added, the town has a burgeoning travel baseball culture—the addition of a new team would only help its growth.
But it is still the same old successful squad. The Lenapes, now playing in New Jersey-based USABL’s 15/16 age division, formed four years ago. The roster has gone relatively unchanged, and the consistency of playing together since 2011 has led to some successful finishes in the spring, summer, and fall baseball seasons. The team has played in the league championship game in each of the last three summers, as well as one in the fall, and two in the spring. At press time, the Lenapes had advanced to at least the spring season’s semifinals.
It’s also a regularly strong tournament team, whether or not the tournaments are hosted by USABL. The Lenapes most recently won the USABL Memorial Day Classic Tournament in May. There was a close call in the semifinal, when outfielder Matt Spiegel robbed what would have been the other team’s go-ahead home run. The Lenapes went down early, 5-0, but clawed back to tie the game. Spiegel’s catch preserved the tie, saved a run, and allowed Lawrence to seal the win the next inning. When the two teams played for the first time in the tournament’s first round, Lawrence lost 10-0 and was no-hit.
Collectively, the team didn’t commit a single error during the semifinal and championship games, and the guys were just as sound offensively—six different players racked up hits in the title match, a 4-0 win, while seven had hits in the semifinal.
“These guys have been playing together awhile,” Ari said. “They just enjoy playing together. Individually, they’re good, but collectively, when they all play well, it just makes us that much better as a team.”
At press time, the team sat at 6-3-1, good enough for second place in the Central Shore division. Half of the squad was batting over .300, and two players, Spiegel and Michael Mandigo, topped the .400 mark. Pitcher Sahil Thakur helped carry the Lenapes on the mound, going 2-1 in six starts and boasting a 1.99 ERA in 24.2 innings pitched.Tanner Adamczyk and and Michael Pedota also have two wins.
There isn’t one standout star, Ari said—truly, everyone contributes.
“We don’t really rely on one or two particular players each game,” he said. “Some games, the top of the order comes through and some games, it’s the guys at the bottom. With the pitchers, we have three different [players], each with two wins.”
The Lenapes hope the momentum from spring carries over heading into the summer season.
“When you have a big game, you get into a groove, and the same thing happens when you finish poorly,” catcher and infielder Jake Ari said. “We like to go out on a high note so that when we go on to the next season, we can start off strong and kind of ride that wave into the summer. The summer season is pretty short, so you just want to get off to a good start so you don’t fall behind early.”
In order to do that, the team has started to work more on putting more balls in play and taking early leads.
“I would like to, in the beginning of games, start a lot stronger, instead of trying to get more runs in the end of the games,” said Colin D’Angelo, who, at 14, is the youngest player on the team.
Many of the team’s members also play on the Lawrence High School squad, while some hail from Ewing and Robbinsville. Even when they aren’t wearing their Lenape uniforms, the boys still get the experience of playing together during the high school season, or at least in the same conference.
“High school teams, we get to know everyone through that,” said Owen Cutaneo, a catcher and infielder. “During the school season, you really get to see everyone’s strong points and their weak points. You can help them work on it, especially when we come here. It’s a lot more relaxed than the school environment. It’s kind of a place where you can say, ‘I want to work on this.’”
Pitcher Evan Cibelli agreed, adding that being on the same team consistently over the past four years has created a judgment-free atmosphere and a stronger bond.
“I would also say when someone makes a mistake, it’s easier to pick them up because you know that you have that more personal connection than just being on a team,” he said. “It’s more meaningful.”