When the West Windsor Little League 11-year-old all-star baseball team started the tournament season, one goal united every player and coach.
“We were confident because at the beginning of the year everyone’s goal was to win districts,” said catcher Troy Callahan.
That goal stuck with them through their District 12 Little League tournament run. After suffering their first loss of the tournament to Nottingham by the 10-run rule, it had to bounce back in a rematch for a 10-1 win over Nottingham in the winner-take-all championship on July 20 to clinch the district banner.
“I knew we wanted to get really far in districts, but we practiced hard and persevered and fought hard even when we were down to come back,” said Jason Carroll, the starting pitcher in the finale.
Other members of the team are Jack Carter, Matthew Chi, Daniel Hu, Caleb Kasof, Jonah Levy, Justin Musmanno, Luis Saldivia, Kieran Sattiraju, Logan Slater, Andrew Van Dusen and Grant Vinson. Coaches are Jack Demouth and Dennis Vinson.
“I couldn’t even get out of the dugout (after the win),” said Manager Mick Callahan, Troy’s father. “It wasn’t just a win for these kids, it was a win for West Windsor Little League.”
It’s the first district title for West Windsor Little League in six years.
West Windsor opened district play this year with a 10-0 win over Robbinsville. It won, 5-4, over Nottingham in walk-off fashion in a huge statement game. West Windsor had also defeated them in the earlier pre-district tournament at West End, 6-2.
“It helped us because when we won the first tournament, we knew it was going to be a good game against Nottingham,” said Troy Callahan. “We beat them so we had more confidence.”
When West Windsor beat Lawrence, 6-3, it sent them to the winners’ bracket final in an enviable position without a loss. It had to top Nottingham once in two chances for the title while Nottingham had to knock them off twice. Nottingham won, 12-2, to set up an exciting high stakes finish the next day. West Windsor nearly won by the mercy rule as the bats and pitching and defense came together.
“In the first game, we were never there before and we were kind of all nervous,” Kasof said. “In the second game, we got all the jitters out and we were fine. It helped us not worry about anything, and we knew we could beat them.”
West Windsor did everything it could to alleviate the pressure leading into the final. Callahan kept his team loose on the car ride over to the game and kept the good vibes going up to game time. He said he turned up the music, started dancing and told his coaches to get the kids loose.
The team was dancing in the dugout while the announcers were calling out their names before the game.
“That to some people that might be confident or cocky, but it’s not that at all,” Callahan said. “If you watch the Little League World Series, those kids are having fun. If they can’t go out and play America’s pastime and have fun, then they shouldn’t be playing. These kids enjoyed themselves. That’s why this team was so successful. No matter what their role was, they enjoyed themselves.”
West Windsor had hoped to add a Section 3 championship as District 12 representative, but were eliminated from the tournament at Sunnybrae by two losses to Middletown sandwiched around a win. West Windsor came away knowing it was right in contention.
“It was a bonus. All we were really focused on was winning districts. So sectionals we were just having fun and playing baseball,” said Kasof.
Throughout the summer, West Windsor flexed its muscles at the plate. Mick Callahan preached an aggressive approach in districts.
“I told them, ‘Don’t sit back and wait. I want you to attack. If it’s a strike, go and get it and let’s put these kids down,’” Callahan said.
It helped the hitters to have played on Callahan’s recreation league team. He drafted all but one 11-year-old in the majors division that allows 11- and 12-year-olds. His 11s were not outmatched, and the rec season benefitted them even in districts.
“It helped us a lot because we were able to face faster pitching,” Kasof said. “We had to work a lot harder.”
They also had to pitch against older players. Led by Carroll and Kasof and a host of others who contributed key innings throughout the tournament, West Windsor also had enough pitching to secure the district title.
West Windsor that had all the pitching, hitting, fielding and coaching to come out on top time after time in districts. They will be trying to do the same next year when the team is eligible to move up to play at the 12-year-old level.
“I think we’ll have a really big target on our backs,” Carroll said.
West Windsor is enjoying this year’s win for now. The team will go its separate directions for much of the year but in the late spring, they hope to be back together for another district run.
“This group of kids is well rounded,” Mick Callahan said. “They’re good students. They’re not just baseball kids. They play football, they play soccer, they play other sports. To be able to come out here together and work for the common goal, if you would have seen their faces at Dennis (Vinson)’s house, it was something else.”
The team celebration highlighted how it came together for a group that wasn’t considered the district favorite. They all filled their roles to achieve something special.
“I tell the guys when you play for me there are three simple rules,” Callahan said. “When you walk out of this dugout, you’re going to hustle. And you’re going to do your best. And I say, if you’re going to hustle and do your best, you better have some fun. If you can do those three things, you’re a winner, whether you win the game or lose the game.”
This summer, the West Windsor 11-year-old all-stars won plenty of games, including the District 12 championship to win a coveted banner and accomplish the one goal the entire team shared.
“I thought we had a really good chance to win the districts,” Carroll said. “We set goals for the beginning of the year and we worked hard to achieve those goals.”