Some mergers turn out better than others. It’s safe to say the newly-formed partnership between the Hamilton and Northern Burlington Babe Ruth programs can be listed in the “some” column.
With the two sides joining forces, the newly formed Hamilton-Northern Burlington Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Star team had one of the best tournament runs ever witnessed by a Switlik Park tenant.
As six players from NB joined nine from Hamilton, the league merged itself into a World Series berth that ended just two wins shy of a national title. It also boosted league participation to 126 players, as each side increased its enrollment by over 10.
But it was the All-Stars that people will fondly remember. The Bulls went 18-2 during the Babe Ruth tournament season, winning District One, Southern New Jersey State and Mid-Atlantic Regional titles. They went 3-1 in World Series pool play in Glen Allen, Virginia, and won a first-round elimination game over the Midwest Plains Region before falling to Hawaii, 4-1, in the national semifinals. H-NB made five errors in that game after playing sparkling defense the entire tournament, and Hawaii beat an Oregon team in the finals that the Bulls had beaten 8-0 in pool play.
“It’s tough to get over that loss,” said slugger David Zamora, a rising freshman at Hamilton West. “We had something special, just to see it go away like that, it’s hard.”
“We were just as good as Hawaii, we just didn’t execute,” said manager Jim Petersohn, who was quick to laud assistants Frank Gatto, Mike Moceri and Jeff Brown for their contributions this summer. “It’s a shame because the boys absolutely executed all throughout the season. Unfortunately, we didn’t have it that day. But if we played Hawaii 10 times, I think we would win five and they would win five.”
Nonetheless, it was another standout season for the team’s nucleus, which won the 12-year-old Cal Ripken state tournament with Hamilton Little Lads and reached the Babe Ruth 13-year-old state final last year before losing the “if” game to Atlantic Shore.
The Hawaii game was the only bad memory in a summer filled with incredible ones. H-NB started the year by winning a non-Babe Ruth South Jersey tournament before losing a second tournament. It rebounded by winning two district games by a combined 39-5 score and claiming four state games by a count of 40-12.
They did all that with the knowledge they were in the regionals no matter what; by virtue of hosting at Switlik Park. With a World Series trip on the line, H-NB destroyed six region opponents by a total of 55-6 and were off to Glen Allen.
The team could take the final step of winning a World Series if it comes together for one last hurrah as 15-year-olds next year.
“I think we’re gonna try,” Zamora said. “I haven’t talked to a lot of the guys, but I think it could happen.”
If the cohesion formed this summer was any indication, there should be quite a few returnees next year. Despite the fact it was two leagues coming together, Petersohn noted that most of the players knew each other from travel baseball. And what transpired on the field, carried off it as well.
‘It was the proudest moment to call yourself a Hamiltonian. It was tremendous.’
“It was pretty easy to get these kids together,” the manager said. “But the bond they share today from the bond they shared when they were first together is even tighter. I think they respected each other’s ability before; but now they want to be around each other’s company and play with each other constantly.”
Petersohn quickly provided an example.
“The very next day after we got back from Glen Allen there were 14 of the kids hanging out together at one of the kid’s house,” he said. “They had a group chat, they have a fantasy football league. There’s so many things they’re doing together to keep this bond that they have. That’s pretty impressive. You’re talking basically four or five different high schools that these kids will be going to.”
Zamora confirmed that bond. Asked what he will remember most about the summer, he said, “Making it to the World Series and to be able to play with my teammates. It was a great experience. My teammates were great, my teammates made it what it was. It was awesome.”
Zamora was a teammate everyone looked up to as he was consistently outstanding throughout the tournaments. After playing legion ball for Broad Street Park, he proceeded to hit .455 with three homers, 20 RBI and a 1.279 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). At the World Series, he was named to the All-Tournament Offensive Team by hitting .526 with two homers, two doubles, eight RBI and a 1.519 OPS. He also served as the bullpen closer for the pitching-rich Bulls.
Zamora said he had no trouble avoiding the World Series jitters.
“Being away from home for a lot of days,” he said, “some people get nervous, not a lot of people have played at that level and it’s very nerve wracking for some people. I wasn’t very nervous.”
“David is a very special player,” Petersohn said. “David has a very bright future in front of him. It’s been a great experience to be able to coach David and watch him mature as a player into the caliber player that he is.”
Then there was the crack trio of Zac Brown, Tyler Solymosi and Conor Luckie, who were part of the Little Lads Cal Ripken champs.
Brown hit .387 with a team-high 12 walks and .587 on-base percentage. He had 15 RBI and 13 runs scored. Solymosi hit .359 with 10 RBI and 13 runs, while Luckie hit .375 with 12 RBI and gave his usual solid performance behind the plate.
Petersohn feels their big-game experience made them valuable team leaders.
“Because they have been there before and because they wanted to get to that next level, it was a driving factor in our success,” the manager said. “It was not hard at all to get these kids to practice hard. These guys were very, very dedicated toward this season and the goal of going to the World Series, and those (three) guys were a big reason.”
Newcome Danilo Perdomo provided a huge boost in the leadoff spot, hitting .339 with eight doubles, a triple, 13 RBI and 22 runs. He was also pretty fair with the glove.
“Danilo Perdomo coming our way was fortunate,” Petersohn said. “Perdomo just moved here this year. He’s a flat-out stud centerfielder and a difference maker at the top of the lineup. There were balls we thought no way he was gonna catch, and he kind of glided right into him.”
Of H-NB’s “Four Aces” on the mound, only Anthony Wilk is from Hamilton, although Nick Nemes grew up in the township and just recently moved to Bordentown. Jake Babuschak and Tom Niedermaier rounded out the stellar staff.
Wilk hit .303 and scored 13 runs. On the mound he was 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 innings.
Nemes won the district final, 4-1, over Bridgewater. He also threw a no-hitter in the states and pitched a shutout in the World Series while hitting .303. For the entire tournament, Nemes was 5-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 25 innings.
Rounding out the Hamilton contributors were Nate Rodriguez, John Gibbs and Tommy Cramer. Gibbs batted .412 with nine runs scored, Rodriguez hit .278 with nine walks and 14 runs, and Cramer hit .333 with 10 walks and 10 runs. Rodriguez and Cramer have both been with Petersohn since they were 8.
It was a cast that meshed well with new teammates south of the Whitehorse Circle, and it drew the attention of fans from several towns.
“The amount of support we got from the Hamilton and Northern Burlington areas, whether financially, backing us, supporting us, watching the games, text messaging, emailing, it was overwhelming,” Petersohn said. “It was the proudest moment to call yourself a Hamiltonian. It was tremendous. We would get done a game, and we’d have 30 to 40 text messages from different people. Facebook was blowing up. The podcast was struggling to play because so many people were trying to watch it at the same time.”
And the whole experience was something the Bulls felt possible from the start.
“We thought we were capable of making it to the World Series,” Zamora said. “We had four starters who were lights out. As long as our defense was helping them out, no one was touching them. You gotta feel very proud about what we did.”
“We joked when we first had this team assembled that we were gonna put 23060 on our caps, which is the zip code for Glen Allen,” Petersohn said. “We were basically rallying around last year’s unfinished business. We felt we should have won that state title last year. We had a hiccup in the last game. And we don’t want to use a used term, but while this year was a successful year, the ultimate goal was to win a World Series, and we have unfinished business again.”
If this summer was any indication, they know how to take care of such business.