By Rich Fisher
The nucleus of this year’s Hamilton-Northern Burlington Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Stars was very good. It was good enough to win a Cal Ripken state title with Hamilton Little Lads as 12-year-olds; and to reach the Southern New Jersey State finals as 13-year-olds.
But it needed that NB side of the hyphen to get over the hump this year.
With six players from Northern Burlington Babe Ruth—including four from Bordentown—joining nine from Hamilton Babe Ruth, the league merged itself into a World Series berth that ended just two wins shy of a national title.
The group went 18-2 during the Babe Ruth tournament season, winning District One, Southern New Jersey State and Mid-Atlantic Regional titles. It went 3-1 in World Series pool play in Glen Allen, Va. and won a first-round elimination game over the Midwest Plains Region before falling to Hawaii, 4-1, in the national semifinals. The Bulls made five errors in that game after playing sparkling defense the entire tournament.
“I look back on that game at how many errors we made,” said pitcher Tommy Niedermaier, a rising sophomore at Bordentown High. “They were hard plays to make but looking back, it’s all right. We can go back there next year. I mean I wish we made those plays, that team is an easy team to beat. They were OK, but I think we had more confidence and more ability and could have beaten them if we didn’t make those errors.”
“We were lucky we were in the game at 4-1, as bad as we played,” manager Jim Petersohn said. “I would say if we played them 10 times we would win five and they would win five. Hawaii beat Oregon 13-0 in the finals, and we beat Oregon 8-0 in pool play. That’s what stinks.
Everybody was looking at it as our game was really the finals.”
Everybody was looking at it as our game was really the finals.”
But that game was the only bad memory in a summer filled with incredible ones. H-NB started the year by winning a 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.
“We had a great team,” Niedermaier said. “To go how far we went, and we only had two losses in the whole season; I thought we did really good. When we won the tournament in South Jersey, we were like ‘Wow we could really do something.’ Then we lost the second tournament, but once we started winning in districts and states, I was like ‘Yeah we could really win if we really wanted to, if we tried putting our minds to it.’ So we did and we went to the World Series.”
Nick Nemes, a Hamilton transplant who is a rising sophomore at Bordentown, 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.
Niedermaier was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and struck out 15 in 23 innings. They were part of Petersohn’s “Four Aces” along with Jason Babuschak and Anthony Wilk.
“Nemes and Niedermaier solidified our pitching staff and were really a big backbone of our staff,” Petersohn said. “Obviously I knew of Nemes, who played with us two years ago when we won state title at 12. Tommy was a big addition. He was a guy you could go to and you knew you were gonna be in a game any time he was on the mound. He gave a quality start every start.”
At one point during states Petersohn noted that each pitcher was trying to keep up with the next, as they continued to churn out strong efforts night after night.
“I never took it as a competition,” Niedermaier said. “I don’t know if anyone else did. I just tried to do my job and help the team. I could care less if I’m the worst pitcher. Hopefully I’m not. But I can care less if I’m the last pitcher or the best as long as I’m on that team and still with all my friends and we’re winning. I can hopefully get better than I was.”
Also from Bordentown were rightfielder Mike Giambelluca and shortstop Gavin Martin. Giambelluca heated up in the World Series was named to the All-Offensive team after hitting .429 with two homers, nine RBI and 12 runs scored. For the year he also hit .429, and had 11 RBI and 17 runs.
“Mike is our silent leader,” Petersohn said. “Mike worked for everything he got. Early in the year he was struggling and Mike worked through a lot of things. His work ethic is second to none.”
Martin led the team in hitting at .509 with nine doubles, 15 RBI and 20 runs scored.
“Gavin’s a pretty good pitcher too,” Petersohn said. “I don’t think we used Gavin one game this entire season on the mound. He moved from third base to shortstop and gave us a great effort there all year long. We were very pleasantly surprised. And obviously his hitting was outstanding.”
The other Northern Burlington Babe Ruth products were Chesterfield’s Carson Wehner and Jobstown’s Babuschak.
Wehner had a .370 on-base percentage with four RBI and five walks, while Babuschak hit .400 with 10 RBI and 11 runs. On the mound, Jake was 3-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 32.2 innings.
“Both are very quality kids,” Petersohn said. “Jake pitched a lot of big games for us. Carson was steady, a very good defensive player. Carson performed every time we called upon him. Carson’s dad and another Northern Burlington parent made this whole merger possible last August.”
It was a merger that both teams needed, and it bolstered both sides not only during the tournaments, but the regular season as well. Hamilton’s enrollment went from 78 to 87 while Northern Burlington went from 24 to 39 for a total of 126.
“We had nine competitive teams in rec ball and it made the lineups deeper, it allowed rec ball to become much more competitive and also made it a much more enjoyable season for everybody – not just the all-star players by the rec players,” Petersohn said. “There were obviously some growing pains but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
“As far as travel, I don’t think it was that demanding of a thing to go down to Burlington because it was a 10-minute trip. We played alternating games, one on our field and one on one of their fields. For some Northern kids it was closer to come to Switlik Park than it was to go to their field down in Mansfield.”
And it all paid off with a spectacular post-season run.
“It was a pretty incredible ride,” said Petersohn, who praised the work of assistants Mike Moceri, Frank Gatto and Jeff Brown. “The boys came together and believed in one another. They practiced hard, they made a lot of sacrifices this summer. Maybe they didn’t achieve the ultimate goal but they were pretty damn amazing when it came to results. Are we one step away? Absolutely, but it’s a very achievable step if we play our game.”
The team has one more shot if all the players decide to return and play with the 15-year-old All Stars next year.
“Hopefully we’re all coming back,” Niedermaier said. “I heard the World Series is in Seattle, so it’s a new place to go. We can make it if we have the same team.”