It was a tough start to the summer for the Hamilton-Northern Burlington Babe Ruth League when its defending Mid-Atlantic Regional championship team disbanded and left the league without a 15-year-old All-Star team.
But the H-NB 13s infused some new optimism into the Switlik Park tenants by coming within one game of giving the program a World Series qualifier for the second straight year. The 13-year-olds reached the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game before dropping a 12-9 decision to Broomall-Newtown, Pennsylvania.
The 13s were trying to do what last year’s 14s did. Unfortunately for the league, most members of that team opted for showcase baseball, leaving H-NB no chance to repeat as 15s.
“It was disappointing, but everybody’s entitled to do what they want,” 13s manager Jim Petersohn said. “I always use the term, ‘We just move forward.’”
That’s exactly what the youngest all stars did by cruising to the state championship with four straight victories and winning their first five region games before falling in the title game. H-NB trailed, 3-1, came back for a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth but was victimized by a nine-run inning by B-N in the top of the fifth.
“Just one bad inning,” lamented catcher Nate Mains, one of seven Hamilton residents on the roster. “We erase that inning and everything’s completely different. I don’t think we made any errors, they just hit it where we weren’t. They didn’t hit anything too solid, they just kept finding holes.”
H-NB tried to claw its way back, scoring three in the fifth and two in the sixth before running out of outs.
“We changed pitchers four times in the inning, they were all clean hits,” Petersohn said. “I’m proud of the kids for battling back the way they did.”
Up to that point, H-NB was barely tested, outscoring the opposition 49-27 in states and 50-9 in its first five regional games. The only close ones were in the states against Jersey Shore (12-9) and Washington Township (12-10) and in the regionals against host Atlantic Shore (3-1).
“Scoring that many runs is fun,” Mains said. “But it’s also nice to have those tight games that put the knot in your stomach and you have to battle to the very end.”
He was mainstay (pun intended) for the team, hitting .444 with numerous clutch hits while playing stellar defense.
“He was very, very good behind the plate,” Petersohn said. “He threw out baserunners throughout the tournament.”
A Grice graduate, Mains is headed to Hamilton West in the fall where he will run cross country to stay in shape for baseball, and also go out for the swim team due to a lifelong love of the pool. He was one of numerous players who made the daily round-trip to Atlantic City for states and regionals.
“It’s a long ride, but I sleep for most of it, and there’s Wawas everywhere,” said Mains, who is as consistent with his sandwich selection as he is on the field. His go-to meal is a classic turkey, ham and cheese sub with salt, pepper and oregano, along with a side order of Sun Chips.
“That’s what I get, every time,” he said.
Mains found the whole tournament experience exhilarating, and was not surprised at the team’s showing since the same nucleus had extensive success playing fall travel ball. He was bolstered by the fact everyone on that squad decided to play Babe Ruth in the spring.
“Everybody was in the same league after they joined, so we figured why not go for All Stars because it means more and everyone will remember it more than a good travel season,” Mains said. “It’s definitely more meaningful (representing your hometown) than playing for a travel league, where you can get kids from anywhere you want; as opposed to playing for a rec league where it’s kids from only a couple of towns.”
Mains’ teammates from the township were Austin Boddie, Chris Nodeland, Isaiah Helleis, Isaac Acosta, Nate Mains and Noah Rivera.
Boddie hit .438 as a spot starter in the outfield and, according to Petersohn, “always came off the bench when we needed him and produced.” Nodeland played left field and missed the states but returned to provide more depth in the regionals.
Petersohn said Acosta, “was our defensive gem at first, I couldn’t believe the plays he made at first base and he was one of our bigger bats, hitting .400 for us in states and regionals.” He was also a left-handed pitcher who helped eat up innings.
Helleis was a left-handed pitcher, “who ate up innings for us,” and Rivera provided “another arm for us who had some successful outings.”
Rounding out the team from Burlington County were centerfielder Alex Visalli, Andrew Stizza, second baseman Franklin Peters, third baseman/pitcher James Watson (who hit a team high .448), John Bassett, shortstop pitcher Matteo Mannino, shortstop/pitcher Nico Garnier, third baseman/ace pitcher Ryan Boyd and extra hitter Ryan Kochie.
It was a group that keeps hope alive for Babe Ruth baseball in the area.
“Getting as far as we did is tremendous for our league,” Petersohn said. “I’m very happy we are starting to get the tradition back for Hamilton-Northern Burlington Babe Ruth.”
Mains added, “I don’t know what the team expected. I expected to do what we did, but it’s still very nice to win it. I’ve never won a state championship so it was new. I was very pleased and very happy with how we played.”
The catcher is also happy to report that he thinks travel baseball may not smash his squad to pieces in the future.
“I think the team will stay together, because I think everybody had a blast playing for this team,” Mains said. “They realized the potential that we have, so I think we’ll stick together and make another good run next year.”