The Hamilton Little Lads 12-year-old All Stars are going out the same way they came in—as champions.
After HLL did not play a recreation season due to COVID-19, the Lightning learned three weeks beforehand that Cal Ripken Baseball would be staging the District One and state tournaments.
“We had one week to get the tryouts going and two weeks to practice as a team before the first district game took place,” manager Al DeLellis said. “We had a good core group who had been together since they were eight, we practiced three times a week, got them a few scrimmage games. We went through a little bit of a curve, had some kids playing in some positions, but we were ready to go in that first game.”
It might have seemed otherwise when Hamilton fell behind host Northern Burlington, 3-1 in the first inning. But in the third, Dayne Bates slugged a three-run homer and Hamilton never trailed again in going 3-0 and winning the district title for the first time since they were 9-year-olds.
“They won it their first year,” said DeLellis, who served as the team’s assistant coach in previous years. “We had some opportunities. As 10s we finished third and we had a tough year as 11s, but it was great to win it the last year.”
The victory sent the Lightning into the states in Delran, which start Aug. 22.
Bates, who has been with the team throughout, was happy to end the district drought.
“It was frustrating, mostly because I knew we had the talent to win, we had the pieces,” he said. “So, it was definitely good to win it this year.”
There will be no regional tournament or World Series, but Dayne was hoping for a strong showing in states, saying, “I think we’ll take our momentum from districts and we can do well.”
The way this year’s districts were set up, the participants played a round-robin to decide seedings for the final round. Hamilton opened with a 7-5 win over NB and defeated New Egypt, 16-0, to go 2-0 in the round robin.
That gave the Lightning a bye as it awaited the Northern-New Egypt survivor.
In the championship game, PJ Lanausse was outstanding for five innings as Hamilton took a 3-0 lead. And since the Lighting had to wait so long for their second championship, Mother Nature tested their patience even further.
The sky opened prior to the sixth inning, forcing the game to be suspended on Monday night. Much like the 2007 Phillies-Rays World Series Game 5—played before these guys were even born—the game to decide the title couldn’t resume until two days later as it rained Tuesday as well.
“I feel like if it was any average game we wouldn’t have been as motivated to come back the next day,” Bates said. “But we were fighting for the banner so that’s all we needed to really push.”
When play resumed, Bates requested that he be able to take the mound and close it out after not pitching in the previous games.
“He’s actually our ace,” DeLellis said. “He’s been pitching with some arm issues, so we had some other kids helping out on the mound. That day he told me, ‘Coach I want the ball.’ He said his arm felt alright, and he did the job.”
Lanausse was the team’s top district pitcher, going 2-0, while Derek Anson notched a win and Christian Morency and Christopher Whalen threw in relief.
Bates and Nick Colella were the team’s top hitters at .667, while Lanausse and Marcello Pandolfini each hit .600. Lanausse led the team with five hits. Arjun Hsu hit .400, Anson batted. .333 and Whalen checked in at .300.
Rounding out the team were Nathan Flansburg, Anthony DeLellis, Chase Lau, James Musser, Andrew Maglowski and Chase Muni.
The tournament’s biggest hit undoubtedly came from Bates, as it completely turned things around for the Lightning.
“Dayne hit that homer, and we never looked back,” DeLellis said.
Bates agreed, saying, “It was a big push of momentum for us. After that, everyone was really fired up.”
And while Bates was not trying to hit a homer, he was hoping to hit one. It makes more sense to let him explain it.
“It was in the back of my mind, but I tried not to think about that,” he said. “Normally if you’re swinging for the fences you wind up striking out. I just tried to keep my fundamentals and tried to hit the ball.
“My first at-bat I had a double against that kid, but I knew I could put one out of the park. It was a bigger park than we’re used to so everyone was saying no one could hit it out of there. I wanted to prove them wrong.”
He did just that, and his teammates took it from there. Despite not playing competitive ball all season, Hamilton was impressive in the way it came together.
“It just shows that everyone has been putting in the work in the off-season and really wanted to be here and that’s big for us,” Bates said. “We have a lot of players that really care enough to want to win.
“I was a little worried we might not play at all. That would have been hard since I’m used to having All-Stars every season. It would have just been more hard work in the off-season to try and stay in shape. It would have been hard.”
Indeed it would have, since the desire to work hard often lessens when there is no reward.
“That’s what the hard work is all for, to win a championship,” Bates said. “That’s why we’re there.”
The district crown continued a legacy of success for the Little Lads, whose 10-year-old team reached the World Series last year. Unfortunately, last year’s 10s were unable to defend their district and state titles as 11s this season, as too many players had family commitments by the time it was decided there would be tournaments.
“I’m just glad we were able to get the districts in for these kids in their last year,” DeLellis said. “It meant a lot to them.”
It sure did.
“Even just having the practices you really appreciate it a lot more now,” Bates said. “You know how lucky you are to be playing.”