Shrub Oak Hangs on to Win GHVBL Championship

The boys and coaches pose with their trophies and banner. Credits: Deena Bell

DANBURY, C.T. — After a series of gasps for air and action-packed moments, Shrub Oak’s 9-and-under baseball team prevailed in a 7-5 victory over the Greenwich Thunder-Red in the Greater Hudson Valley Baseball League ‘B championship game Sunday, July 30, at Rogers Park in Danbury.

Thomas Imperati gave up a leadoff triple to start the bottom of the sixth inning while the Storm was still up 7-4 and that was when head coach Paul D’Errico felt it was time for a mound visit.

“Thomas is a really good kid and I have a very good relationship with him,” D’Errico said. “He trusts me, and I won’t lie to him. They’re 9 (years old), so sometimes they need a hug as much as they need a pep rally.”

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A confident Imperati struck out the next batter on the outside corner and caught the popup of the next. With the win close enough to be tasted, he surrendered an RBI single up the middle to cut the lead to 7-5.

But it only took the first pitch to the following hitter, Jackson Cunningham, who grounded out to third baseman Matt Garcia to end the game.

Shrub Oak wasted no time, putting two runs on the board in the top of the first inning. Garcia blew a ground ball past the shortstop with the bases juiced and second baseman Alex Mautone hit an RBI groundout to the pitcher.

During the top of the third, starting pitcher A.J. Imperati bombed an RBI double over the left fielder’s head. Mautone made it 4-0 with an RBI infield single that he hustled out on a tapper to third to score Imperati.

Leading 4-1 in the top of the fifth, the Storm decided it was time to rain on the Thunder. The catcher Raymond Ameneiros walked before center fielder John Sibiski smoked a single to left. A.J. Imperati followed with a walk, loading the bases for Garcia.

Collecting three more RBI, Garcia crushed one that rolled down to the left field fence and it was a 7-1 lead all of a sudden.

The Storm couldn’t have won without such excellent pitching from A.J. Imperati, Nicholas Clarke and Thomas Imperati.

A.J. Imperati threw three masterful innings with zero earned runs and five strikeouts. He got out of trouble in every frame to preserve the goose egg, including two-straight strikeouts, which bailed Shrub Oak out with a runner on third.

Clarke only gave up one run in the fourth and fanned two hitters. The fifth inning is when Thomas Imperati entered in relief, and his road was rocky at first. Imperati surrendered two earned runs on an RBI triple and RBI single, but coach D’Errico visited the mound again in the middle of the barrage to once again calm the waters.

“He was upset and wanted out,” D’Errico said. “I told him, ‘Listen, I care more about you than this game right now. Give me one more batter, what do you think?’ He said, ‘OK, one more.’ He was so fired up when he struck that kid out, forget it, it was over. You couldn’t drag him off the mound.” 

Thomas Imperati eventually set down three hitters in a row while striking out two of them to cut the rough inning short before closing the game in the sixth.

The Storm (13-2-1) won last year’s 8-and-under GHVBL fall league title before the team split up and began new before this summer’s season. They lost in the semifinal game of the spring league and used the experience for the better.

“They wanted it,” D’Errico said. “It’s all about them; it’s absolutely not about us coaches. The chemistry was the most unique part about the team. Kids have all different kinds of personalities and they are 9. But, man, I tell you, the 10 that were on that field today stuck together and blended with their personalities as wildly different as they are.”

Shrub Oak knocked off the Greenwich Thunder-Blue in the semifinal and bested Armonk in the quarterfinal.

Anthony D’Errico also performed well playing first-base for the first time this season in the transition from second base.

“Every single one of these kids are good kids,” D’Errico said. “That’s the most important thing. They’ve all become good ballplayers but they’re all good kids. They stuck together and fought together. It’s extremely rewarding to coach this group of great kids.”  

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