MILLBURN, NJ - For the second time in as many years, the Millburn Short Hills Youth Baseball 13U team are Babe Ruth Northern NJ State Champions.  Millburn defeated Bridgewater 1-0 on Monday, Aug. 17 to retain the State title. Last year, the same group defeated Roxbury 3-1 to capture its first State championship.

In the State tournament, held at the Police Athletic League facility in Wayne, NJ. Millburn played three pool play games. Its first game on Saturday, Aug. 8 was against Bridgewater and like the championship game, Millburn won 1-0. Peter Lawrence started on the mound for Millburn, allowing just one hit and striking out 4 batters in 7 innings. On offense, Millburn was also held to one base hit during the first 7 innings, sending the game into extra innings.

In the eighth inning, Ah Now took over on the mound for Lawrence, who had reached his pitch limit, and allowed no hits and struck out one. In the bottom of the inning, Ah Now doubled to get into scoring position and the next batter, Brett Ploetner, hit a walk-off double to send Ah Now home and end the game.

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In the second pool play game, Millburn faced Monroe, a perennial opponent to Millburn. Ah Now started on the mound. Monroe scored 2 in the bottom on the first inning on two singles, but Millburn answered back quickly, scoring 5 in the top of the second inning.

Finlay La Londe started off the inning with a single, followed by back-to-back walks to Greg Rosenthal and Ryan Spaar. RJ DiMinni then singled to left field driving in La Londe. Noah Silber and Ah Now both hit singles scoring Spaar and DiMinni and putting Millburn up 3-1. With bases loaded, a walk to Ploetner added another run and a ground out by Lawrence scored Silber, putting Millburn ahead 5-1 at the end of the inning. Millburn scored two more runs in the top of the third inning on a single by DiMinni and a sacrifice fly by Ah Now that drove home Spaar, who had walked, to make the score 7-2.

The momentum of the game changed in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Monroe scored 7 runs on a number of hits, walks and errors in the field by Millburn. By the end of the inning, the score was 9-7 in Monroe’s favor. Millburn rallied in the top of the seventh inning, scoring two runs on hits by Lawrence, La Londe and Rosenthal, tying the game and sending it into extra innings as Millburn held Monroe scoreless in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Millburn failed to score in the top of the 8th inning, but a walk and two hits gave Monroe the win in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ah Now pitched 4 innings, followed by La Londe with 1 inning and Spaar closed out the game, pitching two.

In its final pool play game, Millburn defeated host Wayne 10-0 on Tuesday, August 18. Jack Fehrenbach started on the mound for Millburn. Fehrenbach pitched four innings, allowing no hits and striking out 8 batters. On offense, Rosenthal and Fehrenbach both had 3 hits, including a double with the bases loaded by Fehrenbach that scored three.  Fujita also had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Spaar pitched the final two innings for Millburn.  Jacob Suna got on base in the sixth inning and eventually scored on a Fehrenbach single and Silber scored the tenth run when Fujita singled.  The game ended when Wayne failed to score in the bottom of the inning due to the mercy rule.

In the semifinal game, Millburn faced Monroe again. The game began on Thursday, Aug. 13 at 8:00 p.m., with Lawrence on the mound for Millburn and Zack Wallace pitching for Monroe. Both sides went down 1-2-3, in the first inning. In the bottom of the second inning, with one Monroe runner on base and one out, the lights illuminating the field went out. After waiting for them to re-light and restarting the game, the lights went out again and the remainder of the game was postponed until Saturday, Aug. 15.

Re-starting the game in the bottom of the second inning with one runner on, the next Monroe batter hit into a double play ending the inning. Continuing the pitcher’s duel, neither team scored until the bottom of the fourth inning when a couple of singles and walks put two on the board for Monroe. Millburn wasted no time with its comeback, though, scoring 5 in the top of the fifth inning. The inning started off with a single by Rosenthal, followed by a walk to La Londe and a single by Spaar to load the bases. Rosenthal then stole home on a wild pitch. The next batter, Fujita, got on base on an error by the Monroe shortstop. With bases loaded again, Ah Now doubled to score La Londe and Lawentman who was in to pinch run for Spaar, giving Millburn the 3-2 lead. Millburn scored three more runs in the inning on two walks and a single by Lawrence. Millburn scored one more in the top of the sixth inning, making the final score 7-2.  

Lawrence pitched 7 and 2/3 innings before reaching his pitch limit. Ah Now finished out the game on the mound, facing just one batter.

The championship game, originally scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16 was rescheduled to Monday, Aug. 17 due to rain. Millburn faced Bridgewater in a rematch of the first pool play game. As the lower seeded team, Millburn started at bat, with the first three batters going down in order. At its first at bat, Bridgewater loaded the bases before Millburn pitcher Ah Now fielded a ground ball to end the inning scoreless. In the top of the second inning, Rosenthal and La Londe both singled to put two runners on base. Fujita then singled on a line drive to centerfield, scoring Rosenthal and putting what would be the winning run on the board.

Millburn was able to hold Monroe scoreless for the remaining of the game, thanks to four strikeouts from Ah Now and some strong defensive plays in the field, including a diving catch by centerfielder Fujita. The game ended as Millburn catcher Ploetner threw out a Monroe runner attempting to steal second base with Rosenthal blocking the base and applying the tag. Ah Now, Fujita and La Londe all had two hits with Rosenthal and Fehrenbach adding one hit each.

Manager Mike Dasti commented that “after our one bad defensive inning in the Monroe pool play game, I reminded the boys that defense and pitching wins championships. We went to work in practice the next day and the boys continued to work hard for each other.  They did everything I asked them to do throughout the summer.  During the semi-finals and championship game our pitching was fantastic. And our defense was unbelievable when it mattered most.”  Dasti continued, “Keigo Fujita made one of the best diving catches I’ve ever seen at this age, if not any age.  It was definitely a SportsCenter top 10 play.  I am super proud of these boys.  They are one special group and I can’t wait to see them perform and continue to develop at the high school level.”

Randy Faust and Dan Rosenthal have been part of the coaching staff for this group of boys for the last 6 years.  Faust commented, “These boys are battle tested and play their best baseball when it matters most.”  Rosenthal added, “This group has really learned what teamwork is all about as they play for each other and play together as a team.  The lineup changed every night this summer, and they all just did what the coach asked them to do.  It’s been a thrill to be in the dugout with this group and watch them grow into fantastic young men and great teammates.”