SOUTH PLAINFIELD – The South Plainfield 9U baseball team are the champions of the 2017 Northern New Jersey State Tournament. The Tigers used a relentless third inning rally to score six runs and erase an early 3-0 deficit at the hands of Ridge to prevail by a final score of 9-5 at the Junior Baseball Club on Wednesday night.

Tuesday night’s hero Braden Tankiewicz once again started on the mound for the Tigers and pitched through three innings. Dominic Massaro was stellar in relief and earned a strikeout to end the game and set off a raucous celebration before an impressive home crowd.

Things were looking bleak for the Tigers -down by 3 - until the bottom of the third inning, when three straight singles to start the frame loaded the bases for second baseman Nicholas Irizarry. Irizarry sent a sacrifice fly deep to center field for the first run of the contest for South Plainfield. Later in the inning, shortstop Daniel Kapsch knocked home an RBI single to left to bring his team within one run, at 3-2. The Tigers went up for good when Massaro pummeled a two run base hit up the middle to make the score 4-3.

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A Ridge pitching change failed to halt the momentum as first baseman William Bethea followed up Massaro with a run-scoring double deep to right. But South Plainfield still wasn’t done. Alex Pigna came off the bench & capped the inning by torching an RBI base hit of his own to left and make the score 6-3.

Ridge got to within 6-4 in the top of the fourth against Massaro by way of an RBI double to right field. But South Plainfield tacked on three more insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth, none more important than Bethea’s RBI single, his second hit of the game.

Ridge wouldn’t give up; scoring once more in the top of the sixth to make the score 9-5, but it wasn’t enough to match the resilient South Plainfield youngsters.

“I don’t even know what to say,” a joyous head coach Jay Culver told TAPinto after the game. “This team, they surprise me every game, and it’s the same as last year: Every kid from top to bottom, one through 12 steps up when the game is close or on the line. They’re just a phenomenal bunch of kids. And I could tell you something each kid did great over the course of this tournament. But it’s really been about all 12 kids and stepping up when we needed them to, and most importantly just being a team,” Culver said.

“It’s been a total team effort from day one right up until the final game. I’m almost at a loss for words,” he said, before singling out a few key performers. “My starting pitcher tonight, Braden Tankiewicz, and Dom Massaro coming in and closing the door…every fielder made a phenomenal play…Nick Irizarry, he’s our little Energizer Bunny. He’s our leadoff hitter and plays seven different positions, wherever I need him to play, and he makes it very easy for me. I can’t say enough about every single kid.”

Now the 9U squad moves on to the 2017 Cal Ripken Baseball Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament being held in Douglasville, PA starting on July 28.

“Now it’s on to Pennsylvania. Last year we went up to Rome, New York and we didn’t have our best week,” Culver said. “I think we came in at about fifth in the region and we’re hoping to improve on it. But it’s all gravy from here on out, actually.”