The 11U South Plainfield Tigers continued their history making ways this season by becoming the first 4 time Northern New Jersey Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth District 9 and State Champions. The road wasn’t easy for them, but they always seemed to find a way to come through just when you thought they were down for the count. Every player on the team made a significant contribution during this season’s journey whether it was the outstanding starting pitching of Braden Tankiewicz, Dominick Massero and Alex Pigna, the slick fielding of Daniel Kapsch and Nick Irizarry, mashing by Will Bethea and Dylan Oller, tremendous catching by Justin Culver and Ryan Balent, the speedy play of Eddie Budzinski, and clutch at bats of Anthony Tomei and Aidan Kaplan. The combination of solid baseball skills and a “never give up” attitude propelled this Tiger team to very successful season.
This year’s quest for a Mid Atlantic Regional Championship began with the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth expanded District 9 tournament in East Brunswick. The 11U Tigers got off to a hot start in pool play with victories over Marlboro (14-4) and Manalapan (9-3) before losing a tough one to Monroe 10-5. They righted the ship with a 13-4 victory over North Brunswick and entered the playoff round as the #2 seed. The Tigers crushed Marlboro 16-0 to setup a showdown against #1 seed and host East Brunswick. After falling behind late in the game, the Tigers came back and squeaked out a 4-3 win and captured their 4th District 9 Championship in a row!
The next stop was the NJ State tournament being held in Longhill, NJ. The Tigers started off well with a 7-2 win over last year’s state runner up, North Hunterdon. The Tigers fell to Summit 3-2 in their second game but made up for it with a thrilling 8 inning showdown with host Longhill in their 3rd pool play game. The 5-4 walk off win secured the Tigers a spot in the playoff round. The table was set for a semifinal showdown with rival Ridge. The game lived up to the hype as both teams battled back and forth with the Tigers eventually surging ahead and securing a 4-3 victory that propelled them into the Championship game against Summit. The Tigers redeemed their pool play loss to Summit by overcoming a late deficit and pulling away in the 5th inning to a 10-3 win and 4th NNJ State title in a row! Next stop: Regional tournament in Poughkeepsie!
Day 1 of the Regional tournament didn’t start as anticipated with a tough 4-3 loss to Saratoga. The team did rebound however later that day in the Skills Competition by notching 1st place victories in the “Around The Horn” (Tomei, Culver, Irizarry, Kaplan, Kapsch, Oller, Balent, Massaro and Pigna) and “Roadrunner” (Irizarry) events. The Tigers got back on track on Day 2 with a commanding 11-1 victory over Pennsylvania’s Hilltop team. The Tigers picked up where they left off on Day 3 with a victory over local team Beacon 11-6 to advance their pool play record to 2-1. The second game of the day proved to be the most important of the tournament so far as it determined if they were continuing on to the playoffs or packing up and going home. The Tigers prevailed with a 4-3 walk off win over the tournament host, Poughkeepsie. The victory moved the Tigers to 1st place in the standings and earned them a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Tigers faced off against Poughkeepsie again in the semi-final playoff game but Dominick Massaro proved to be too much for the host team with his DOMinating (pun intended) complete game pitching performance (2 hits, 0 walk, 0 runs). The Tigers cruised to a 4-0 victory and earned a well-deserved place in the Championship game.
The Championship game started off nicely for the Tigers as they took a 2-0 lead after their first at bat against the defending champions from Flood City Pennsylvania. Flood City eventually chipped away to tie the game at 2-2 until the bottom of the 5th when they took a commanding 6-2 lead, which they never relinquished.
Runner up in the Regional tournament (Second place out of over 250 teams) may not have been how the Tigers wanted to end their season, but they should be very proud of that accomplishment as well as the other tournament successes they achieved. In addition to the Cal Ripken tournament, they won the USABL Super Elite 11U Spring league which boasted some of the very best competition in New York and New Jersey. The spring season was capped off with a dramatic 2-1 walk off win over the North Jersey Black Bears (Sussex County) in the Championship game held in South Plainfield on June 8th. The Tigers were also runners up in the Diamond Nation Youth World Series held in between the District and State tournaments in Flemington, NJ. In yet another tournament rife with talented teams, the Tigers managed to go 3-1 in pool play to setup a semi-final showdown with the Brooklyn Falcons. Down 7-4 going into the bottom of the last inning, the Tigers found it in themselves yet again to pull out a walk off 8-7 victory and claim a spot in the Championship game against the host facility Diamond Jacks Super team. The Tigers put up a valiant effort and matched hits with the Diamond Jacks, but it would not be their day. The Diamond Jacks bested the Tigers 6-1 in the final.
The Tigers compiled an impressive record this season of 30 wins against 11 losses while capturing (4) Championships. Congratulations to the South Plainfield 11U Tigers for an awesome season and we look forward to even greater success next year!
A special thanks to all the South Plainfield fans who attended the local championship games and especially those that made the 2-hour drive to view the Regional Championship game in Poughkeepsie. It shows that America’s pastime is alive and well in South Plainfield.
South Plainfield 11U Tigers roster:
Ryan Balent - #10
Will Bethea - #19
Eddie Budzinski - #18
Justin Culver - #27
Nick Irizarry - #2
Aidan Kaplan - #4
Daniel Kapsch - #11
Dominick Massaro - #6
Dylan Oller - #44
Alex Pigna - #10
Braden Tankiewicz #33
Anthony Tomei - #5
Manager: Jay Culver
Coach: Dan Kapsch
Coach: Bill Bethea
Coach: Eddie Budzinski
Coach: Aldo Pigna