Youth baseball: Extra motivation pushed Niskayuna to Babe Ruth title
The Niskayuna Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-star team has played a lot of quality baseball over the last few months, but slipped at the Eastern New York Tournament, and bowed out in the semifinal round with two wins and a pair of defeats.
“We didn’t play up to our potential, and that provided a little incentive,” said Chris Bianchi, Niskayuna’s manager. “In a way, it worked to our advantage. The guys realized that they had to be prepared for every game.”
The guys were certainly ready at the Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament that followed. As tourney host for the event at Blatnick Park, Niskayuna won its pool with a 3-1 record and then took two more games last Sunday and Monday to claim the championship.
The reward for its successful regional run is a trip to the Aug. 17-24 Babe Ruth World Series in Williston, N.D.
“The kids are ecstatic,” said Bianchi. “I’m not sure at the beginning of the season how many of them thought we had a chance to win it. As we started to win some games, they started to feel like our pitching and defense was just as good as any team out there.”
For Bianchi, this will be his second consecutive trip to a Babe Ruth World Series with a Niskayuna team. His 13-15-year-old group made it last year, and placed third at a tournament in Arkansas.
“I feel very fortunate. To go to one World Series was exciting.
Going twice, it’s not something very many people have done,” he said. “I’m pretty lucky to have really good baseball players.”
His 13-year-old all-stars will bring a 26-5 overall record to North Dakota.
“I’ve got a good crop of 13-year-olds,” Bianchi said. “We played quite a few games together in the spring and early summer, and that allowed us to jell as a team and define roles.”
Tyler Senecal filled his role in a big way when he blanked South Colonie over the first five innings in an 11-1 win Monday that clinched the Middle Atlantic Regional championship. Sean Barry opened Niskayuna’s scoring with a two-run double, Senecal belted a three-run double, and Alec Ritzenthaler collected three hits.
“We had played them [Eastern New York champ South Colonie] a few times, and each of those games was nip and tuck,” said Bianchi. “We hit the ball well the other day.”
Niskayuna edged Bayonne (Northern New Jersey) in the semifinals, 6-5. Matt Toy brought home pinch-runner Jack Evans with a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the sixth before reliever Liam
Davison closed out the victory with a perfect seventh that included a finishing strikeout of Bayonne’s clean-up batter.
“We had a 4-0 lead, and they came back and tied it,” Bianchi said. “We went up, 5-4, and they tied it again. In the bottom of the sixth, we got the run on a squeeze.”
Niskayuna beat College Point (Metro New York), 4-3, Mt. Laurel (Southern New Jersey), 8-6, and Horseheads (Western New York), 6-2, to clinch first place in its pool before an 11-10 loss to Prince George (Maryland). Senecal had three hits in that game with a grand slam, and drove in seven runs.
“We played some older teams in preparation for our tournaments. That was good for us,” said Bianchi. “We knew the caliber we’d be facing.”
The competition will be extremely stiff at the World Series to be held at Ardean Aafedt
Stadium. Since the first World Series for 13-year-olds in 1980, New York’s only champion was a team from the Bronx in 2003.
“We’re going to play some strong teams. The pitching is deeper. At the back end of pool play, you’ll still see quality arms. There’s a lot of speed on the bases. All of the catchers will have quality arms,” Bianchi said. “We’re pretty strong, too, and we’ll compete.”
Niskayuna’s four-game pool schedule includes a game with Williston, the World Series host team. Niskayuna will also take on the Ohio Valley, Southeast and Midwest Plains regional tourney winners.
“There will be a lot of festivities. Banquets. Media. It’s not very often as an athlete where you get to be the center of attention,” said Bianchi. “I’m going to tell them to enjoy the experience, but let’s not lose
focus on why we’re there.”
Other members of the team are Conor Graham, Gabe Antonikowski, Ben Funyak, Andrew Barber, Ryan Dell, Chris Ryan, Dylan Sheely, Kyle Cox and Christian Mastroianni. Glenn Ritzenthaler and Anthony Spataro are the coaches.