It was a summer to remember for the Hillsborough Baseball League’s 11U Team.
The group of 12 players put together an amazing run that accounted for 20 victories and concluded with winning the Northern Jersey Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Baseball state championship at the Wayne PAL Sports Complex on Aug. 15.
Hillsborough High School baseball Coach Eric Eden was at the center of all the action, watching the 11U squad put together its magical run. He said he was very impressed by how his young team played throughout the state tournament and believes the future is bright for the Hillsborough High School baseball program, with the talent coming up through the Hillsborough Baseball League.
“It was great to work with all those guys,” Eden said. “They’re a great group of kids. They loved to be able to get back on the field this summer. It was a lot of fun.”
Gavin Ross, Nathan Bienstock, Elijah Dawes, Connor Emmich, Hailee McNally, Shaan Patel, Brandon Bender, Shane Borer, Aidan Murphy, Peter Wheeler, Jonathan Feltre, and Kyle Simonitis composed the squad that won the first 11U state championship in the league’s history.
It’s the second state championship for the Hillsborough Baseball League as the 13U Gold squad captured the program’s first state title in 2015.
Because District 10 did not have enough teams competing in its tournament this summer, Hillsborough’s 11U team automatically made it into the eight-team state tournament.
Leading up to the state tournament, Hillsborough competed in the United States Amateur Baseball League (USABL) and competed in various tournaments around the state where they racked up a 15-6-1 record.
The Raiders were raring to go when the pool play round began in the state tournament. Hillsborough roared to a perfect 3-0 mark, which included a 14-0 victory over Summit to receive the No. 1 overall seed going into the final-four of the tournament.
Facing off against Wayne PAL in the semifinals, Hillsborough kept Wayne off the board for its second straight shutout with stellar pitching and brought out the lumber at the plate as well to roll to a 10-0 victory and earn a spot in the championship game.
Meeting up with Hillsborough in the finals was Roxbury. The two teams squared off in Hillsborough’s first pool play action of the state tournament where the Raiders won on a walk-off single in the ninth inning for a 2-1 victory.
In the finals, Roxbury got the early edge on Hillsborough, taking a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Down to their last nine outs, the Raiders responded back with a thunderous six-run inning to take the lead and marched from there to a 7-3 victory to be crowned state champions.
“It was very enjoyable seeing them come back to win the championship,” Eden said. “They overcame the mental aspect of being down and came back to win. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
Hillsborough bashed out a .330 team batting average and scored a combined 46 runs in the state tournament. On the mound, Hillsborough’s pitchers rolled out a 2.10 earned run average.
The team’s state championship is one of many successes the Hillsborough Baseball League has achieved the past few years.
This year, the league’s 8U team made it to their state championship game, while the 13U squad competed in the District 10 title game.
Eden, who has been working with the organization over the past year, said he has been very impressed with the talent being developed in town and believes it will help translate to the high school baseball program having more success in the future.
“To me, it’s a lot of fun to develop the kids and teach them the little things, so when they get to high school, they’re ready to go,” Eden said. “Every age group is doing well and that’s great to see. It shows where our program is at and it’s something to build from.”
After winning the state championship, the 12 players did what any 11-year-old kids would do: jumped into a swimming pool at the complex to celebrate their achievement.
It was a cool moment that Eden and the other coaches enjoyed to see as their players were able to be kids again and have fun playing the game they love after missing out on many things the past six months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Team manager Scott Ross said the majority of the kids on the team have played together the past four years and that the team is a close-knit unit off the field.
During the pandemic, the team showed its resiliency, as many players trained hard and kept themselves in shape for the possibility of playing in the summer.
That hard work paid off when the team got the go-ahead that there would be baseball this summer and made that opportunity count by coming together and winning a state championship.
“It was great to see them get over the hump and get this type of recognition,” Ross said. “They’re a dedicated group of players. They all came together and had a great run.”
The 11U team will be honored at the Hillsborough Township Committee Meeting on Sept. 22.