The Hillsborough 14U Gold baseball team is headed down to Milroy, Pa., to compete in the Cal Ripken Baseball Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament with a state championship in tow.
Hillsborough completed a year-long journey to fulfill its “ultimate goal” of becoming state champions on July 14 with a 13-3 victory over Millburn during the finals of the Northern New Jersey State Tournament.
“It feels great,” said Hillsborough 14U Manager Eric Albee on winning a state championship. “Our goal coming into this year was to win a state championship. It’s something we have been battling for the past few years.”
The Hillsborough 14U squad is part of the Hillsborough Baseball League (HBL) and has 15 players on its roster: Eric Albee Jr., Michael Albanese, Nathan Bienstock, Elijah Dawes, Connor Emmich, Brayden Fox, Anthony Guerrero, David Kandell, Drew Kipila, Jackson Lewis, Daniel Tobia, Rahil Shah, Evan Canica and Devon and Shane Khurana.
After coming up short in the 13U state final last year, Albee said his group of guys were determined to make it back to the state championship game this summer.
There was no stopping this Raiders’ bunch during the 2022 state tournament.
Hillsborough displayed its dominance on the diamond in every phase of the game to go a perfect 5-0 in the state tournament, rolling through the eight-team field with stellar hitting, shutdown pitching and great defense, Albee said.
The Raiders outscored their opponents 41-6 during the state tournament, sporting a 0.44 ERA on the mound and .332 batting average at the plate.
“After losing (in the state final) last year, we knew we were right there and that we could play at a high level,” Albee said. “It feels great to see all their hard work pay off in game situations.”
Albee believes the success Hillsborough had playing a competitive schedule over the course of the season benefited them a lot during the state tournament.
Over its last 16 games, Hillsborough is 15-1. This includes the team winning the Omaha SlumpBuster Tournament last month in Omaha, Neb.
Another huge plus for the Raiders this season has been the addition of former Hillsborough High School head baseball coach Eric Eden to the coaching staff.
Eden helped lead his alma mater to a Somerset County Tournament championship in 2014. During his last season at the helm in 2019, Eden led Hillsborough to a 16-6 record and a Skyland Conference Delaware Division crown.
Eden, a graduate of Western Illinois University, played professional baseball for both the Laredo Broncos and the Newark Bears before transitioning to the coaching ranks in 2012.
Coaching the Hillsborough 14U baseball squad this year has been a blast for Eden, who has continued to help out around the HBL since stepping away from coaching high school baseball at the beginning of last year.
“I’m having a good time (coaching the Hillsborough 14U team),” said Eden. “They’re an awesome group of young men. They love to play baseball. They want to compete and put in the work to get better. They have a high ceiling and a lot of potential.”
This will be the second straight season that members of the Hillsborough 14U squad will compete in the regional tournament.
Hillsborough made it the semifinals of the regional tournament last year in the 13U division. They are now the first group of Raiders in HBL history to make it to the regional tournament twice.
Playing in the regional tournament for the second year in a row will be helpful in the team’s quest to advance to the Cal Ripken Baseball World Series, said Albee.
Only the top two teams in each region advance to the world series.
“We know what to expect (playing in the regional tournament for the second time),” Albee said. “To advance beyond regionals would be an amazing accomplishment.”
Every accomplishment his group of Raiders have achieved over the last few years has been fun to watch for Albee.
He has coached many of the kids on the 14U squad since they were five and six years old and is proud to have watched them make HBL history these last two years.
“To see them reach this level of play has been great,” Albee added.
Hillsborough will take on Southern New Jersey champion Atlantic Shore in its first game of the regional tournament on July 22.