ALLENTOWN – During the summers of 2021 and 2022, Manager Sahil Thakur and the players on the Allentown American Legion baseball team have stamped their mark on New Jersey’s American Legion baseball scene.
Over two seasons, the team has won 46 games and two state championships, and made two appearances in the semifinals of the American Legion Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament.
“We have shot (ourselves) to another level, especially this summer,” Thakur said of the program’s two-year run. “This summer we proved we were not a one-year wonder.”
Allentown went 22-6 in 2022. The team’s season came to an end in the American Legion Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament semifinals in Morgantown, W. Va. The tournament was held from Aug 3-7.
Mike Doran (Allentown High School), Thomas Strauch (Howell High School), Griffin Murphy (Freehold Township High School), Carl Barth (Jackson Liberty High School), Joseph Butera (Allentown), Alex Bischoff (Allentown), Thomas Kendrick (Jackson Memorial High School), Slade Harrill (Allentown), Devin Nitschmann (Allentown), Christopher Sasso (Jackson Liberty), Jacob Kramer (New Egypt High School), Brendan Buecker (Notre Dame High School), Gavin Kincs (New Egypt) and Patrick Burns (Freehold Township) represented Allentown during the regional tournament.
Zachary McCabe (Jackson Memorial), Daniel Keenan (Jackson Liberty), Brody Pasieka (Hun School) and Jackson Wargo (Notre Dame) helped Allentown win the state championship, but were not able to compete in the regional tournament.
At the regional tournament in West Virginia, Allentown went 2-2 in the double elimination format.
Allentown opened the tournament with a 4-3 victory over South Charleston, W. Va., before falling in its second game, 9-8, to Frederick, Md.
The loss to the squad from Maryland put Allentown in a win-or-go-home scenario in its next contest against Wilmington, Del.
Trailing 2-1 entering the top of the seventh inning, Allentown scored four runs in its final at bat and won 5-2 to stay alive. Strauch smashed a three-run home run with one out that gave Allentown a 4-2 lead before one more run came home.
Before he hit that home run, Strauch had been struggling at the plate.
Thakur said he gave Strauch a pep talk before the at bat and told Strauch he was in that spot for a reason and that everyone on the team believed in him. Strauch homered and Thakur said, “I am very proud of (Strauch) for battling back.”
With the win over the squad from Delaware, Allentown advanced to play in a semifinal game against Chesapeake, Va. Strauch had three hits, but the season came to an end for Allentown in a 5-4 loss.
While that was not the ending the manager and the players wanted, they did not lose sight of what they accomplished this summer: a second consecutive state title and a second consecutive trip to the regional semifinals.
“It’s a testament to the players to get us to this point,” Thakur said. “All four of the games in the regional tournament we played were tight. Our two losses came in one-run games. We pushed all the way to the end.”
The team’s success in 2021 and 2022 has helped to advance a larger goal for Thakur and his players and coaches. That goal is to grow American Legion baseball in New Jersey and around the United States.
“My goal and my team’s goal is to keep growing (American Legion baseball),” Thakur said. “It is another opportunity for players to play at a high level. A lot of kids have had an interest in playing for us the last two years. Hopefully it will happen next summer, too.”
Thakur said he has already heard from current and prospective players who want to play for Allentown in 2023. He said lifelong memories and relationships have been made on and off the field in 2021 and 2022 and he said he hopes more of that will follow a year from now.
“Building these relationships going forward was a great experience for all of us. I am looking forward to having some new guys join the team next year to help try to take us to the American Legion World Series,” Thakur said.