Even though the Princeton Little League (PLL) 10-year-old all stars squandered an early four-run lead against Sunnybrae last Friday in the championship round of the District 12 tournament, Ben Petrone didn’t lose faith.
“I knew we could get more hits and more runs so I was not really concerned,” said Petrone, the Princeton shortstop and leadoff hitter.
“We were really confident, we knew we could do it. We were hitting the ball great.”
In the bottom of the second, Petrone came up with a big hit, knocking in Dylan Angelucci to help Princeton regain the lead at 5-4.
“I just wanted to knock him in any way I could and get on base,” said Petrone, reflecting on his clutch single.
Princeton never looked back, building a 6-4 lead in the second and going on to a 9-5 win and what is believed to be the PLL’s first District 12 crown.
In reflecting on Princeton’s 5-0 run through the tournament, Petrone cited the squad’s versatility as a key factor.
“I think we are a great all around team,” asserted Petrone. “We can pitch, we can run, play defense, and hit.”
Petrone, for his part, contributed both offensively and defensively, hitting .867 (13-for-15) in the tournament with 11 runs and playing superbly at shortstop.
“Every time I get up I try to get on base and get things started,” said Petrone.
“When it gets hit to me in the field, I try to make the play.”
Petrone’s father, Mike Petrone, the team’s manager, was confident his team would make the plays against Sunnybrae.
“Sunnybrae is a tough team, they are not going to go away easily,” said Petrone.
“We were going to stay tough and bounce back and we did. We have been swinging the bat great all tournament and we kept scoring runs.”
The team’s combative approach at the plate paid dividends. “We have nine kids who can hit,” said Petrone, whose team averaged 10.2 runs a contest in the tourney.
“Little League baseball is never going to be perfect; they are not major leaguers defensively. The theme at the beginning was to wear your hitting shoes, swing, and be aggressive and we kept doing that all through the tournament.”
Petrone’s son took that message to heart. “Ben has had a great tournament; he has gotten hit after hit,” said Petrone.
“He has scored a lot of runs and has played great defense at shortstop. He gets the other guys going and keep their heads in the game so he has done a great job.”
Princeton got some great pitching in the finale from starter Jake Renda and reliever Tommy Delany Renda went 4 and 1/3 innings and was sharp with the exception of the second while Delany came on to get the last five outs and worked out of a jam in the sixth after Sunnybrae got two on.
“Jake has had a tremendous tournament; he is the best pitcher in District 12,” said Petrone.
“He had a rough second inning; he stuck it out and pitched great. Tommy is tough as nails; he is the guy I want to have on the mound to get the last out. “
Based on the way Princeton prepared for the tournament, Petrone believed the team would be a tough out.
“We practiced hard every day and we got them focused and ready to play and put them in a position to win,” said Petrone. “At the end of the day, they did the job and played well.”
In the end, the squad achieved an historic breakthrough for the PLL program.
“It is a big accomplishment, the kids are proud,” said Petrone, whose team fell 9-5 to Middletown last Monday in the first round of the double-elimination Section 3 tournament.
“We have gotten great support from the parents and other people in the league and friends. It has been a wonderful thing.”
The younger Petrone has enjoyed the team’s wonderful run. “It was great; it was really fun to play,” said Petrone. “From the tryout, we knew we would be a good team. We looked really good from the first day.”