August 12, 2020

Bouncing Back from Tough Defeat In Opener, WWP Babe Ruth 15s Advance in State Tourney

IN THE SWING: Jackson Durbin of the West Windsor Plainsboro Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team follows through on a swing last weekend at the Southern New Jersey State tourney. After falling 5-0 to host Hamilton/Northern Burlington last Saturday in its opening game of the double-elimination competition, WWP topped Lawrence 6-0 on Monday. The squad is slated to get a rematch with Hamilton/NB on August 11 with the winner advancing to the championship round against Atlantic Shore on Wednesday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Andrew Liggio realized that his West Windsor Plainsboro Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team was in for a challenge as it faced host Hamilton/Northern Burlington at Switlik Park in the Southern New Jersey State tourney.

“Hamilton is a great team, it is well coached and they have been together for three years,” said WWP manager Liggio.

“They have gone through the states back-to-back years and have played in the Mid-Atlantic tournament. They have everyone back.”

While WWP fell behind 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning, Liggio wasn’t discouraged.

“I liked how the boys came out and played defense,” said Liggio, whose squad includes Princeton residents Jude Blaser, Jackson Durbin, Daniel Harlan, Leyton Shroff, Jonathan Tao, and Jake Zuckerman. “I think our bats were a little sleepy to start.”

In the top of the third, the bats woke up a bit as Durbin reached first base on a throwing error and Jack Liggio followed with a single. But WWP couldn’t push across a run and never threatened after that on the way to a 5-0 loss.

The team’s trio of pitchers, John Pacifico, Tao, and Blaser,
helped keep the contest tight.

“I liked our pitching and what I saw from all three kids,” said Liggio.

“Pacifico had a little bit of butterflies. It was his first time in the state tournament, but then he geared down in the meat of their order and in the second inning he came back stronger. He had a little fatigue when he got to 60 pitches. Jude was fantastic, seven batters faced and a first strike on all but one. He really sets the table for himself, he is very efficient.”

Although WWP was disappointed to come away with a defeat in its opener, Liggio saw plenty of positives.

“We gave them a 5-0 game on their field; I would have loved to win but it was our first game and their second of the tournament,” said Liggio.

“For a first game, I will take it. We will look to improve on that for the second game. The outfield played fantastic in my opinion. There were a couple of bad hops in the infield. It is a double elimination tournament so now our backs are against the wall. I am confident that we can play Monday and play on Tuesday. We are looking to strike first, take the lead, and build on from there.”

WWP did just that on Monday evening, posting an impressive 6-0 win over Lawrence, earning a rematch with Hamilton/NB on August 11 with the victor advancing to the championship round against Atlantic Shore on Wednesday. In the victory, Robert Rossi allowed just three hits over 4 and 1/3 innings with Harlan coming on in relief to finish off the shutout. Tao sparked the offense, blasting a three-run homer that cleared the left field wall and traveled about 330 feet with Aiden Castillo knocking in two runs.

But no matter what happens over the rest of the tournament, Liggio’s players are thrilled to on the diamond.

“As much of a hot mess that 2020 is, I am so glad that Jon Durbin, our league president, was able to put together a season quickly,” said Liggio.

“We had a nice five-week, 10-game season. For the kids who want to play all-star like these, especially for the 15s in my group, it is their last year on Babe Ruth so to get together for a competitive tournament is great. I know only five leagues came to the state tournament but to get this level of play for them is a good treat for the boys in a tough year.”