Princeton Little League Team Ends Historic Run, Placing 3rd at State Intermediate 50/70 Tourney
Having made history by becoming the first team from the Princeton Little League (PLL) to win a sectional title, the Princeton squad was looking to write another chapter to its memorable summer as it played in the New Jersey State Intermediate 50/70 tournament last week in Winslow.
“The mood was very serious and very determined,” said PLL manager Jon Durbin. “They wanted to do the best that they could, they were dialed in and focused. It was very professional.”
PLL showed its focus as it jumped out to an early lead against West Deptford in an opening round contest at the four-team event.
“We were up 6-1 after two innings,” recalled Durbin. “Teddy (Durbin’s son) started and decided that he would only go 50 pitches so we could have him for the championship round. We pulled him and they got five runs in the next inning.”
West Deptford went ahead 9-6 in the top of the fifth inning on a three-run homer and pulled away to a 15-9 win.
“It turned into a slugfest, it was a see-saw game. The closest we got was 9-8,” said Durbin.
“It was a wild game, both teams were tight and both made more errors than you would expect.”
In its next outing, PLL produced a sharp game as it rolled to a 13-1 win over Nutley. Princeton jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the first inning and never looked back. Jackson Rho and Ben Kioko both hit homers while Jackson Rho, Judd Petrone, Jake Renda, and Gautam Chawla combined on the mound to hold Nutley to one run on five hits.
“I think that gave them confidence that they were where they needed to be to play their way to the championship round,” said Durbin, reflecting on the win over Nutley, which was eliminated from the competition by virtue of the result.
While Princeton fought valiantly, it didn’t advance to the championship round, falling 8-3 to West Deptford, the eventual state champion, in an elimination game.
“We got down 5-1; it was a rough first inning, we had some errors and they hit two home runs,” said Durbin.
“We kept fighting. We got it to 5-3 but they hit a three-run homer. We didn’t get the timely hits we needed to get West Deptford on their heels.”
In the wake of the loss, Durbin and his coaches both consoled and prodded their players.
“I think it was an emotional moment, for nine of 12 guys, it was the last PLL game they were going to play,” said Durbin.
My two coaches (Al Rho and Chris Trenholm) and I started coaching some of the guys when they were anywhere from five to eight years old. We have been working with them for a long time. It was a fun ride together and we thanked the 13-year-olds who are aging up and moving on. We challenged the 12-year-olds to lead the team next year and take it to even greater heights.”
The post-game message also focused on challenging the players to do what it takes to excel on and off the field as they head into life beyond Little League.
“We told them how proud of them we were, and how their dedication and commitment to excellence in baseball and to the team had enabled them to achieve so much success this year in terms of being the first PLL team to win a Sectional Title, to being the first PLL Team to participate in the State Tournament, and ultimately finishing third in New Jersey,” added Durbin.
“We encouraged them to maintain that commitment to excellence and to the team as they move forward in baseball and with all the sports teams they play on, to their school work, and ultimately in adulthood in work, home, and community service. When you move on and play travel, it can be more about your progress and they are heading into those waters. It is important to do it as part of a team where you have friends on the team and you really care for each other. This is one of the things I love about Little League being an all volunteer program because the parents do such a great job connecting the play on the field with life lessons.”
In reflecting on the team’s historic run, Durbin said the way his players have connected with each other over the years had been a key factor in its success.
“The beauty of it is that they loved playing together and they jelled together,” added Durbin. “A lot of them also play together on travel teams and in different sports, like Dillon basketball.”
In Durbin’s view, the accomplishments of the PLL program this summer, which also saw the 9-10 all-star team make it to the District 12 finals, has helped bring the town together.
“The run of the Intermediates and the 9-10s had a lot of people enjoying the PLL,” said Durbin.
“The Intermediate team, in particular, created a lot of town pride. It is part of Americana; the team becomes a part of the community. It was amazing, all the e-mails and texts I got from people about how we were doing.”