Youth baseball: New Jersey team rolls to Babe Ruth title in Murray
Murray • The core of the group remains, the ones who came oh-so-close to capturing the Cal Ripken World Series in 2008, but ultimately ended up placing third.
Officially, 11 of those 13 boys from Branchburg, N.J., have been playing together for six years. Showing up every day to practice, dreaming of another shot on a national stage, and vowing to win a championship if they received another chance.
"We didn't want to come up empty again," was how Jake Kobuta phrased it.
On Saturday afternoon, on a warm day at Ken Price Park in Murray, the New Jersey kids got it right. When the last out was recorded on a 7-5 win over Jacksonville, Fla., the Babe Ruth 14-and-under World Series title was theirs.
"It's a great feeling," Kobuta said. "We wanted to play as hard as we had ever played if we got the chance."
New Jersey proved to be a deep and talented bunch. Kobuta is the youngest player on the roster, but his two hits and overall play throughout the week garnered him MVP honors. Josh Dela Cruz made the all-tournament team, knocking out three hits and scoring runs in the first three innings.
The score was 6-0 after three innings, a game that appeared over at that point, perhaps even headed toward a blowout. But Florida appeared staged to make a comeback, scoring four runs in the top of the fourth inning, making things close and tapping into New Jersey's bullpen.
"We stayed calm," New Jersey manager Tommy Scharnikow said. "If the score was 2-0, we'd be happy with that.
"We knew we had the hammer because we had the last at-bat. So we needed to stay calm and do exactly what we did to get the lead in the first place."
True to form, Scharnikow's team scored a run in the bottom of the fourth. Although Florida came a run closer in the fifth, and had runners in scoring position in the sixth, New Jersey's bullpen clamped down when needed.
The last out yielded a massive celebration on the first-base line. The kids from Branchburg, the close-knit bunch from a small town, are finally champions.
Storylines Branchburg 7, Jacksonville 5
R Branchburg, N.J., wins the championship, defeating Jacksonville, Fla., 7-5 in Saturday's final at Ken Price Park in Murray.
• Branchburg's Josh De La Cruz has three hits and scores three runs.