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Hamilton Post 31: New Jersey 2006
American Legion Champs

Hamilton Post 31, the perennial kingpin of Mercer County, captured the 2006 New Jersey American Legion championship on Aug. 2, knocking off West Deptford 15-1 at Moody Park in Ewing.

Post 31, composed mostly of members of Steinert High Schoolís Group 4 state champions traveled to Newburgh, N.Y., for regional competition, while West Deptford, by finishing second, headed to Brockton, Mass.

The state title was the fifth for Post 31, and third under 21-year head coach Rick Freeman (the others coming in 1987 and 1993). Hamiltonís other state crowns were in 1966 and 1967. In the 79 years of the New Jersey championships, only two teams have won more state titles: Brooklawn Post 72 has 23, and Trenton Post 93 is second with 21 (although its last title was in 1976).

In the Final Eight, Hamilton went 4-1, beating Mount Laurel 12-0, Mount Morris 20-7 and West Deptford 12-7, before falling to South Brunswick Post 401 9-6. West Deptford eliminated Mount Morris in a wild 12-11 game before ousting South Brunswick 11-6 in the semifinals.

Of the 15 games played at Moody Park, the winning team scored in double digits in 13 games.

In addition to Freeman, Hamiltonís staff included former Steinert coach Rich Giallella and his son Brian, the current Steinert coach.

Overall, the players who played for Steinert took a 57-12 combined record to Newburgh, after going 27-5 in the spring (following a 1-3 start!) and 30-7 in the summer. They won the Mercer County League title for the 11th straight summer.

Most Valuable Player of the state tournament was designated hitter/pitcher Keith Field, who played at Gloucester County College. Field went 13 for 21 (.619) in the five games, with six doubles and a dozen RBI. In addition to breaking the Post 31 record for career hits during the Final Eight, Field also saw action as the teamís main relief pitcher, if starters Greg Hough and Sam DaBronzo needed help.

But just about every player contributed to the championship, including No. 9 hitter and left fielder Matt Hvisdock, who scored a tournament-best 11 runs in the state finals despite having been used mostly as a pinch-runner this spring for Steinert.

The other teams at Moody Park, all district champions, were Edison Father & Son Post 435 (the only other former state champion, 1996, in the Final Eight), Bordentown Post 26 and Cresskill Post 21. The tournament was expanded to 64 teams this year, at eight district sites.

The first New Jersey champion was Irvington Post 16, back in 1928.

Hamilton is one of four Mercer County teams to win states, with Trenton, Ewing Post 314 (1973) and Broad Street Park Post 313 (1975) the others. Essex County has also had four teams win states: Irvington (1928), Verona Post 183 (1974), Caldwell Post 185 (1977-78) and Livingston Post 201 (1980).

Following Brooklawn, Trenton and Hamilton, Passaic Post 200, with four titles, is the only other team with more than two state crowns.

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