Gators Crowning Achievement:
Back-to-Back CJABL Championships !!!
By Sal Nesto
The Garden State Gators concluded their magical perfect season with a convincing come from behind 12-3 victory over the Flemington Devils in the Spring 2008 Central Jersey Amateur Baseball League’s 14U Championship Game on June 22nd in Warren. The standard Gator recipe for success of clutch hitting, stifling defense and outstanding pitching once again proved too much for the opposition as the Gators became the first “big diamond” team in CJABL history to win back-to-back AAU Championships.
The Proud Champions
Left to Right
First Row: Jonathan Berntsen, Ryan Place, J.C. Rizzi,
Matt Nesto, Tyler Martis, Brett Ryan
Second Row: Jack Garno, Mark Nahorniak, Dalton Fischer, Matt Facas
Chris Nichols, Kevin Mahala, Eric Driver, Sam Ahsler, (not pictured, Chris Fezza)
Gator starter, and winner, Dalton Fischer was in control for four solid innings on the hill. Fischer retired the side in order in the title game’s initial frame, with the aid of center fielder JC Rizzi’s spectacular catch of a drive to deep right center. Tyler Martis and Matt Nesto then opened the Gator half of the first inning with consecutive singles. After Tyler Martis was nailed at the plate on the front end of a double steal by a well-executed Flemington defensive play, Chris Nichols drove home the game’s first run with a ground ball to third that allowed Matt Nesto to cross the plate. Mark Nahorniak followed with a booming double, but the Flemington defense tightened up to thwart another scoring opportunity.
Flemington came right back with two runs of their own in the second and a single run in the third to grab a 3-1 lead as the Gators came to bat in the last of the third. Gator center fielder Ryan Place helped avoid a bigger Flemington second inning when he raced to grab a line drive and made a perfect throw to first baseman Sam Ahsler to complete the crucial double play.
After a quiet home second inning, in which only Matt Facas was able to reach base via a free pass, JC Rizzi opened the Gator third with a solid base hit. After an error and a stolen base, the Gators would trim the deficit to one run as JC Rizzi raced home on Brett Ryan’s hard hit sacrifice fly to center. Trailing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the fourth, the Gators put together some quality at-bats to tally three runs for a 5-3 lead that they would not relinquish. Eric Driver led things off with a base on balls. After a one-out walk to Tyler Martis, Matt Nesto ripped a single up the middle to score Eric Driver with the tying run. When the ball skipped past the Flemington center fielder, Tyler Martis sped home with Matt Nesto flying all the way to third. Once again, Chris Nichols would provide the Gators with a productive at-bat, as his ground ball to short allowed Matt Nesto to cross the plate with the Gators fifth run of the contest. Mark Nahorniak then walked, but a great play in right to rob Dalton Fischer of extra bases shut down the chance for any further scoring.
Jack Garno then came on in relief of Dalton Fischer, striking out three Flemington batters en route to two hitless innings of work. The Gators would put the game away and claim their second consecutive CJABL championship with a huge seven run outburst in the fifth inning. Kevin Mahala singled with one out, and Jonathan Berntsen reached on a fielder’s choice to get the Gator rally going. One batter later, Sam Ahsler drew a walk to load the bases with two men out. Jack Garno then walked to force home Kevin Mahala with the Gator’s sixth run, and then Brett Ryan drilled a two-base hit to score both Jonathan Berntsen and Sam Ahsler and give the Gators a commanding 8-3 lead. However, the Champs were not done scoring just yet. After Eric Driver drew his second base on balls of the game, Ryan Place launched a line drive triple to deep right center to clear the bases, chasing home Jack Garno, Brett Ryan and Eric Driver and increase the lead to 11-3. A hard hit ball by Tyler Martis proved too much for the Flemington shortstop to handle, as Ryan Place dashed home with the games final tally.
With the Gators still leading 12-3, Chris Nichols came out of the Gator pen to retire the side one-two-three in the seventh to secure the ball club’s most impressive victory. As first baseman Eric Driver clutched the ball after recording the game’s final out, the Gators began a joyous celebration on the field, dousing each other with the now traditional “Sparkling Cider” post-game celebration, while the throngs of Gator faithful roared their approval of another well deserved AAU Championship.
A perfect night in Warren to cap off a perfect season of youth baseball. Congratulations to the boys in “Navy and Orange” for this richly deserved championship. Our overpowering pitching staff led by Dalton Fischer, Jack Garno and Chris Nichols, with solid support roles from Tyler Martis, Jonathan Berntsen, Kevin Mahala and Brett Ryan allowed less than two runs per ball game throughout the championship season and post-season. Catchers Matt Facas and Sam Ahsler did an outstanding job of handling the staff, including calling all their pitches the entire way. The Gator infield was stifling to the opposing offense all year long, shutting down rally after rally. Tyler Martis and Matt Nesto anchored the middle of the diamond, while Jonathan Berntsen, Kevin Mahala, Brett Ryan and Eric Driver handled the corners. Our outfield was where “doubles came to die” thanks to the fine leatherwork of JC Rizzi, Ryan Place, Chris Fezza and Mark Nahorniak. Outstanding versatility was also a Gator trademark as Matt Facas and Chris Nichols could be found ably handling almost every position on the field at one point or another.
These young men have carried themselves like champions for four seasons now, both on and off the field, and are a tribute to what hard work, dedication and a passion for this great game is all about!