MOORESTOWN – Pride was reason enough.
The Cherry Hill National 11-year-old baseball team was a three-time defending state champion and a defending World Series champion.
Beating Moorestown in Tuesday's championship game of the Cal Ripken Southern New Jersey state tournament didn't actually change anything. As a World Series champ, the Nationals are automatically invited back to defend their title, which means they can give the Mid-Atlantic Region, which gets under way Monday in Mount Olive, Morris County on Monday, a pass.
Moorestown will represent Southern New Jersey in North Jersey, but won't get to do it as a state champion.That's really all Cherry Hill's 2-1 win over the Quakers on Tuesday was about.
“This was win-win for us,” Cherry Hill manager Joe Olivo said. “We knew we were going, but we still don't like to lose, for sure. We've won four in a row now, and we'd like to cap it off with our fifth next year. This was absolutely about pride – 100 percent.”
That's all it could have been. Cherry Hill was without a hit after three innings and fell behind in the fourth, when Moorestown's Nolan Carter was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Jimmy Incolingo's single to center.
If there was a moment to say 'we're going anyway' and move on, that was it, but the Nationals didn't entertain that thought for even an instant; Miles Balmores led off the home fourth with a base hit and scored the tying run on a throwing error, after he stole third.
Cherry Hill's CJ Lovelidge led off the fifth with a double and scored the go-ahead run on Matt Gonzalez's two-out single.
“I was thinking fastball and reacting to curve, and I hit it up the middle for a base hit,” Gonzalez said. “I was like, is that really dropping?"
It was. The Nats took a 2-1 lead and it stood up, even after Carter drew a two-out walk in the sixth. Carter stole second, but Cherry Hill reliever Vincent Olivo stranded him at second by striking out the next hitter.
“It was just a fastball, away and outside,” Olivo said. “It was an amazing feeling going after that – just pitching that right there, where it needed to be.”
The Nationals are headed for where they need to be next. The World Series gets underway on Friday, July 29, in Treasure Coast, Florida.
“We're going to spend 10 days in Florida with all the families. It'll be a great time, going to try to defend our title,” Joe Olivo said. “Regionals is something that's hard to do, because it's during the day. With work schedules and all that, we couldn't afford to take the extra week off. We're going to let Moorestown represent us there, and hopefully we'll see them in Florida.”
Those were Moorestown manager Jim Sanfilippo's final words, as he offered Cherry Hill his congratulations after the game.
“See you in Florida.”
That's a lot to battle through, for one more shot at the champ.
“I think my guys can hold their heads up high, and know that they played a clean game,” Sanfilippo said. “Unfortunately, we didn't come out on the right side of the score tonight. They're going to the World Series, but we're going to regionals. If we win regionals, we could see them in Florida.”
This article originally appeared on Burlington County Times: Cherry Hill Nats 11-year-old squad takes 4th straight Cal Ripken title