Trailing by a run entering the sixth inning, the Erial Little League 11-12 all-star team put together a rally that featured patience, intelligence, guts and, eventually, power.
As a result the youngsters from Erial are once again District 14 champions.
Erial scored four runs in the sixth inning to storm back for a 6-3 win over Blackwood Kiwanis to win the league's fifth-straight District 14 Majors Division championship.
“It feels really good,” said Erial’s Shawn Gaugler, who got the win with 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. “We did it last year and the same thing happened; we came back in the sixth. It’s just really fun.”
“They came into a lot of situations where they could have gotten down on themselves and when these kids were seven and eight they would have,” said Erial manager Jeff Mastrogiovanni. “They would have exploded, the game would have been over because it would have spiraled out of control. I can’t commend them enough on keeping their focus and keeping their heads in the game. It’s all them.
"When they came in to bat in the top of the sixth, the coaches and I stepped aside and I told them, 'It’s your guys' team, pump yourselves up.’ They pumped themselves up and then they got the rally.”
Just after Mastrogiovanni finished those words he was doused by soda sprayed on him by his players.
On this night, a Coke shower was more than acceptable.
“I can’t say enough about them as a team,” Mastrogiovanni continued. “They have matured so much over the past five years. They have beaten a lot of obstacles.”
Erial trailed 3-2 to open the sixth but got a leadoff single from Nick Chaput, followed by a walk by Jared Weaver. Both runners moved up a base after a wild pitch, setting the stage for Anthony DiMartino. The Erial outfielder didn’t disappoint, sending a sacrifice fly to left that plated Chaput and advanced Weaver to third. However, the play didn’t end there.
When the ball was returned to Blackwood relief pitcher Eddie Makel, Weaver broke for home and scored without a throw. The play caught many by surprise including some of the Erial players.
“I didn’t know that (Weaver) went home,” Gaugler said. “As soon as I saw the score change to 4-3, everyone just started jumping around.”
Mastrogiovanni credited Weaver with using his head on the play.
“It was great heads-up play by Weaver because he was just inching down the line and he saw nobody was paying attention and—boom!—he was gone,” Matrogiovanni said. “The pitcher had the ball, the catcher was going to get his mask and nobody was looking. I saw the umpires clearly hadn’t called time so we sent him.”
There was no confusion about how Erial scored its next two runs. After Devin Leary was hit by a pitch, Trey Crumpler launched a two-run homer to left to extend the lead to 6-3.
In the early stages of the game it looked as though Blackwood would extend its season for at least another day. Blackwood took advantage of wildness from Erial starter Jaden Diaz-Lambert in the first inning, scoring three runs on one hit, five walks and a wild pitch.
Trailing 1-0 to start the bottom of the first, Alex Rebstock singled and later scored on a walk. Brian Pereira and Matt Prendergast each walked and scored. Diaz-Lambert was replaced by Gaugler, who didn’t let Blackwood threaten the rest of the way.
"His confidence and how he has matured over the years has just been fantastic,” Mastrogiovanni said. “He doesn’t throw the hardest in the world, but he certainly keeps hitter off-balanced. I think he threw 50 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.”
Gaugler made it sound simple.
“I made the mound mine, and I was just throwing strikes,” he said.
Not factoring in the decision was Pereira, who pitched his heart out for Blackwood. The team’s ace went 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs before having to be removed due to his reaching Little League's 85-pitch limit.
Erial will begin its Sectional run next Tuesday at home against an opponent to be determined.
Editor's Note: Parents and fans of the Erial and Blackwood teams are encouraged to upload photos and videos from Tuesday's game to this Gloucester Township Patch article. Please include both captions and credits when possible.