Bobcats’ grit, camaraderie advances team to 11U final

By DN WRITING STAFF | September 18, 2022

Jake Vanjonack stomps on home plate in the Bobcats’ nine-run third inning.

By Rich Bevensee

In Chester Springs and in the surrounding communities which lie roughly 40 miles west of Philadelphia, the folks who run youth baseball travel teams believe in keeping the kids together because of the friendships already established and on-field chemistry created by that bond. 

The Chester County Bobcats have become a wildly successful product of that formula.

In its first trip to Diamond Nation since Mother’s Day weekend, the Bobcats 11U team churned out 23 runs in two games and left the Flemington complex with a firm grasp on a berth in Sunday’s championship game. 

Slamming an exclamation point on their Saturday doubleheader, the Bobcats exploded for nine runs in the third inning, received a complete-game one-hitter from Ryan Lang, and trounced the 11U Ghost squad from Tinton Falls, 14-1 in four innings, in the Slugfest Tournament at “The Nation.” 

Earlier on Saturday the Bobcats (2-1) dismissed the Diamond Jacks Super 11U, 9-4. The Bobcats dropped a wild 17-14 contest to Northeast Pride (2-0-1) on Sunday, and all that did was secure a championship game berth for both teams and a rematch for the title on Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve been together since we were eight and we’ve put so much work into it,” said Jonathon Steppke, whose first-inning RBI single was one foot away from a home run. “We haven’t always been able to take that second step but I think we got it today.”

Caiden Cross was one of five Bobcats with an extra-base hit thanks to his first-inning grounds rule double.

The Bobcats churned out 11 hits against the Ghost, five for extra bases, including a triple by Jake Neiderer. Caiden Cross roped a grounds rule RBI double and Colten Hornberger added a two-run double when the Bobcats opened the scoring with a four-run first inning. Jake Vanjonack and Anthony Pallini had back-to-back RBI doubles in the Bobcats’ nine-run third. 

“We were mashing the ball this summer – our mentality is work, work, work – and we’re still mashing it now,” Steppke said. 

Bobcats coach Will Vanjonack firmly believes the success, and specifically the ability to build rallies, is a product of the neighborhood bond.

“I think it’s a pattern starting since they were 8 years old,” Vanonack said. “Same coaching staff, same families, same kids. We’re at the point where I don’t have to do much. They know what to do, they know how to hit, they know how to hit in counts, and you’re seeing it now.

“I think keeping the boys together was important for two reasons. They’re great friends and they hang out with each other, and they love to play for each other.”

Lang made all that heavy lumber work stand up with a great performance. He allowed one unearned run on one hit and one walk over four innings and struck out four. Kevin Chiano was the only Ghost to reach on a base hit.

“I threw a changeup a few times but I blew it by all of them so I didn’t really need to use it,” Lang said. “I mowed down the first three batters and then I felt good, and we scored a couple runs in the first inning.”

Vanjonack said Lang’s effort was even more impressive because he staggered through a lackluster performance last week, his first of the fall season. 

“Ryan did an amazing job,” Vanjonack said. “It was his second start of the fall. He came out flat a week ago, and he had the bounce-back here where he had the velocity and the control.”

“I was more loose and didn’t think about it as much,” Lang said. “I went out there and played. I wasn’t thinking I have to do a good job. I think I was having more fun, especially because we were coming off a win (against the Diamond Jacks).”

After Lang threw a perfect first inning, the Bobcats went to work in the bottom half. Cross opened the show with a two-run double, Steppke singled off the fence to drive in another run, and Hornberger ripped a two-run double into the right field corner for a 4-0 lead.

The damage may have been worse were it not for a sparkling defensive play by Ghost right fielder Jack Reid, who sprinted toward the line and dove to catch Kaden Yarnall’s shallow fly ball to end the inning. 

The Bobcats tacked on a single run in the second with a Vonjonack sacrifice fly, driving home Neiderer who tripled one batter earlier.

Ghost ruined the shutout in the third when Chase McNamara reached on an error and eventually scored on a Reid fielder’s choice grounder.

Just when Ghost thought it had cracked open the door, the Bobcats kicked it closed when Pallini, the Bobcats’ shortstop completed an unassisted double play. He snared Antonio Dugo’s line drive up the middle and stepped on second to double up Reid. 

In the bottom of the third, the Bobcats opened the floodgates by sending 14 batters to the plate and scoring nine runs on six hits, two walks and a two hit batsmen. 

Ryan Fair, Kaden Yarnall and Neiderer strung together consecutive RBI singles for an 8-1 lead. Vanjonack’s opposite-field, two-run double was followed by Pallini’s RBI double to left center for an 11-1 bulge.  

An error on a Cross ground ball brought home Pallini and Johnny Kolter, and Cross eventually scored on a wild pitch.

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