By Sean Reilly
It’s been a very impressive spring for the East Hanover Hornets, a 10U team that went into the weekend with a 20-1 record competing against a mix of town and club teams.
The Morris County squad took on its biggest challenge on Saturday and Sunday, when it made its Diamond Nation debut by taking part in the Homerun Classic Powered By Victus.
The Hornets passed the test with flying colors, winning all four of its contests, including a 9-1 victory over the Locked In Expos in the championship game on Sunday in Flemington.
The Hornets reached the final with a 9-1 triumph over the Diamond Jacks 10U earlier in the day. They outscored their four opponents by a combined total of 35-5.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Hornets leadoff man A.J. Rossi, who was named tournament MVP. That came with a special prize of a Victus wood bat that he plans on displaying in his room. “We’ve had a good year. Our team, we pick each other up all the time if we strike out or make a mistake. We practice hard, we push each other and we hit, pitch and make good plays.”
It’s not just the skills, but the attitudes of the players like Rossi that makes coaching the Hornets an enjoyable activity for coach Joe Cheringal and his staff.
“This was our first time here and it was tremendous,” he said. “We got two full days here, we played a bunch of good teams and the outcome was awesome. We challenged ourselves coming here and had a great time.
“We like playing a lot,” the coach said. “We kept putting up numbers. Our goal is to win each inning. The defense is good, our pitching was even better, and timely hitting…that’s the way you compete.”
The Locked In Expos, another Morris County based-team, reached the final by scoring four times in the sixth inning to eliminate the Hopewell Valley Bulldogs, 10-9.
The Expos maintained that momentum in the final by getting an RBI double from Eric Conklin in the top of the first.
But after that, East Hanover continued its trend of scoring in just about every inning.
Rossi led off with a walk in the bottom of the inning, stole two bases and scored on a one-out single to left field by Dante Elwood.
The Hornets added three more runs in the second inning. Brendan Dunn singled in the go-ahead run, and then Chike Orjiekwe delivered the big blow by hitting a two-run triple to center field on a 2-2 offering with two out.
East Hanover added another two-out run in the third. After the first two batters were retired, Liam Wood singled past shortstop and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He then scored when Anthony Minyetty singled past third base for a 5-1 lead.
The Hornets scored three more two-out runs in the fourth. Rossi tripled in one and scored on a wild pitch, and, after Orjiekwe walked and stole second, Braden Edelle singled him home.
The Expos had a chance to get back in the game in the top of the fifth, when walks to Patrick Collins and Colin Waldron, along with a single by Santino Bruno loaded the bases. T.J. Cooper stepped to the plate with two out, and ripped a hard grounder toward second base that seemed destined for the outfield and two or possibly three RBI. Instead, Hornets second baseman Lorenzo Lombardo made an outstanding backhanded stop, collected himself and threw to first baseman Minyetty for the third out.
“Bases loaded right there, that was a big play,” Cheringal said. “That was two runs and maybe three if it gets through. That was beautiful.”
The Hornets ended the game via the run rule in the bottom of the fifth. With Minyetty on first and Wood on third with one out, a successfully-executed first-and-third play allowed Wood to steal home with the clinching run.
Picking one man as MVP was a difficult chore for the Hornets coaches, but Rossi was a solid choice.
“I hit, pitched and played the field, but the team also made a lot of nice plays, especially when I was pitching,” he said. “I’ll put the bat in my room and display it.”
“Every time he got up, he battled,” Cheringal said. “He found holes, he hit gaps, he runs, he steals, he’s got a great glove and pitched our first game, too. He’s like everyone else. We keep churning.”