Livingston American tried crushing Parsippany, N.J.'s Little League World Series dreams late last month. One day later, Mother Nature tried intervening.
Neither could derail this determined team.
Mid-Atlantic champ Parsippany is playing at the Little League World Series for the first time. The Par East Troy Little League all-stars are living the dream of so many 11- and 12-year-olds.
But it has not been easy. In order to win the state championship, Parsippany had to win four games in three days after dropping its opener, 11-2, to Livingston and then having rain wash away its next game. A doubleheader in 90-degree temperatures and consecutive games against Nottingham, which had blanked two previous opponents, 18-0, proved no match, however.
Parsippany persevered and became the first New Jersey team to win state championships in consecutive years at different age levels. That is something not even powerhouse Toms River has done.
"That was a busy week, but the kids rose to the occasion and got it done," Parsippany manager Mike Ruggiero said. "They just go out there and play hard and I admire them for that."
So do all its fans. The team has brought pride to a community that has endured some hard times. It has basically become the great American success story, overcoming the odds and making history when it would have been easy to crumble after the first Livingston game.
"These kids have just kept excelling and moving forward and advancing," Par Troy East Little League President John Bucciarelli said. "They have that quiet can-do mentality. They know what to do and they don't get frazzled."
Following the opening state tournament loss to Livingston, Parsippany played some of its best baseball. It won its next two games by a 25-2 margin and exacted revenge on Livingston, pounding it 11-1. It then edged Nottingham, 4-3, to force and "if" game, which it won 9-4, coming back to do so.
The Mid-Atlantic champions are mighty talented. But they might be even more resilient. This group has been together since it was 8 and it has never lost two games in a row.
That streak continued Saturday when Parsippany avoided elimination and downed Oregon, 10-4.
"We know we can bounce back," pitcher/shortstop Emil Matti said after homering twice in that game. "We know because we lost the first game in states and came back to win the whole thing."
"It's baseball and sometimes you're going to fail and sometimes you're going to succeed but we believe we're always going to get it done," Ruggiero said. "The track record they have is unbelievable."
That might be why Ruggiero felt so much pressure entering this all-star season. He has coached most of the players since they were 8. The first time he watched them practice together, he told Bucciarelli he sensed they could do something special.
That group won districts as 10 year olds, then won sectionals last year, setting the stage for the next step. Ruggiero is coaching his fourth son and is in his 15th season. He knew this would be the last time one of his kids could make a Series run.
But first Parsippany had to win states - one step farther than it went last year. No wonder Ruggiero felt a sense of relief than after Parsippany won the state crown.
"When they won the state tournament, Mike said to me, 'I have the weight of the world off my shoulders. I just got this boulder off,'" Bucciarelli said. "I joked with him and told him, 'yeah, but that boulder is going to get a lot bigger than that; you're going to regionals.' It's great to see because they went out and quietly reached their goal."
That is the Parsippany way. The players and coaches do not talk about how good they are. They just go out and prove it. It remained that way at regionals in Bristol, Conn., where Parsippany went 5-1 and shut out two straight opponents in elimination play.
Parsippany became the first New Jersey team other than Toms River to reach the Series when it edged top-seeded Delaware, 1-0. It was a game that symbolized the team. Pitching was outstanding, the defense flawless and somebody, this time Bener Uygun, came up with the big hit - a home run.
When the games have mattered most this summer, Parsippany consistently has delivered. In states it was Vinny Prezioso hitting a game-winning home run against Nottingham to force the "if" game. Go up and down the roster in all the other games and one finds just about every player delivering in similar fashion.
They might not say much, but their play speaks volumes.
"They respect each other, they respect their teammates and they respect their opponents," Ruggiero said. "They don't talk trash. They just work hard and play hard. They worked hard to get here and it really is a dream come true."
Parsippany won the Sportsmanship Award at Bristol, proving that it is as solid off the field as it is on it. Still, it's the on-field exploits that have made the team the talk of New Jersey. People love a winner and New Jersey has a great one in Parsippany.
Entering the Series the team was 17-0 the last two years in Little League and travel ball championships. That is how good it is.
Ruggiero was right. The group has been special. And what it has done, the team and its community will never forget.
"It's not just the team. This is something we will all remember and cherish the rest of our lives," Bucciarelli said. "Living through them, the experience they have created and the proudness they have instilled in the town and the community, is just great."