Years-long goal of making Series achieved by New Jersey
The more improvement Elizabeth, New Jersey, players have shown this summer, the more Jairo Labrador and Lou Aponte’s arms have ached.
And they are completely fine with that. The Elmora Youth Little League all-stars are competing at the Little League World Series for the first time and they have worn out their batting practice pitchers along the way. The Mid-Atlantic champions have come a long way since starting their Series journey and their coaches know that better than anyone. The margin of victory might have grown smaller at each tournament on the way to South Williamsport, but Elizabeth has grown stronger at each stop and that is why it has reached the ultimate Little League destination.
“The only people wearing down are the coaches. Our arms are shot, but at this point, I don’t mind if my arm falls off,” Labrador, the team’s manager, said. “It’s a small price to pay. If it’s Coach Lou and myself that have to get Tommy John surgery for these boys to experience this, then that’s a small price to pay.”
Elizabeth has paid the price, not just this year, but over the past five years. Most of this team has competed together since first joining the Elmora Youth Little League. Named in honor of late police officer and league alum Thomas J. Hanratty, the Troopers displayed a strong work ethic early on and kept progressing over the next few years.
How far those players came was shown in 2017 when Elizabeth captured the 10-year-old Mid-Atlantic championship. The same year, Holbrook Little League from New Jersey reached the Little League World Series. It also had won the 10-year-old title two years before that and that is when reaching South Williamsport suddenly seemed realistic.
“That’s when it became a goal for us. These guys won at 10 and we were like, ‘we want a shot,'” Labrador said. “We set it as a our main goal to get here. We know how hard it is to get here, but this was our goal.”
The Troopers understood that what they achieved at 10 meant nothing moving forward. They went back to work and kept honing their skills. Everything was about making 2019 special and Elizabeth started the summer strong, outscoring three District 2 opponents, 33-1. Sections were not much tougher as Elizabeth romped past three more opponents.
States proved tougher and Elizabeth found itself face-to-face against Holbrook in the state final. Holbrook gave the Troopers their toughest challenge, but Yadi Mateo hit a go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning and they captured the program’s first 12-year-old state championship, 10-7.
Regionals started well, too, as Elizabeth defeated Pennsylvania, 1-0. It then took a three-run lead into the sixth-inning against Washington D.C. and was an out from winning when Jacob Goldman’s three-run walk-off home run dealt Elizabeth a shocking 8-7 loss. The only way the Troopers could reach the Series was by winning four consecutive elimination games. The loss hurt, but all that did was provide more fuel for an already explosive team determined to reach its goal.
“They had a down moment against D.C. and we were like, ‘Whoa!’ and came back and were focused like laser beams,” Elmora Youth Little League treasurer Ralph Abbate said. “Every game after that was no issue.”
The loss might have been the best thing that could have happened. A team which had come so far this summer, found the energy and the will to keep going and becoming stronger while doing so. Elizabeth pummelled Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and New York four times in the next five days, outscoring those state champions, 32-5. In the rematch against Washington D.C., Jayden Capindica threw 5 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball in a 5-0 victory after allowing the walk-off home in the first game. It was the latest example of this team being both talented and tough.
A night later, the Troopers put all the hard work over the last five years together and showed how great they are, downing undefeated New York, 19-4. All parts in this machine hummed perfectly as seven players produced multi-hit games, eight players scored runs, two players combined on a three-hitter, and the defense made several excellent plays. All that hard work was to earn a championship moment like this. When that moment arrived, Elizabeth owned it.
“The way they reacted and came back following that loss shows who we are as a league and a community,” Elmora Youth Little League President Manny Medina said. “Even when things are tough and look down they always come back,” Medina said. “With the coaching and parents in the league, each kid has been brought up to fight for what they believe in, whether up or down. It was encouraging how they did that, coming back and winning those four games.”
For the coaches, seeing their players handle the pressure in such impressive fashion makes all those aches and pains worth it. A journey which started five years ago is now complete. Elizabeth never stopped working, never stopped improving and never stopped believing.
Together, these Troopers have showed their community all that can be achieved through hard work. They have shown what can happen when preparation meets opportunity. They have shown that some dreams do come true.
“We always tell the kids, whether they are starting or coming off the bench, that your moment is going to come,” Labrador said. “You have to be ready for that moment and challenge and all our kids have had that moment.”