10 year-old team played for national championship BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Afew weeks after 12 Middletown youngsters and their four coaches ended a long and memorable journey to the Cal Ripken Babe Ruth 10-yearold championship game in Ocala, Fla., they were back in the spotlight when Middletown Mayor Gerry Sharfenberger and other town officials honored the team with a proclamation and speech at town hall on Monday. The Middletown 10-U all-star baseball team that reached the Cal Ripken Babe Ruth National Championship game this summer was honored Monday night by the Middletown Township Committee and Mayor Gerry Sharfenberger, who read a proclamation citing their many achievements. The youngsters racked up one tournament title after another — District 11, Northern New Jersey, and Middle Atlantic Regional titles — all the way to the World Series. With a legion of family members traveling to the Sunshine State to cheer on the determined group, the team beat every opponent in pool play from Weimar, Texas, Willamette Valley, Ore., host Ocala, and Sikeston, Mo., and then beat Jupiter, Fla., to advance to the national championship. They made a valiant comeback from a 4-0 deficit late in the championship game before falling short, 4-3, to Scott County, Ky., with a runner at second base when the game ended. So, has the team come down to Earth yet from this unforgettable experience of playing 31 games in about 10 weeks, winning 29 of them? “Funny, but for me it has sunken in, but for some of the parents and grandparents, they are still on a high or just coming off one,” said manager Rich Cardile, whose staff included coaches Kerry Dillon, Rob Higgins and Mike Downey, who also is the league president. “They don’t want to let it go, and they’re looking to stay together and play a few more tournaments.” “These boys were not afraid to be great. That was the motto one coach told them, to go out and do something great,” said Downey. Cardile said the town has really been behind the squad from when they advanced out of the district tournament and northern New Jersey state tournament into the regional tournament and then had only a week to prepare for the World Series, when the Middletown community showed its generosity and support. “We raised over $10,000 for the trip in just a week’s time,” said Cardile. “Families and people donated, businesses got excited about it and wanted to help.” Cardile said there was a feeling the team would do well from the start, with all but three of the players back from last year’s 9- year-old team that got to the state finals before losing. The honored players at the event in which the mayor recounted the team’s accomplishments, which will be chronicled in the township’s archives, were Carmine Cardile, Marc Cerbo, Jake Dillon, Brendan Doherty, Nicholas Donato, Sean Downey, Garrett French, Robert Higgins, Nicholas Hohenstein, Tyler Ras, Cody Sharkey and Ryan Stark. But it was hard to tell how far the team would go, said Cardile, and it wasn’t without some drama with some close, exciting victories, like in the regional title they won at North Tonawanda against Tonawanda on a walk-off two-run homer by Ras. To add a twist to the scenario, Ras was the pitch-hitrun competition national champion two years ago as an 8-year-old, and he hit the home run off this year’s 10-year-old national champion in that competition. “This team was special. It’s very unusual to find a group of boys to play at this level against this competition,” said Glenn Ras, Tyler’s father and a former league president. “When we won the states, we knew the kids were good, but we didn’t know how good until they started playing competition in the regional. They played well as a team. When they were put in a situation where they were up against it, they showed that they can do it.” In the regional, the team beat formidable opponents from New York, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, and topped South Jersey state champion Mountain Laurel in the finals as Sean Downey broke open a 3-2 lead with a grand slam homer in the last inning. “When we took the seven-hour drive back from the regionals, we all had smiles on our faces all the way home,” said Cardile. “Getting through states and regionals is quite an accomplishment. If you come out in good shape from the regionals, it sets you up well for the World Series.” “Actually, I saw this being able to happen two or three years ago, that these were talented, special players,” said Downey. “It was a total team effort, and you couldn’t single out one thing. What does come to mind was the parents and people in the community getting behind us to get what we needed to get.” Sean Downey wound up winning the batting title and was one of four Middletown players on the All-Tournament team that included Ras, Hohenstein and Higgins. “We felt we had 12 kids on the team who were All-Stars. We could hurt teams in the bottom of the batting order,” said Cardile. “That’s what differentiated us from other teams. Every day we had a different hero. We could beat teams in so many ways and win games 1-0 or 15-5.” But Cardile stressed that it was a “total team effort,” which is needed to keep playing in so many games. It’s why the team outscored opponents in the district and state tournaments by an average of more than 13 runs a game. Despite that commanding performance, Middletown was not flustered when it fell behind early twice in the region tournament and came back to win. Its only other loss was to Millburn in pool play in the state tournament, when it bounced back with vengeance, beating defending champion East Brunswick in the semifinals and knocking off a tough Bayonne team, 13-3, in the finals. Through it all, Cardile said the team drew compliments throughout the tournament from officials and fans of other teams for the way the players conducted themselves. “We showed great sportsmanship throughout the tournaments,” said Ras. There were many experiences of sportsmanship and competitive spirit that the players will take with them throughout their playing careers, and can look back on when they are no longer playing.