By Jim Hague
In years past, the Kearny Little League 11-and-12- year-old All-Star team wouldn’t exactly fare well when the time came for the District tournament.
However, things changed for the better a year ago, when Kearny advanced all the way to the District 5 title game before falling to Lyndhurst American.
This year, the Kearny All- Stars are doing even better, enjoying their best postseason run in recent memory.
The kids from Kearny won their first seven games in pool play, including a clutch 4-3 victory over Lyndhurst in the semifinals last Saturday morning in Wood-Ridge to advance to the winners’ bracket.
They are slated to face Rutherford American in the next round of the District 5 semifinals Tuesday with a chance to secure the District 5 championship.
Needless to say, Kearny’s success has pleased head coach Frank Goresh.
“We felt we had a good team,” Goresh said. “We had a lot of kids back from last year and they’re bigger, stronger and faster. We’re also deeper in pitching than we’ve ever been. We have a good group of kids, kids that are very dedicated. Before we started practice, we told the kids that we needed 100 percent commitment from them. We couldn’t afford to have kids going down the shore. They’ve been very committed and there every day.”
Goresh said that it’s not easy for an All-Star team to find the right chemistry.
“We have about a week to put the team together, then we need them to jell as a team,” Goresh said. “I’m very impressed the way they’ve come together. I was hoping to win four or five games in pool play and then maybe be ready for the playoffs. So I am definitely surprised with how well they’re playing. I never thought that we could get to this point. I hope it goes on longer. You never know.”
Goresh believes that there is a lot of talent on this Kearny Little League All-Star team.
“We’re proving that baseball is coming back around in Kearny,” Goresh said. “Sure, Kearny is a big soccer town, but we want to bring baseball back as well. These kids are a little hungry after falling a little short last year. They still have a great chance. The sky’s the limit and they realize it.”
Kearny’s pitching staff is deep and talented. Ryan Watson, who led Rick’s Auto Body to the Kearny Little League championship, is a mainstay on the mound and was the starting pitcher in Saturday’s win over Lyndhurst.
“He’s a big, strong kid who throws hard,” Goresh said.
Ryan Tully and Brendan Thiele are also quality pitchers who have done extremely well in the District 5 tourney.
“Our main top three pitchers have done very well, but we have three or four others who could pitch if we needed them,” Goresh said.
Travis Witt is the rock-solid backstop who handles the deep pitching staff.
“The great thing about having Travis catch is that he caught Ryan all year on Rick’s,” Goresh said. “He knows what Ryan throws and he’s used to having Ryan throw hard.”
Witt has a tremendous future as a catcher.
Luis Alfieri is the first baseman when Watson is on the mound. The two were teammates for Rick’s Auto Body and combined to hit an astounding 24 homers this season.
Pat Dunne is a slick-fielding second baseman who has shown a lot of pop in his bat. Dunne had three hits Saturday, including a long double off the wall. Dunne is also an 11-yearold, so he will return to Little League next year.
“You might think an 11-yearold might not be as successful, but Pat is hitting the ball hard and putting the ball in play,” Goresh said. “He’s also playing a great second base.”
Thiele is the rock-steady shortstop who makes the tough play look like a breeze. Thiele has also been hitting the ball well in the tourney.
Tully has been the regular third baseman, but he’s been moved from third to second to the outfield. The outfield has been anchored by Tyler Whaley in centerfield, who has delivered his fair share of clutch hits throughout the tourney.
“He’s come up big for us,” Goresh said. “I can’t say enough about how big Tyler has been.”
Whaley and Alfieri are also left-handed pitchers, giving the team a huge advantage.
Joe Millroy and Seamus Kane are starting outfielders, with C.J. McBride and Artie Smith, both 11-year-olds, coming off the bench. Smith just missed a homer on Saturday, blasting a double off the top of the fence that missed going out by about two feet.
John Lawless is another first baseman and Tom McAndrew sees time at third base.
The team is coached by Dan Watson and Tony Ignerillo.
Needless to say, the Kearny Little League team has already exceeded expectations _ and sits on the throes of a District championship.
“It’s been great to see,” Goresh said. “We’re having a great time. The kids are having a lot of fun during games and at practices. It’s all about the kids having fun. Sure, we want to win like anyone else. But it’s more than winning and losing. It’s about having fun.”
Bringing home a District 5 tournament banner would only add to the fun, for sure.