Cali Carting wins Kearny Little League World Series title

For more than 30 years, the Cali Carting team in Kearny Little League has been synonymous with one man: Joe Halpin.

“He’s the staple of the team,” said Cali Carting current manager Mo Lopez. “He’s the man. I just follow his lead. He sits in his chair and tells everyone what to do. He does it all.”

One year, Halpin was able to witness his Cali Carting team capture the Kearny Little League World Series title.

“That was 2007,” Lopez said. “We always wanted to get him another one.”

Before the current season began, Lopez felt confident about his team’s chances this year.

“We knew we had some team leaders coming back,” Lopez said. “We needed four spots. We were able to pick up brothers of kids we already had on the team. When the team was set with additional newcomers, we knew we had a nice little team.”
Lopez credited the work of his team.

“We would practice every day at 4 p.m.,” Lopez said. “It was tough to get together some days. We would find a little corner of the field (at Vets Park on Belgrove Drive) and work on grounders or work on our hitting.”
Lopez also gave kudos to the commitment of the team’s parents.

“The parents were very helpful,” Lopez said. “They would drop the kids off on time or sometimes stay there and watch practice. They would bring Gatorade for the kids. We have a great group of parents. It really helped.”

When assembling the 2018 Cali Carting roster, Lopez knew he had to establish one aspect to the game.

“We needed pitching,” Lopez said. “Everyone knows that you win with good pitching.”
The ace of the squad was the manager’s son, Adam, a 12-year-old right-handed hurler.

“He can throw five pitches,” Lopez said of his son. “He can throw a two-seamer (fastball), a four-seam, a change-up and a knuckleball.”

Yes, Adam Lopez is Kearny Little League’s version of R.A. Dickey, throwing the knuckler.

“He can also throw a curveball, but we won’t let him,” Lopez said.

Nor will Kearny Little League officials, as curveballs are outlawed due to the strain that the pitch can cause on a growing adolescent’s arm. Sliders are also not permitted. The Little Leaguers will leave the curveballs to Clayton Kershaw and the sliders to Aroldis Chapman.

But the younger Lopez had a sensational season for Cali Carting.

“He was basically unhittable,” Lopez said of his son, who earned All-Star status and is playing for the Kearny squad in the ongoing District 5 Little League All-Star Tournament in Carlstadt. “Once we got him on the mound, he was able to practically shut teams down.”

Another top pitcher on Cali Carting was 11-year-old Jaiden Malave, another righty.

“Jaiden was very deceiving,” Lopez said. “He doesn’t look like he’s throwing the ball hard, but he has some pop to his fastball. This was his first time pitching and he throws a good ball. When I put him in, the team felt comfortable.”

Another pitcher was 12-year-old Rexhet Berisha, who is the team’s resident “flamethrower,” according to Lopez.

“He just lets the ball go,” Lopez said of Berisha. “He’s a big boy and is very imposing on the mound just on size alone.”

Connor McGuire is another 12-year-old right-hander who came up big for the team.

“He has a small frame, but he’s a tough pitcher,” Lopez said.

The team’s final pitcher is 11-year-old Emma Carson, who has been playing baseball with and against the boys for quite some time now and absolutely shows no fear.

“Emma has played for me for two years,” Lopez said. “And she’s been absolutely wonderful to coach. Whenever I threw her in to pitch, she did her job and pitched well.”

The team’s main catcher is Rexhet Berisha.

“He has a strong arm behind the plate and no one steals on him,” Lopez said. “He’s also our best power hitter and the best power hitter in the league.”
The imposing Berisha blasted four homers this season for Cali Carting.

The team’s first baseman is 11-year-old Daniel Martins.

“Daniel started to come into his own this year,” Lopez said. “He hit some rockets for us and came through big time.”

The second baseman is Emma Carson.

“You don’t even realize she’s a girl,” Lopez said. “She hits, fields, does her job. She listens to what we have to say and then locks in and does it. She pays attention to the game. She’s the best I’ve ever seen at second base. Emma is outstanding with her glove. She doesn’t make mistakes.”

The shortstop duties are shared, but handled mostly by Jaiden Malave.

“He’s a slick fielder,” Lopez said. “His best asset is his speed. In a blink of an eye, he’s off and gone.”

The third baseman is 11-year-old Edgar Portes.

“Edgar has come a long way,” Lopez said. “He got better as the year went on. He’s a clutch hitter and hits well.”

The left field duties are shared by 11-year-old Jayden Torres and promising star Jaired Malave, the younger brother of Jaiden. Jaired Malave is only nine years old, but already making his mark with the older players.

“He has no fear of the ball,” Lopez said.

The centerfielder is Connor McGuire.

“He’s the leader of the outfield,” Lopez said.

In right field, Lopez used 10-year-old Ervis Berisha, the younger brother of catcher/pitcher Rexhet.

“He reminds me a lot of Rex,” Lopez said. “He has a sweet swing. He just needs to control it.”

Another outfielder is 10-year-old Esther Martins, the younger sister of first baseman Daniel. It’s not every day that a Little League team has two girls on the roster, but Cali Carting utilized both young ladies _ and was successful in doing so.

“Esther was at every single practice,” Lopez said. “She was the most improved hitter we had by the end of the year. She puts the ball in play and got better as the year went on.”
Cali Carting won their divisional play to advance to the Kearny Little League World Series against Lee’s Florist last week. And Cali Carting kept the winning ways it displayed during the regular season, winning the first game of the best-of-three series 6-1 and nailing down the title with an impressive 11-0 victory.

In the title game, Connor McGuire came up big as the starting pitcher, throwing 4 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. Daniel Martins was the big hitter, delivering two triples and four RBI for the winners.

And the championship trophy was handed off to Joe Halpin once again. It pays to have dedication, patience and persistence.

“It was so great to watch,” Lopez said. “They were undefeated in the fall and came back ready in the spring. To see the joy in their faces after winning the championship was incredible. I loved to see them happy. As long as they’re enjoying themselves, winning is secondary.”

But winning isn’t bad either.

Lopez praised the work of his coaching staff, which included Brian McGuire, former Kearny High School baseball standout Bobby Carson and Lawrence Hicks.

Cali Carting was rewarded by having three players (Adam Lopez, Rexhet Berisha and Jaiden Malave) get selected for the 12-and-under All-Star team; had two players (Emma Carson and Edgar Portes) get picked for the 11-and-under All-Stars and had one (Jared Malave) on the 9-and-under All-Stars. That’s some representation. To the victors go the spoils.

“These kids really blossomed this year,” Lopez said.

And they were able to give a dedicated coach and servant another Kearny Little League World Series championship in the process.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”