As Travis Gonick talked to his Nutley American Little League 8U team for the last time on Sunday he saw a lot of sad faces, but not any tears.
The Little Leaguers’ summer run had just come to an end in the NJ State Championship, losing 12-2 to host Nottingham so the sadness was understandable even if they had plenty to be proud of the past month. Overall, the 8U all-star team went 7-1, highlighted by a North Jersey regional championship on Tuesday night.
“The kids were upset, but there were no tears,” Gonick said. “Yeah, they were upset, but I always tell the kids you shouldn’t cry after any game because any time (you play) you grow from it.
“It’s one of those games where you really want to win, you’re trying your butt off, it happens. It didn’t work out. It stinks, we all wanted to get that win, but knowing where they were, where they came from and how everything progressed was amazing.”
For many of the players on Nutley American, this season was the first time they played games where kids pitched and only a handful had any experience playing outside of Nutley’s “Farm League.”
Such lack of experience led to little expectations when they entered the state’s 8U tournament for the first time.
But the rapid improvement they’ve made this spring and summer was on full display Tuesday night when it defeated Oradea Gold, 6-1, for the North Jersey regional title.
With the contest tied at 1-1, Nutley American broke the game open with five runs in the bottom of the third inning.
Jase Giordano and Tyler Gonick each drew walks to start the rally and Alex Medaska’s single loaded the bases.
With one out, Owen Farley’s RBI fielder’s choice broke the tie and Vincent Ritacco followed with a RBI single. Elias Diaz and Joe Gilberti added run scoring hits to further expand the lead.
The runs proved more than enough for Farley who pitched three scoreless innings of relief to close out the game. Farley struck out one and turned a double play in the outing before Madeska recorded the final out with a diving catch between first and second bad.
Tyler Gonick started and struck out three in two innings for Nutley American, which took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Nolan Lazu doubled, then came around to score on a Taylor Gonick pop fly.
“It was an awesome game and it was well executed,” said Travis Gonick. “We didn’t make any mistakes and it was perfect. For seven games we played nearly perfect.”
The eighth game, Sunday’s championship game, saw Nottingham jump out to an early 3-0 lead. Nutley American cut the deficit to one with two runs in the top of the third, but it was as close as it got.
So while the summer season did not end with a state championship, the overall feelings are incredibly positive thanks to the rapid improvement from the past four months and the further progress that is sure to await in the years to come.
“They’ve grown from where they were four months ago playing in the Farm League for Nutley Recreation and they’ve developed into really good ball players,” Travis Gonick said. “It’s an upsetting feeling (to lose), but it’s definitely a positive note going forward. These kids have a ton of potential and they know there’s a lot to look forward to.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)