ROBBINSVILLE: Robbinsville 12s eye state title

Softball team rolling along

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   In the winners’ bracket semifinal on Sunday, the Robbinsville Little League 12-year-old all-star softball team scored twice in the first inning, and another run in the third inning, on its way to a 3-1 win over Northfield.
   ”It’s much easier to play with the lead,” said Robbinsville manager Anthony Manto. “There’s also the pressure of always being in front and being chased down. But it’s good to know we can score early and sustain that lead.”
   Teams are still trying to chase down Robbinsville, but so far it’s been business as usual for the Tantum Field crew, and their usual business is winning. Robbinsville has yet to lose a game in this summer’s Little League tournament action.
   Robbinsville opened its postseason with a 10-0 win over West Windsor to capture its second straight District 12 Little League championship and sixth in seven years for the program has become the measuring stick for the district.
   ”It’s kind of what I expected,” Manto said. “The kids were really prepared. I knew that we would do very well.”
   Robbinsville was dominant in every aspect. Over its four district games, Robbinsville outscored the opposition, 43-1. That performance sent them home to host the Section 3 tournament, which didn’t look much different from districts.
   Robbinsville won the section when it dismantled Wall, 14-1, in the final to win their second straight title. Sara Toscano went 3-for-3 and stole three bases, and Chelsea Manto had three runs and stole three bases in the championship game. It may not be as easy as it looks for Robbinsville, who despite the scores, has seen its share of challenges.
   ”In the sectionals, we saw a very good pitcher from Wall and that helped a little bit,” the elder Manto said. “I think West Windsor in the districts was much improved. The games were a little tougher. Like I say all the time, if we pitch well and play good defense, we’ll be good in any type of game.”
   That mantra has continued into the state tournament at Holbrook Little League in Jackson. Robbinsville won its first two games to advance to the championship game scheduled for Tuesday night. A win would send it to the East Region tournament that begins Friday in Bristol, Conn., and the chance to become the third team in RLL history to reach the World Series.
   ”For me, it is OK to have expectations as long as they’re prepared to work hard for those expectations,” Manto said. “I don’t have much of a problem with it. They’re young. They’ve seen it before. Some of the girls have had sisters on the team and were there to watch.”
   First, Robbinsville has to win the state and then the region, no easy task. Robbinsville opened the state tournament with a 6-0 win over Pequannock. McKenzie Medders earned the shutout in the circle, and her offense gave her plenty of run support. Sara Mazalewski, pinch running for Shea Walsh after she singled in the first inning, scored on a wild pitch for their first run. Olivia Moser’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Manto singled to start the third and Walsh was hit by a pitch before Medders doubled home the pair. Robbinsville got its final runs after Mazalewski doubled, Cameron Bruker’s bunt was misplayed to score Mazalewski and Grace Maslak sacrificed home Bruker.
   On Sunday, in the 3-1 semifinal win over Northfield, the game was tighter as Robbinsville missed a few chances to add to its lead for Alexa Petito, who fought through some tough spots to hold down Northfield. Medders got the offense started with a two-out walk in the first inning, Moser singled and an error allowed Medders to score. Petito singled Moser home. In the third inning, Moser singled home Medders for what would become an insurance run, though it was the last that Robbinsville would score.
   ”I think we made a couple base-running mistakes,” Manto said. “I also got a runner thrown out a home that didn’t help the cause. There were a couple times we could have broken it open a little more, but the situation didn’t work out.
   ”We try to talk about scoring one run an inning,” he added. “If we can score one run an inning, we’ll be in good shape.”
   Petito worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning and settled in nicely for a strong performance. The win put Robbinsville in a good spot going into Tuesday’s championship round against Pequannock, which must beat Robbinsville twice to win the state. Robbinsville just has to win once.
   ”I think we’ve played well, but I also think we can play better,” Manto said. “Mostly it relates to hitting. We’ve played good defense, our pitchers have pitched really, really well. We’ve only given up three or four runs. No one has scored more than one run off us. We pitch well and play defense well. That suits our team.”
   Robbinsville went into the state tournament knowing that it would need more of the same. The levels of its opponents are improving with every game, and they are all out to stop Robbinsville, which is hoping to return to the region tournament, though that’s no given even with the program’s history of success.
   ”Ultimately, I think, a lot of people would kind of say like that would be the norm,” Manto said. “That scares me more than anything. No matter what happens, this team has been successful and played some really good softball.”
   Robbinsville certainly would like to close its summer with a trip to the Little League World Series, but that’s in the back of their mind.
   ”We’re going to be prepared to do the things to be as successful as we can be and go to whatever level we can go to,” Manto said. “I’m sure the girls feel a little more pressure because of the past World Series teams. They know it’s their chance. “We don’t talk about it much at all. We kind of try to take it one step at a time.”
   This year’s Robbinsville squad is young by comparison to past 12-year-old all-star selections. Seven of the 13 players on the team are a league-age 11. Chelsea Manto and Toscano played on last year’s state champion 12s team, while the rest of the squad is new to the 12s level, but not new to high level play.
   ”They play pretty high level softball anyway,” Manto said. “They play high level softball and they’re used to it. We don’t talk about (being young).”
   Eight of the 13 players are in travel softball together. They have seen plenty of challenges before, and that has helped to prepare them for this summer.
   ”I definitely think they’re able to handle adversity much better,” Manto said. “They’re able to stay the course during the game.”
   He has seen his squad develop as individuals over the past year, and this summer they have come together as an all-star unit to represent Robbinsville well again.
   ”I think the difference would be that we have a new pitcher, McKenzie Medders, and along with Alexa Petito, she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do,” Manto said. “I can’t be more happy as a coach with the progress of those two players.”Cameron Bruker didn’t play last year for us, and Sara Mazalewski is new to the team. She played on 10s last year. She hasn’t played for me before.”
   The full team consists of: Amanda Allen, Cameron Bruker, Eva Dominguez, Chelsea Manto, Grace Maslak, Sara Mazalewski, McKenzie Medders, Olivia Moser, Alexa Petito, Emily Rubino, Sara Toscano, Ashley Veisz and Shea Walsh.
   Said Anthony Manto: “They’ve all been able to contribute at some point.”