HILLSBOROUGH: Baseball 11s continue to make progress

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   Next year’s Hillsborough 12-year-old all-star baseball team will open District 10 play with some lofty expectations.
   That’s because it made it two straight district titles when it won the 11-year-old District 10 title this summer. It also won districts as 10s with the same collection of players: Patrick Cassidy, AJ Dillon, Nick Fox, Sean Levonaitis Matt Michinard, Joe Mistretta, Andre Scheflin, Wil Shocoff, Liam Smith, Mike Swetz and Arex Wyatt. Kevin Levonaitis is manager with coaches John Dillon, Joe Fox and Steve Swetz.
   ”The team has been together two years,” the elder Levonaitis said. “When we were 10, we also won. We went 5-0 to win the district as 10s. In 11s, we went 4-1 to win the district.”
   The way that Hillsborough won the district made it particularly gratifying this year. They opened the district tournament with a loss to Basking Ridge in their first pool play game.
   ”We had to win four straight,” Levonaitis said.
   His players were up for that challenge. They stormed all the way back unbeaten the rest of the way, and finally finished by avenging their loss to Ridge in a big way, 13-3, in the final in a game shortened to four innings by the mercy rule.
   ”The kids came to play,” Levonaitis said.
   They had ended up first in their pool when Ridge also lost a game, and by the tiebreaker system, Hillsborough allowed the fewest runs in pool play.
   ”Honestly, we’re well rounded, but defense is our strongest point,” Levonaitis said. “That’s one of the reasons we didn’t do well in the state.”
   Their usual air-tight defense wasn’t there as they bowed out of the state tournament earlier than they wanted to last week, shy of matching last year’s state tournament in which they went 2-1 and were only knocked out by a heartbreaking tiebreaker ruling. Hillsborough still showed its resolve in getting to another state tournament.
   ”Ridge beat us in the Memorial Day tournament and then the first game of pool play,” Levonaitis said. “That added to the excitement of beating them.”
   The runs kept coming in the game that meant the most. Hillsborough scored them in bunches in the district championship.
   ”We’re a little sporadic when it comes to hitting,” Levonaitis said. “Everyone will hit, or no one will hit.”
   Everyone hit well to overwhelm Ridge and set off a memorable celebration.
   ”They went nuts,” Levonaitis said. “We had a big party back at my house.”
   And by ending the game so quickly, that gave the team longer to enjoy their second straight district crown. It’s a group that is used to success.
   ”We’re playing in the South Brunswick Tournament now,” Levonaitis said Tuesday. “We’re the No. 1 seed. We were supposed to play our semifinal game (Monday) and it got cancelled. We went to Rehoboth to the “Sports at the Beach” tournament. We were 3-1 in pool play and lost in the semifinal.”
   Hillsborough placed second in their division of the United States Amateur Baseball League. They will take their success and begin to focus on next year after the South Brunswick tournament.
   ”A lot of them play football,” Levonaitis said. “That starts Aug. 1, so we’ll finish.”
   About half of the team will continue to grow their baseball skills with fall ball, but they already have established roles where everyone can contribute. The main pitchers for Hillsborough were: Smith, Dillon, Fox, Cassidy and Mistretta.
   ”They’re all very good,” Levonaitis said.
   His top hitters were: Shocoff, Smith, Levonaitis, Swetz, Scheflin, Dillon and Wyatt. Levonaitis, Cassidy and Michinard were the team leaders in on base percentage. Levonaitis was happy to see everyone contributing and getting along well for a second straight postseason.
   ”They all know each other,” he said.
   The all-stars will try out again next year for the chance to play together, this time in the 12-year-old division that leads all the way to Williamsport, Pa. Levonaitis has already secured a bid for the Hillsborough representative to play in Cooperstown, N.Y., site of the baseball Hall of Fame next year.
   It figures to be a big year, particularly after this year’s Hillsborough group has set the standards so high by winning another district crown.