Dylan Elias, second baseman for the WWP Babe Ruth 13s, tags out an opponent in a 3-1 win against Hamilton/Northern Burlington in the state tournament on July 19, 2017 at Ciuffani Field in Community Park. The team finished third in the state. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Max Lasky looked forward to this summer for the chance to play baseball with a group of players from different grades, different schools and different travel teams from Plainsboro and West Windsor. They all united to make up the WWP 13-year-old all-star baseball team.

The team has players who squared off against each other at Grover and Community middle schools. Some played against each other in Little League, but since they started playing all-stars together, they established themselves as a consistently successful team. In each of the previous three summers, the West Windsor team reached the District 12 Little League tournament championship game.

“At practice every day, we all start and get together and realize that baseball is kind of what brought us together,” Lasky said.

“We’ve been playing with each other since we were like six so we have really good chemistry together,” said WW-P outfielder Dylan Palmer. “We’ve taken all the things we’ve learned since we were 6 and used them to play.”

This year, that group moved up to the Babe Ruth level, which brings with it two significant changes. There is the jump from the 60-feet base paths of Little League to the 90-feet base paths of a regulation size field, though that was something that many of the players already had to adjust to in middle school. More importantly, West Windsor combines with Cranbury-Plainsboro Little League to play for WWP.

Lasky, Cooper Athey, Kevin Cao, Dylan Elias, A.J. Friedman, Justin Guest, Ryan Kats, Owen McCarron, Zach Naddelman, Dylan Palmer and Joshua Raeter formed the nucleus of the team over the past four seasons. They welcomed three players from CPLL— Flynn Kinney, Connor McDowell, and Daniel Vessey, the latter two pitchers. They also added a brand new all-star selection, Anshul Tripathy.

“They’re learning these great life lessons through playing baseball with each other, and the way they embraced him and included him as an equal team member right away, that’s what we’re teaching, I hope,” said WWP 13s manager Eric Lasky.

Pitcher Justin Guest during the WWP Babe Ruth 13s 3-1 win against Hamilton/North Burlington on July 18, 2017. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

The team looked to be in jeopardy of losing its championship game streak when this year’s Babe Ruth District One tournament began with a loss to Hamilton/Northern Burlington in the opener. The loss threw them in the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament earlier than ever and meant a long road just to get to the championship.

WWP showed its mettle with a 6-3 win over Ewing/Hopewell in its first game in the loser’s bracket, then it fought off Nottingham, 7-3, in another elimination game and finally it came back to edge Montgomery, 5-4, to return to the championship game.
Hamilton/Northern Burlington defeated WWP again for the championship to end what had been another great run.

“After the district tournament,” Coach Lasky said, “we told them and reminded them that since they were 9 years old, we’ve played in two tournaments every year and been in finals of every single one of those tournaments. There’s no other team that has done that.”

The team had another chance to win when District One sent four teams to the Southern New Jersey state tournament with WW-P playing host on Ciuffani Field in West Windsor Community Park.

The chance to host was an honor, said Coach Lasky. “It’s a great experience for the kids. We knew we could provide a great state tournament experience, not just for our kids, but for all the teams that qualified for states.

For even simpler reasons, the players were excited. They didn’t have to travel far, and they relished the chance to play close to home.

“It’s really awesome because we get to play at our home field,” Elias said. “And we have friends that come over and watch us.”

WWP opened the tournament by clubbing Washington Township Red, 11-0. They fell into the loser’s bracket with an 8-1 loss to the Washington Township Blue, but then outlasted the rest of the District One teams.

They knocked off Nottingham, 2-1, in a thriller, and the thrills got even bigger when they avenged their district losses to Hamilton/Northern Burlington on July 18 with a 3-1 win that they won’t forget.

WW-P finished third in the state after falling to Washington Township Blue again on July 19.

Catcher Josh Raeter during the WWP Babe Ruth 13s 3-1 win against Hamilton/North Burlington on July 18, 2017. (Photos by Suzette J. Lucas.)

The WW-P 13s are looking forward to more baseball together as they continue to grow and develop as players. They have set a precedent of strong tournament play, and built into that reputation with this year’s group.

“Since we’ve been so successful in the past, it kind of shows we don’t have much pressure,” Lasky said. “We can just go out and play. It also shows we always need to improve because other teams are going to improving and trying to beat us.”

That’s no easy task. There are a lot of other options for its players, but this WWP group looks forward to the chance to unite and spend their summers chasing championships together.

“Aside from the fact that our team has some talent on it, we’re all friends,” Lasky said. “It’s just a good setting. The coaches know we’re all friends and we know we’re all friends and we can just relax and play baseball.”

Kevin Cao throws the ball during the WWP Babe Ruth 13s game against Hamilton/North Burlington on July 18, 2017.

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The WWP 13s aren’t the only local nine enjoying a great summer. The West Windsor 12-year-olds fought back from losing second game of the District 12 Little League tournament to make the championship game and finish second.

The WW-P 15s finished third in Babe Ruth District One to qualify for the state tournament, then just kept playing better in states.

They beat Millville, 8-3, in their opener, then stopped Jersey Shore, 7-2, before advancing to the championship with a 3-1 win over Hamilton-Northern Burlington.
The team was scheduled to play in the championship game on July 21, which was after The News’ press time.