Middletown Little League makes history with first state championship
SECAUCUS — For the first time in the history of Middletown Little League, the organization’s 12-year old all-stars are the princes of New Jersey.
Reid Tully tossed a gem and Timmy Naughton and Al Delia smacked home runs as Middletown topped Elmora Little League, 4-1, to capture the Joe Graziano Little League State Championship on Monday night at Buchmuller Park.
Tully went 5 2/3 innings - exiting only because he had reached the maximum 85 pitches - allowing one run on four hits while striking out five. His breaking ball and off-speed pitched kept the Elizabeth-based Elmora all-stars off balance all game and off the scoreboard until the top of the sixth.
“He’s the smallest guy on the team but he has the biggest heart and has been the biggest player we’ve had throughout the tournament,” said Middletown manager Tim Naughton. “He always comes through clutch. He’s probably pitched 16 innings and given up two runs. His off-speed pitches have been perfect and he was dazzling left and right.”
“The most Reid has let up all year was one run so I knew if we scored more than one run we were good the rest of the game,” Timmy Naughton said. “His curveball was amazing. They didn’t know what to do and they couldn’t hit it.”
Naughton provided Middletown with all the runs it would need by blasting a 3-run homer to left field in the bottom of the first inning and nearly hit a second home run in the third. Delia added some insurance with a pinch-hit solo shot on an 0-2 count in the fourth inning.
“They were giving everybody curveballs because we’re a good hitting team so I was waiting on it and I crushed it to left field," Timmy Naughton said.
It was a proud moment for the elder Naughton to watch his son come through in the biggest game of his life.
“It’s the coolest thing ever, you can’t even describe it,” Naughton said. “Timmy’s been unbelievable with the bat the last couple days. Huge hit after huge hit.”
Middletown was patient at the plate, as well, drawing five walks against Elmora’s pitchers. They ran up the pitch count of starter Jayson Labrador, who left the game after three innings and 66 pitches. It all added up to a victory that completed an undefeated run to the organization’s first state title and a trip to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament in Bristol, CT, which begins Monday, August 6. They are the fifth straight team from either Monmouth or Ocean County to win the state championship.
“It’s amazing,” Timmy Naughton said. “We’ve all dreamed of going to Bristol and now it’s actually happening.”
Dylan Briggs opened the bottom of the first with a walk and moved to second base on a wild pitch. A groundout by Dylan Passo moved Briggs to third and Leyland Ossner then walked to put runners on the corners with one out. That’s when Naughton roped a 1-0 fastball into the left-field stands to give Middletown an early lead.
Tully, meanwhile, was cruising. He retired the first 10 batters of the game before a single by Rafael Soto in the fourth inning. A walk by Devin Rojas put two runners on with one out, but Tully induced a groundout for a fielder’s choice and then got Sal Garcia to fly out to right field to get out of the jam.
In the bottom of the fourth, Delia entered as a pinch hitter for catcher Joey Wall and lined an 0-2 pitch over the wall in straightaway center field to put Middletown up 4-0.
Jayden Rosado entered in relief of Labrador in the fourth and cooled down the Middletown bats to keep the score 4-0. Tully kept dealing, however, working around a one-out single in the fifth inning by getting a pop-up to second base and a three-pitch strikeout to put Middletown within three outs of the state championship.
He entered the sixth inning at 75 pitches, however, so there was a good chance Middletown would have to go to the bullpen to finish the game. Danny Ciprian led off with a double and, after Soto lined out to right field, Rojas singled to left to put runners on the corners with one out. Tully’s 85th and final pitch of the night got Labrador to ground into a fielder’s choice at second base. The run scored from third to make it 4-1 and break the shutout, but Middletown was now only one out away from victory.
Hard-throwing right-hander James Finer came in to close things out, and he needed just four pitches to notch the game-clinching strikeout. The swinging third straight briefly bounced away from Wall, but he regrouped to fire to first for the out and set off a celebration that was decades in the making.
“We had an odd road getting here where at districts the other team had to forfeit the championship, so people thought we were squeaking in there and not on our own merit,” manager Tim Naughton said. “We proved them wrong real quick and we're just trying to keep it rolling.”
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