The North Bellmore-North Merrick Rebels U-11 baseball team had already made history by advancing to the state tournament in Pine Bush -- they were the first District 31 representatives to advance to the tournament out of Section 6 in more than a decade.
However, the squad was eliminated after going 1-2 in the double-elimination tournament this past week. The Rebels lost to Colonie LL, the Section 3 champions, by a 3-1 score on Aug. 9 to cut their unprecedented run short.
“We faced teams that we were very competitive with. It was just a matter of us not hitting despite getting plenty of opportunities to score,” Rebels head coach Sam Acri said. "... They left the tournament with their heads held high knowing they wanted to work hard to be ready for the states next year.”
The Rebels started off the tournament against Section 4 champion Stony Point, losing a close game by a score of 4-3. Stony Point scored two runs in the first inning, followed by one in both the second and third innings off of pitcher Nick Valeriano.
Defensive mishaps were the difference in the opener, as three of the four runs let up were unearned. The Rebels made a comeback with three runs of their own in the late innings, but had their momentum put to a stop after a base runner was picked off at third to end the fifth inning.
“We tried getting that timely hit and take momentum back, but they did an adequate job on the defensive side, where our side struggled a little bit," Acri said of the loss to Stony Point. "That was one of the surprises that set the tone for the game."
The team rebounded with an 8-1 win over Vestal LL, the Section 2 champions. With the tournament on the line, the Rebels turned to a new strategy of using five pitchers, with four recording less than 20 pitches to remain eligible with no rest days.
Kevin McClenghan started the game, followed by Jack Delaney, Alec Acri, Michael Proios and Brian Porricelli combining to go the rest of the way and shut the Vestal hitters down. Delaney, McCleneghan and Valeriano led the offense with timely hits to advance a day further.
North Bellmore-North Merrick fell behind early against Colonie in its next game and could not rebound, as the team fell 3-1. With Proios starting on the mound, Colonie put up three runs in the second inning. Acri knocked in a run on a late bases-loaded single to cut the gap, but the scoring would ultimately stop there.
The Rebels pitching gave up just eight combined runs in three games, among the best ratio in the field of teams.
“We had four starters that could be a top pitcher on any team. They all did a great job in keeping the team in games when it was close,” Acri added.
The local little league season will kick off again next April and will go to mid-June. The coaches and managers, including Acri, will then choose members of the Williamsport team in hopes to advance even further.
Next year's state tournament will be hosted at the East Meadow Complex, just a few miles north of the Rebels' home field.