The Bridgewater Panthers baseball team won the first 17U American Amateur Baseball Congress AABC State Championship in the town's history, overpowering Middletown South, 6-5, to advance to the nationals in New Mexico.
The AABC is the largest baseball organization in the United States, and was created for players who are too old for junior baseball. It provides numerous national tournaments for various age groups.
The Panthers have a versatile makeup of players, with more than half the team being seniors at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. All of them contributed to the championship win. Winning only one game last year in the AABC, the Panthers played hard this year, and won all five of their games–including a perfect game thrown by Senior Ben Silber, and two come-from-behind wins against Middletown South.
Behind a dominant offense and a tight defense, the Panthers won 6-0 against Basking Ridge after Ben threw a perfect game with eight strikeouts.
Throughout the tournament, the team was led by first baseman and power-hitter senior Andrew Lyman, who had an about .500 batting average going 5-5 in a game against hard-throwing pitchers from Middlesex.
As the first Bridgewater team to win the AABC, Coach Brian Trapani said, the team worked very hard to get to this point.
"It feels rewarding for all the hard work the team put in throughout the school year, and to carry it all the way through July," he said.
The team and families spent the week before nationals trying to raise as much money as possible by shaking hands with people outside stores, and visiting local businesses for any donations, Trapani said. The hope, he said, was that it would help the team financially, and in other ways, on the road to nationals.
To keep the players motivated and prepared, Coach Trapani said, he held very light practices, and just told his team members to play hard and continue to do what they did in the AABC tournament.
"They put a lot of effort in, and now, with being able to qualify for nationals, it's a nice way to enjoy the summer," he said.
The 2010 AABC Don Mattingly World Series lasts from July 25 through July 31 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and features 20 teams from around the country. If the Panthers go all the way, the team will bring home the first National Championship for Bridgewater.