To reach the Little League World Series, a team from New Jersey must first win its district, section, state and regional championships.
Only 20 teams in New Jersey even make it past the district level. The 12-year-olds from Cherry Hill American Little League are one of those 20 teams.
Cherry Hill American won the New Jersey District 13 championship in the 12-year-old division, sweeping Haddonfield Little League in a best-of-three series to advance to the Section 4 Tournament against five other district winners in South Jersey.
The win was huge in many ways for Cherry Hill American. The league hadn’t won a district championship in the 12-year-old division since 2008. The current group of kids also hadn’t won a district championship in the previous two years as 10- and 11-year-olds. Cherry Hill American was also playing against Haddonfield, the winner of the last two district championships in the 12-year-old division and the only team who beat Cherry Hill American during round robin play.
None of these obstacles deterred the team, however. Head coach Ed Chorzelewski knew his team had plenty of offense and just needed to play good defense to win the championship.
“What I was stressing from the beginning was that we had to play solid defense,” Chorzelewski said. “We have a really good hitting team, but defense is what wins games.”
In pool play, Cherry Hill American lost to Haddonfield, 13–7, in part because of one bad inning in the field where Haddonfield put nine runs on the board. Too many runs allowed also hurt Cherry Hill American last year in the 11-year-old division, where it missed out on a spot in the championship game.
“We ended up last year winning three games and losing one, and we didn’t go to the finals because of a tiebreaker rule where they look at runs allowed,” Chorzelewski said.
This year, defense was not a concern in the championship series. In Cherry Hill American’s two-game sweep of Haddonfield, they allowed just three runs.
“We played very sound defense,” Chorzelewski said. “The first game we shut them out 8–0.”
Cherry Hill American was also able to prevent a slew of runs thanks to the pitching of Noah Stofman, Steven Sgouros and Ted Drinkwater. Chorzelewski said his pitching staff showed poise in the two games and came through in a big way.
“I was impressed with how they handled themselves on the mound,” Chorzelewski said. “As 12-year-olds, you can get emotionally upset quickly. They were emotionally sound and they didn’t walk many people at all.”
The championship was two years in the making for Cherry Hill American. Chorzelewski said District 13 is tough to win with Haddonfield and Haddon Township fielding tough teams every year. Having come through was a huge sense of accomplishment for the team.
“We’ve come so close against this team in the past,” he said. “These kids were determined to win this district. They were very proud.”
Cherry Hill American’s season will continue into the Section 4 Tournament, where it will play against the five other district champions in South Jersey. The winner of the tournament will advance to the New Jersey State Tournament in Hammonton at the end of the month.
Chorzelewski feels the tough competition in District 13 helped prepare his team for the games ahead. He feels Cherry Hill American can go very far if the team plays like it did in the championship series.
“Knowing these players and this team and the way we played in districts with sound defense and hitting, there’s no stopping this team,” he said.