Monroe swept through the district tournament with a perfect 2–0 record, closing it out with an 8–6 win over Waterford Township in the final game on Monday night.
The pressure was immense when relief pitcher Patrick Seitzinger stepped onto the mound for the Monroe Township Little League 12U team in last week’s New Jersey District 21 championship game.
Monroe held an 8–6 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, but its opponent, Waterford Township Little League, had runners on first and second base with one out and the potential winning run at the plate.
“I just knew I had to throw strikes, “Seitzinger said. “I couldn’t really walk anyone and couldn’t let up a hit.”
Seitzinger came through for Monroe, getting a strikeout and a groundout to help his team hang on for an 8–6 win to clinch the District 21 title. The victory allows Monroe to advance to the New Jersey Section 4 Tournament beginning on Friday, July 13.
Monroe won the title after going undefeated in the district tournament. Only three teams were entered in this year’s double-elimination tournament, Monroe, Waterford and Berlin Boro Little League. Monroe defeated Berlin, 14–1, in its first game to advance to the championship against Waterford.
The final game was much closer than Monroe’s first round game. Monroe trailed after two innings before taking a 4–3 lead in the third inning. Starting pitcher Zach Zerbe kept the game close for Monroe. After struggling with walks in the first inning, Zerbe shut down Waterford. In three and two-thirds innings, Zerbe struck out 10 batters before being removed after reaching the maximum allowed pitch count of 85 pitches.
“I needed patience,” Zerbe said. “I just needed to get into the groove and throw.”
In the top of the fourth inning, Monroe broke the game open in part thanks to Nolan Gerstenbacher. Gerstenbacher, who came into the game in the third inning, hit a solo home run to kick start a four-run fourth inning.
“I wasn’t really thinking about hitting a home run,” Gerstenbacher said. “I just wanted to get on base. I just tried to make contact, shortened up my swing and good things happened.”
Monroe led, 8–3, after the fourth inning, but saw its lead shrink to just two runs by the sixth inning. Waterford had two runners on base and the potential winning run at the plate when Seitzinger came in to close the game out.
“When we won it, it just took all of the pressure off,” Seitzinger said.
Head coach Joey Peacock commended Waterford after the game, saying it gave Monroe an excellent test leading into the sectional tournament.
“They were resilient in that they could hit a team with good pitching,” Peacock said. “Waterford surprised us with the pitchers they had. They pounded the strike zone more than we did.”
It is the second year in a row for this group of Monroe players to win a district championship. The same team won the 11U District 21 title last year and advanced to the quarterfinals of the sectional tournament. This year, Peacock hopes his team can ride its deep pitching and become a contender for the sectional title.
“It’s a lot tougher tournament in the sections,” Peacock said. “But we think if we’re more deliberate out there as a team, stick together, and with the pitching we have, we probably have six, seven arms out there that can throw Little League strikes.”