Little Big League: Cherry Hill National rolls into tournament season

Cherry Hill National’s 10-U team entered July with a 39-6-1 record, eager to repeat as district, state, and region champs and ready for a national tournament later this month in Alabama. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Jason Audino, Roman Faiola, Hayden Baker, Brayden Falcone, Cole Williams and (back row, left to right) Dante Matarese, Brody Connors, John Eddis, Jr., Mikey Fekete, Mason Rosenberg, Gabriel Yates and J.D. Christmann, Jr. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

They throw strikes. They make routine catches. They put the ball in play. They take extra bases and force the defense into making miscues.

No, this isn’t the recipe of success for South Jersey’s most consistent high school baseball team. (Although it certainly could be).

This is the way a close-knit group of 10-year-olds from Cherry Hill play the game: fundamentally sound, with a dash of aggressiveness. 

Cherry Hill National, the host team in this week’s 2019 10-U state championship tournament, is in the midst of another successful summer season. After taking on all comers near and far this spring, Cherry Hill National will test itself against the best in the country later this month: a 14-hour bus drive in two weeks culminates with the beginning of the 12-day Cal Ripken Babe Ruth 10-U World Series in Phenix City, Alabama. The tournament begins on July 30.

Head coach Jeff Christmann’s team has been playing together for five seasons, since the kids were 6 years old.

“The boys work hard – they’re dedicated and focused,” Christmann said. “It’s a great group of boys that are very competitive. They’re disciplined, focused, determined. That’s why you see the banner in the outfield.”

The banner just below the scoreboard at Mead Park at Lafferty Field reads: “9-year-old 2018 District, State, and Regional Champions.” 

The now 10-year-olds were hoping to pull off that trifecta and then some, with the upcoming trip to Alabama looming, as they went to work in the state tourney earlier this week.

Since the team began to play together in 2015, Christmann estimates it’s won close to 40 tournaments. Cherry Hill National entered this month with a 39-6-1 record in 2019. Since the start of 2018, they’ve won the aforementioned trifecta on their scoreboard, the 2019 Big V Foundation Chick-Fil-A Green Monster Showdown championship in Leesport, Pa., the 2018 Legends Ballpark 9-U championship, the 2018 Diamond Nation Harley Davidson 9-U championship, and the 2019 Woodbury Spring championship, among others. 

The kids from Cherry Hill National are basically playing in competitive tournaments every weekend in the spring and summer. Their program gets started each season during the first week in January, when they begin a two-month instructional season at Tri-State Arsenal in Mt. Laurel.

Come April, it’s tournament season.

“I grew up in Central (Pennsylvania), I went to high school in Lancaster, did wrestling, baseball, football, and I had some of the best coaches, Pennsylvania Hall of Fame coaches,” Christmann said. “We traveled a lot, we played the best. You learn from that. When you play the best, you end up being the best. That confidence level, which I think has been really important for the boys to realize and understand, that they can win and they can beat the best teams on the East coast. It’s as simple as that, and we’ve done that.”

Also notable in Cherry Hill youth baseball: Cherry Hill National’s 8-U tournament team will host the 2019 Cal Ripken Invitational World Series, drawing the best teams from the country, from Aug. 8-15 at Mead Park at Lafferty Field.

Cherry Hill’s Brody Connors delivers to the plate in a game against Delran on July 1. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)
Cole Williams gets ready to make contact. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly).
J.D. Christmann, Jr. looks in for the sign from the mound. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)
Brayden Falcone tags up from third to score a run. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)
Dante Matarese warms up in between innings. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)