The Williamstown Braves defeated the Old Bridge Knights 5-1 to advance to their first ever Group IV State Championship Game. Braves Ace Denny Bentley improved to an outstanding 10-0 on the season, finishing with 4 strikeouts, only giving up 4 hits and 1 run. Bentley also helped lead the Braves offense, finishing 2/4 with 2 singles and an RBI. Zach Martinez chipped in, finishing 1/2 with an RBI single. The Braves were strong and motivated to win this one.
The Braves took it right to Old Bridge pitcher Tyler Hopman from the start. Hopman walked Dan Musilli, and Ross Micka hit a single into left field, that Immediately put Williamstown in scoring position. This would bring Zach Martinez to the plate. Martinez showed once again why he’s been so reliable in the pinch, ripping an RBI single into left field to give the Braves an early 1-0 lead.
Williamstown continued to put runners on base with a sacrifice bunt from Tyler Apt, and Hopman walked Steve Hawk. Denny Bentley would take advantage of the opportunity, with a hard shot RBI single that would drive in another run. The Braves appeared to be a team on a mission that would not be denied. This was certainly the start that Coach Joe Smith wants to see.
This would be a classic battle between Bentley and Hopman as both pitchers followed up with perfect 1-2-3 innings. Old Bridge would have their first missed opportunity after threatening with two runners on in the second. Bentley walked Zach Attianese and Rob Laconti. Old Bridge has been known to be a strong offensive team throughout the season, but Bentley would leave them stranded with three early strikeouts in the game.
Tyler Hopman would continue to fight back for the Knights. After getting off to a slow start, he was able to find his groove. Hopman struck out 7 batters through the first four innings. Williamstown would not get a hit for eleven straight at bats. It appeared that Hopman had adjusted to the Braves offense, but The Braves would finally break the drought with a single from Nick D’Alessandro. D’Alessandro was also the one to get the momentum going in the win over Cherokee.
By the time we got to the sixth inning, things would drastically change. For anyone who has been following Williamstown this year, how many times have we seen an offensive surge late in the game? Many times it’s the little things, and fundamentals that have carried this team through the most difficult situations, but it was this same Braves team that would fight through adversity once again.
Tyler Hopman opened the top of the 6th by walking both Zach Martinez and Steve Hawk. All of a sudden, the Braves had runners on first and second. The Braves had the opportunity to get the runs that they needed, and put this thing away. Once again, it was Denny Bentley who would lead the way with a base hit to load the bases. At this point, the Braves had Hopman in a tough situation as his pitch count was getting high. Hopman walked in two more runs, and hit another batter as Williamstown increased their lead to 5-0. It was great decision making by Tommy Gibson, Anthony Rocabaldo, and Dan Musili at the plate, that led to the walks. Hopman would be replaced by Jake Krodos for the remainder of the game.
Old Bridge came back and give the Braves a little scare in the bottom of the 6th, as Zach Attianese hit an RBI single into right field, and gave the Knights their only score of the game. Old Bridge had another runner on after an error, and the Knights were looking to climb back into this game, but it was Denny Bentley who would once again work out of the jam. Bentley would throw a fast ball to Jimmy Freel who would ground out straight into a double play. Old Bridge would miss another critical opportunity with two runners on.
Jake Krodos would strand two Williamstown runners in the bottom of the 7th to keep Old Bridge within four runs. Krodos came in fresh out of the bullpen, and showed strong command on the mound. Krodos would give his team one final opportunity, but it was Denny Bentley who would ultimately close the door. Bentley would face Rob Laconti, Hector Reyes, and Luis Cruz. Bentley took down all three batters with a tremendous effort, pitching a 1-2-3 seventh inning to end the season for the Knights!!
Tons of fans rushed the gate in celebration, as the Williamstown Braves were on their way to the school’s first ever Group IV State Championship Game. Williamstown brought a bus full of fans, and the tribe were out in full force. Braves fans occupied about 90% of the fan base for the game. They were as loud as possible, supporting their team to the fullest. Those who witnessed their only football championship in 2012 remember the 3,000 fans that came out strong at Rowan University. If you plan on attending the Group IV State Championship, know that you will hear this fan base before you actually see them. Except a lot of support from the Monroe Twp Community and these kids are more than deserving!! This team has truly achieved beyond the odds that were set. The best way to describe these kids is don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.
This Williamstown team has persevered through adversity all year. First year Head Coach Joe Smith, and Assistant Coach Greg Lopez have really helped steer this program in the right direction. It has been the combination of great game planning by this coaching staff, and the execution of these players to make the Braves the Cinderella team that no one thought would be here back in March. This really says so much about their preparation and mental toughness on the big stage. “It’s about hard work, dedication, and practice everyday, this stuff is easy for us. I just hit my spots, and hard work pays off”, added Braves pitcher Denny Bentley after the game. “It feels great because we started off the year, not expecting to be here, so we figured, why not us? ” It shows our resilence as a team. We’ll keep proving them wrong”, said Senior catcher Ross Micka, who reflected on this teams outstanding run.
Williamstown is now 21-5-1 on the year, and defeated three outstanding programs in Toms River North, Cherokee, and Old Bridge to get to this point. The dream season will continue on Saturday from one of the Toms River Schools, as the Braves will take on North Jersey Section I Champion Milburn, who were 4-0 winners over Randolph. Milburn are 26-4 on the year. The Toms River School and game time are still to be announced.
The NJ Sports Report had a chance to get Ross Micka’s thoughts on a huge win!