BRICK – It was a bit of a bittersweet victory for the Brick Little League All-Stars but they got to play ball and win the state tournament. However, in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, they could not move on to compete in the Little League World series.
It wasn’t just the players who came to grips with what might have been but the families as well.
Team Manager George Cavanaugh was a member of the Brick National Little League team 30 years ago. It was Brick’s first state championship. His son is among a roster of 15, 12-year-olds who made up this year’s New Jersey State Little League championship team.
The Brick All-Stars beat Englewood Cliffs 8-3 to win the 2020 state championship in what has been a very unique season for all Little League players. This past week however would have been the time the state champs would have been heading off to Bristol, Connecticut, for the Mid-Atlantic tournament as Cavanaugh had done three decades prior when it was called the East Region tournament for what he said was “one of the best times of my life.”
“I wanted nothing more than to see them win the state championship. I wanted it so bad for them because now being 42 years old and looking back, you really do take your childhood for granted,” Cavanaugh said.
“We’ve become such a tight group. They have played together since they were eight years old,” Cavanaugh added.
He said the team won the 8-year-old tournament. “We won districts as tens and then we got knocked out in the section semi-finals. We came back in the following year as elevens. In 2019 we won districts again and won sections and went to states and lost in the state finals and this year we won everything.
“These kids were working out four to five nights a week until the pandemic began. It was St. Patty’s Day weekend. We were all together at a party and all joking around not really thinking that it was going to get as bad as it did,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh said, “that is when all our baseball operations just stopped. Little League was just getting ready to play. I went out and bought a batting cage, my wife was really thrilled about that and I began inviting some of the kids over, one or two at a time and they were outside and we were hitting. Then baseball finally opened up and we were right back at it again.”
Coach Richard Hudak commented on the numerous curveballs tossed at the team this season as a result of the pandemic. Normally after winning district, regional and state championships the winner would go on to Little League World Series. This year however, Little League International made the decision on April 30 to cancel the regional tournaments and the World Series for 2020.
Little League president and CEO Stephen D. Keener called the decision “heartbreaking for everyone at Little League International, but more so for those millions of Little Leaguers who have dreamt of one day playing in one of our seven World Series events. The uncertainty of what the pandemic would look like in the summer caused a great deal of concern.”
“Individual states were given the option to host tournaments if they wanted to. New Jersey was one of the states that opted to do it and there was a lot of push from our district and they decided to host it in September,” Hudak said.
Another curve ball Hudak noted was that not only did the pandemic disrupt the season, it changed the format of the section and state tournaments. Instead of double-elimination, where a bad day on the field could potentially be overcome, now the format was single elimination: One loss, and the team was out.
The Brick All-Stars began its season in August, Hudak said. “They played against Berkeley, Holbrook and Berkeley again in the championship game. We won all three of those games and we moved on to play sections where we played a north Howell team and Clark and we beat Clark to become a section champion which put us into the state tournament where we played Somer’s Point in South Jersey and Englewood Cliffs for the championship,” Hudak said.
“This group understood everyone had a role and everyone throughout the tournament shined at some point. It was a full team family win. I call us family because that is what we are,” Cavanaugh said.
“This is the year that could have been. These kids were very good and very competitive as 10 and 11-year-olds. We felt this was our year. We had our sights set on getting out of Jersey and playing at that level and obviously it got taken away from us,” Hudak said.
“We made the best out of what we could,” Hudak said.
Cavanaugh said he felt that the tight knit bond of the team may well have helped the young players cope better with what was happening at the time with coronavirus lockdown that they were enduring with full remote learning and other aspects of their lives that had been disrupted.
“The world is a different place right now. The kids are now back in school. The schools are hybrid in Brick but it isn’t normal still. I think having baseball for them every night – I think it helped,” Cavanaugh said.
Along with Cavanaugh and Hudak, the members of the team and coaching staff of the Brick Little League All-Stars include: Coach Nick Garbooshian, Coach Derek Martin. Players: Jake Rizzo, Taylor Cavanaugh, James Martin, Tyler Garbooshian, Hank Mulligan, Zack Martin, Brayden Heatter, Tyler Hudak, Billy Linardakis, Matt Goodfellow, Ryan Tufaro, Zack Pirnik, Antonio Acevedo, Dan Lubach and Michael Figner.