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Sports and feature stories for young athletes

Updated on July 27, 2014

Mid-Atlantic Regional champs

The Waretown Thunder 16-U squad captured the BRL Mid-Atlantic Regional two weeks ago, and are headed to Pittsfield, Mass., for the World Series.
The Waretown Thunder 16-U squad captured the BRL Mid-Atlantic Regional two weeks ago, and are headed to Pittsfield, Mass., for the World Series.

Waretown Thunder girls' 16-U squad takes seemingly impossible road to BRL World Series in Massachusetts

The '69 Miracle Mets. The '72 undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Sometimes, the seemingly impossible happens in sports.

The latest evidence is the 2014 Waretown Thunder 16-U girls' fast-pitch softball squad.

For a group that looked like it couldn't even field a team at the start of the season, the Thunder finds itself headed to the 16-U Babe Ruth League World Series in Pittsfield, Mass. The tourney runs from July 29-Aug. 5.

Manager Darren Mooney's 12 girls punched their tickets to the event by capturing the Mid-Atlantic Regional two weeks ago in Mount Olive, N.J. They recorded a 4-0 mark in the six-team event.

Had you seen the team earlier this season, you would have never thought this ending was possible.

"It was touch and go for a while as to whether we were even going to have a team," said Mooney, the long-time manager and mentor of girls' travel softball at Waretown. "We were getting six and seven girls to show up a practice and that was it. When the season started we took it tournament by tournament to make sure we had nine girls on the roster."

What happened after that was nothing short of magical as the team banded together and turned what looked like another long season in Waretown into a memorable one, that will rival Waretown's 2004 World Series run.

"This team put the ghost of that 2004 team to rest," said Mooney, who is assisted in the dugout by Kurt Buehrer and Rick Aimone. "I always talked about that 2004 team to the girls. Now, I will be bringing up this team to future teams."

Playing a travel and BRL schedule, the Thunder's record stands at 22-17. Included in that is the team's runner-up finish in the Southern New Jersey State Tournament won by Willingboro.

It was a tournament the Thunder could have won but they gave up a 7-1 lead to the Gemz late in the championship game and wound up losing 9-8.

"The core of this team has been together since they were 12-year-old and I think this is the first time we realized we had a legitimate chance to be good," said Mooney.

But it wasn't until the Regional where Mooney realized his team might have something special brewing. The Thunder had just rallied from a 10-4 deficit to knock off, Levittown, Pa., 15-12, in extra innings.

Two-game saving catches by centerfielder Cristy Peterson kept the Thunder out of the loss column, and the hitting of Francesca Aimone (homer and three RBI), Gabriella D'Amodio (3 for 5) and Chloe Moyer (3 for 5) fueled the comeback.

"I knew after that win we had something special cooking and I told the team that," said Mooney.

Two wins later, Mooney's words seemed prophetic as the team garnered the Regional crown.

And there are plenty of reasons why they are still playing this late in the season.

First and foremost, the maturing of the core players -- D'Amodio, Aimone, Peterson, Alyssa Ward, Brittany Buehrer, Brianna Padilla and Samarra Fannell -- was instrumental.

"I think those girls just got tired of losing and they responded," said Mooney.

Also, the emergence of 14-year-old hurler Chey Nastasi, who took her lumps last season but was terrific this year in compiling a 12-7 record, including a no-hitter and one-hitter.

Nastasi has been backed by knuckle-baller Ward, who did not play last season.

"Having Alyssa was big for the team in more ways than one," said Mooney. "She has ice in her veins on the mound and is a good change of pace to Chey's heat."

Mid-season pickups Moyer and her sister, Hannah, and Kayleigh Munt have also made an impact, especially Chloe Moyer, who has moved right into the No. 4 hole in the Thunder lineup.

The steady play of second baseman Amanda Volk has solidified the defense and made the Thunder a formidable opponent for anyone, even the 15 other teams in the World Series.

"Hey, we're still playing while other teams are home getting set for next season," said Mooney. "I'm optimistic about the World Series. I'm not going to bet against this bunch. They've shown me nothing is impossible."

Waretown falls short in U-16 BRL state title game



EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. — So close and yet so far.

That's what the Waretown faithful must be saying Tuesday following Monday night's heartbreaking, 10-9 loss to nemesis Willingboro in the championship game of the U-16 the South New Jersey Babe Ruth League tournament.

What makes it even tougher to swallow was that the Thunder blew a 7-1 lead in the championship game.

The Thunder forced the final game by winning a first game against the Gemz Monday evening, 8-3. That game was nip-and-tuck most of the way until Waretown pulled away and handed Willingboro its first and only loss of the tournament.

The title seemed to be well within Waretown's grasp in the championship game after it took a 7-1 lead in the top of the third inning, mainly on the hitting of Kristy Peterson, Gabriella D'Amodio, Fran Aimone and Chloe Moyer and the defense of Peterson in centerfield.

But the Gemz came storming back in the home third and put up six runs against hurler Alyssa Ward.

A stunned Waretown club regained the lead in the fifth with two runs, aided by a fielding error, but the Gemz refused to go away and pulled within 9-8 in the sixth and then pushed across the tying and winning runs against Chey Nastasi in the home seventh, leaving the Thunder and their fans thinking what could have been.

The Thunder finished the event with a 4-2 mark, and Thunder manager Darren Mooney wasn't even thinking championship game after his squad dropped the opening game of the event, 3-2, in heartbreaking fashion.

But the Thunder won four straight games to claw their way back to Monday night's finale. They won their second game on Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday.

It was Willingboro's fourth straight state title at the U-16 level. The Gemz will head to the Regionals July 16-21 in Mount Olive, N.J. They will be joined by Waretown and Buena, the third-place finisher in the state event. Whoever wins the Regional will advance to the World Series in Massachusetts in early August.

"I told the girls I had team that was a runner-up in the states and won the Regionals in 2005," said Mooney. "So we are hoping for that."

The Thunder won the opener, behind Nastasi’s hurling and some timely hitting.

Nastasi allowed only one earned run and struck out five in the complete-game effort.

D’Amodio had two hits, including a first-inning double, and Aimone banged an RBI double. Moyer added a key RBI single late in the game that broke open a 3-3 deadlock and propelled the Thunder.


A proud moment, no doubt!

Cheyanne Nastasi proudly displays the game ball from her first career no-hitter Sunday in the BRL 16-year-old state tournament.
Cheyanne Nastasi proudly displays the game ball from her first career no-hitter Sunday in the BRL 16-year-old state tournament.

Waretown Thunder riding Chey Nastasi's arm in state tournament



Hard work. Work hard.

Whatever the combination of words, that’s what Waretown softball hurler Cheyanne Nastasi exemplifies, and the result has been nothing short of spectacular.

Thanks to the 14-year-old, Waretown is on the brink of winning its first Babe Ruth League state crown in the 16-year-old division since 2005. The Thunder will need to beat nemesis Willingboro twice Monday night at the Egg Harbor Township fields in order to accomplish that. Either way, Waretown is headed to the 16-year-old Regionals in Mount Olive, N.J., July 16-21.

Without Nastasi, the team wouldn’t be playing for the state crown. All the right-hander did Sunday was throw a no-hitter — the first of her career — in a losers’ bracket game against Vineland, which the Thunder beat, 11-0, and then she slammed the door on Buena in three innings of nearly flawless innings of relief to save the game for Alyssa Ward during a 5-0 win in the losers’ bracket finale.

Nastasi also had a no-hitter going through the first five innings of the Thunder’s opening game Saturday at Egg Harbor, but she tired a bit in the sixth when Buena tied the game at 2-2 and then won it in the home seventh for a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.

Nastasi started pitching for the Waretown Thunder 16s in 2013 and took her lumps like any 13-year-old playing up for the first time would. But she continued to work with her pitching coach and started to develop more pitches. In fact, she emerged as the ace hurler on the Southern Regional Middle School squad, whose roster is peppered with solid hurlers.

“She’s grown up considerably the last couple of games,” said Waretown Thunder manager Darren Mooney. “She is growing up right before our very eyes. Her walks are way down from last year and she’s throwing the ball much better.”

During Waretown’s state tourney run, Nastasi has gotten plenty of offensive support, with Fran Aimone clubbing a mammoth homer in Saturday’s opening game that gave the Thunder a 2-0 lead. Aimone also had three big hits Sunday, including a booming double off the bat.

Perhaps, the most surprising player has been Chloe Moyer, a late-season pickup by Mooney. Moyer’s sister, Hannah, also has contributed.

Chloe Moyer has snared everything hit her way in right field and has carried a huge bat, hitting out of the No. 3 and No. 4 holes in the Waretown lineup.

“Her quick bat is something you can’t teach,” said Mooney. “Either you have it or you don’t and Chloe has it. She’s given us another weapon in the lineup.”

Moyer’s attitude might be a her biggest asset. After hitting a rocket right at the centerfielder in the game against Buena, Moyer has overheard talking to her father, and she said, “They keep catching it. I’m just going to have to hit it harder.”

In her next at-bat, she did. She blasted a booming triple that drove in a key run. She added a double later in the game.

Combine that with Nastasi’s hurling and it’s easy to see why Waretown is in the position its in.


Twelve-year-old Shane Steinlauf shows off his skills

Shane Steinlauf looks to handoff to one of his Manhattan Bandits running backs.
Shane Steinlauf looks to handoff to one of his Manhattan Bandits running backs. | Source
Shane Steinlauf gets set to unload a bomb.
Shane Steinlauf gets set to unload a bomb. | Source
Shane Steinlauf looks to pass deep down field.
Shane Steinlauf looks to pass deep down field. | Source

Kid quarterback Shane Steinlauf looks like he's been at the helm for years


MANHATTAN, N.Y. -- Shane Steinlauf's favorite NFL quarterback is Tim Tebow of the New York Jets.

Unlike his NFL hero, the 12-year-old starting signal-caller for the Manhattan Bandits uses his arm more than his legs to succeed on the field.

Playing for his New York City-based Pop Warner youth football team, Shane has opened the eyes of many with his skills at the position, especially his arm.

If you watch Shane perform on the field, you get the sense right away that's he's not your typical youth-league quarterback, who scrambles around the field and takes off with the ball on a moment's notice.

No, Steinlauf is a rare Pop Warner QB who is a throwing machine and can hit receivers consistently with his big-play arm. He can run, too, and elude defenders.

Shane, a sixth-grader at Collegiate School in Manhattan, says he enjoys playing quarterback.

"I like to lead the team," said the outgoing Shane. "I like having the ball in my hands and getting it out to everyone. I like being the backbone of the team."

"He made the move to quarterback during his second year, during which time he played wide receiver on offense and cornerback on defense for the Yorkville Eagles in New York City," said Shane's dad, Dr. Adam Steinlauf, whose practice is based in The Mount Sinai Hospital, Manhattan.

Like most youth football squads, the Eagles were a run-heavy team. However, when Shane came in at QB the team didn't hesitate to pass. That year, Shane completed 5 of 7 attempts for 115 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions; all remarkably in less than five minutes of playtime at the QB position.

During the off-season, Shane trained under former NFL quarterback, Coach Todd Krueger, where he picked up important pointers and instruction that increased his knowledge of the position.

Although he was heavily recruited by another organization based in nearby Harlem, he turned them down and decided to play with the Bandits, a much more inexperienced club which plays in a lighter division than the Harlem squad.

Edde Law, along with his wife, Tami, is the head coach of the organization, which was formed only last year. Shane's Pee Wee team is coached by Joey Lamar. To say the least, many of the players were competing in tackle football for the first time.

"The combination of the inexperience of the team’s offensive line and wide receivers competing in a Pop Warner league against teams mostly from New Jersey, where defenses are well established and well coached, created a most hostile environment for a quarterback," said Dr. Steinlauf.

But his son didn't flinch; instead, he rose to the occasion and the Bandits relied heavily on Shane's arm.

The righty QB even threw as much as 90 percent of the time in one of their games.
Despite tough passing conditions, Shane completed most of his passes, throwing for over 100 yards in many of the games including multiple deep passes of 40 yards or more.

"He's a very impressive kid. He learns well and does things to a tee," said Law. "He has incredible feet; he's always had the ability to throw, and now you match that with his feet and you get a pretty good product."

Shane demonstrates not only the accuracy and throwing mechanics of a well-trained QB, but also poise, command of the field, and team leadership; traits that come only with years of experience. He also sees the entire field; a quality which cannot be taught.

When not passing, Shane has proved he can be just as effective running with the pigskin.

Law said he's tough to bring down in the open field and often carries the ball for big gains of 20 to 30 yards per carry.

"He's a rhino," said Law. "But he runs with surety. He's not stupid about it. Because he's played other positions, he knows how the game is played."

But he's most effective when he's doing both, like in his final game of the season against the Bronx Ravens. He completed 100 percent of his passes, going 5 for 5, including two 30-yard completions and two touchdowns. He also compiled 50 yards on the ground.

"Shane's going places in the future," said Law. "I don't know where he's going to play in high school, but I think he's going to have his choice if he wants to.

"Another thing about Shane is that as good as a football player he is, he's a great kid."

Which means Shane Steinlauf is the complete package -- on and off the field.


Francis Lewis High School junior Paul Cruz loves playing ball and loves working with wildlife and animals and hopes to one day become a veterinarian.
Francis Lewis High School junior Paul Cruz loves playing ball and loves working with wildlife and animals and hopes to one day become a veterinarian. | Source

Francis Lewis' Cruz has a bright future

Junior outfielder/pitcher/catcher has enough energy to fuel his life's ambitions


QUEENS, N.Y. -- Every team needs a player like Paul Cruz.

He's a do-it-all type and Francis Lewis High School in Queens is sure glad to have him.

The 5-foot-8, 145-pounder plays the outfield, catches and pitches for the Patriots, but most importantly he's a team leader and its biggest supporter.

When not in the game, he's the first one up on the fence cheering for his teammates and giving words of encouragement.

On the field, he's a dynamic force and character of sorts, and he's confident about his ability.

"I've made a ton of diving catches in the outfield all ready," said Cruz. "I tend to lay out for all the tough balls hit my way."

Although the junior is an avid New York Mets fan, who liked backstops Paul LoDuca and Mike Piazza when they played for the Amazins, he admires the play of current New York Yankees right-fielder Nick Swisher.

"I love his outfield style," explained Cruz. "He's all over the place."

His school is off to a sub .500 start, but Cruz is confident they can turn it around.

"We have some big series with our rival Cardozo coming up," he said. "We got rained out a lot so some of our bigger games are coming up."

And Cruz, who played for Francis Lewis' Junior Varsity last season after spending his freshman year at Holy Cross, knows he can help the team if he can lift his batting average a bit.

"I'm working on that and working on gaining about 10 more pounds," said the lefty-swinger, who throws righty. "But I'm not worried about my hitting. I know it will come."

Cruz, who played the last two seasons as a member of the Long Island Titans travel baseball program, figures to be Francis Lewis' starting catcher next season.

"I'm looking forward to doing a lot of hard work and getting that job next season," the 17-year-old says. "My neighbor -- George Cornielle -- is the team's current catcher and I'm always working out with him."

Cruz, who pitched for the JV squad last season, may also be fighting for a spot in the team's starting rotation next year.

"I'm unique in that I throw a knuckleball," he noted. "It doesn't move at all. There's no rotation on it. I really pride myself with that I can throw it wherever I want."

With a fastball recently clocked in the high 70s to go with his devastating knuckler, it's a wonder he was nominated to play for Team USA's 15-16-year-old squad, a team managed by former Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, which went to Austria.

Cruz didn't make the trip, but the nomination shows what kind of interest he can draw from his baseball talents alone.

Unlike many high school athletes his age, there's more to Cruz than sports.

A solid student in school, he's part of the Lead America Program and he's a member of the school's anti-bullying program, Hellenic Club and ASPCA Club. To boot, Cruz will head to Costa Rica this summer to participate in a Turtle Conservation project.

When he's done playing Division I or Division II college baseball, Cruz is pretty sure he wants to be a veterinarian.

"I used to volunteer at Alley Pond Environmental Center and was offered a job there," he said. "I loved working with the wildlife animals."

Whatever he chooses to do in his career, one thing is certain Cruz will be a team player and a person any company would love to have.

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Southern Rams advance to Junior Pee Wee AYF title game

NOVEMBER 6, 2011



MANAHAWKIN, N.J. -- A dominating defense and just enough offense helped the Southern Rams topple the Howell Rebels, 12-6, Saturday night in a Jersey Shore Conference Junior Pee Wee American Youth Football semifinal contest under the lights at the Southern Regional High School football field.

The regular-season division champion Rams, 8-2, head coached by Rich Dale, now face the River Plaza Chargers Saturday in the Jersey Shore Conference championship encounter at 9 a.m. at Toms River South High School.

And if the Rams should win the big trophy, it will be because of their defense, no doubt.

Backed by a bruising interior defense led by linemen John Stout, Carmen Deo, Tyler Ciaccio, Caleb Rossi and Brandon Durst, the Rams controlled the battle in the trenches and kept the Rebels off the scoreboard until 13 seconds remained in the third quarter.

Actually, all the pressure up front by the linemen led to a first-quarter interception by outside linebacker Frank Ritchie, who returned the errant pass 25 yards to paydirt, giving his team a 6-0 lead which held up through the first half.

"Basically, we've been winning the whole season because of our defense," said Southern Rams assistant Carmen Deo. "The kids play aggressive and run to the ball. We've only given up 59 points in 10 games."

Backing up the line was middle linebacker Joe Guglielmo, whose name was called at least a dozen times for tackles, Ritchie and Aneillo Russo, an outside linebacker. Cornerbacks Zack Hem and Camron Corbley and safety Zack Minafo round out the impenetrable defense.

The Rams extended their lead three minutes into the third quarter after they executed an onside-kick to perfection on the second-half kickoff and then marched 50 yards take a 12-0 advantage. Russo took a handoff from quarterback Richie Dale and plunged two yards for the score.

The way the Rams' defense was playing, the 12-point lead seemed insurmountable.

But the Rebels made things interesting when running back Anthony Brooks broke through the line, scampered to the outside and then down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown jaunt that cut the score to 12-6.

But that's the way the game ended as the Ram defense found its footing again and regained control of the game.

"It was nice to see the kids play that way and get this opportunity to play in the championship game," said Deo. "We've been practicing for this since early July."

The Rams also had some added incentive Saturday night as the game marked the return of wide receiver Johnny Tilton.

"He broke his arm the first week of practice, but he came to every practice and game and gave us all the moral support," said Deo. "The kids were excited to see him back out there."

As for Saturday's title game, it will be the fourth time the Rams will be facing River Plaza. They won two games and lost another by identical 6-0 scores.

"It's tough playing a team four times," said Deo. "We both know each other so well."


EXTRA POINTS: Tilton's sister, Olivia, sang the national anthem, almost to perfection ... River Plaza beat Middletown, 25-6, to punch its ticket to Saturday's title game ... In addition to Dale and Deo, the Rams' other coaches are Ray Ricci, Gary Hem, Santo Minafo, Bill Guglielmo, Will Devane, John Stout and Jim Ritchie ... Rams' running back Will Devane also had a solid game.

Waretown Thunder 16-U squad cops BRL District banner

JULY 7, 2011



EGG HARBOR, N.J. -- The 2011 Babe Ruth League SNJ District 4 16-U banner will forever hang in Waretown.

That after the Thunder put forth their best effort of the season in pounding host Egg Harbor 16-3 Thursday night in the deciding game of the best-of-three championship series.
"I thought we played our best game to date," said Mooney, whose team will begin play in the state tournament July 8 in Millville. The event runs through July 10. "It was nice the way we rebounded from Wednesday's (11-1 mercy-rule shortened) loss. It says a lot about the girls."
The 11 girls Mooney was referring to are Madison Pepe, Cristy Peterson, Brittany Buehrer, Gabriella D'Amodio, Jessica Irwin, Marissa Stadtmauer, Kerri Ann Moynihan, Corinne Morelli, Alyssa Ward, Fran Jarin and Caroline Hammett.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a district title seemed impossible after Mooney's crew limped through a 2-17 tournament season.
But Mooney still believed his squad could pull it off.
"The whole thing was to get experience playing and I felt we could win the district if we worked hard," said Mooney. "Just to see them turn the corner is nice."
Following Wednesday night's debacle which saw the Thunder commit nine errors, Mooney revamped his infield defense. And the move paid immediate dividends as Pepe, the regular first baseman, played flawless at third base and Irwin, the team's regular third baseman, had a stellar game at first.
"I think we took some pressure off the girls," explained the manager. "They are all capable, but we just had to find the right mix."
The recipient of the great defense was winning pitcher Stadtmauer, who struck out seven and walked only one in four innings before Ward closed out the last three frames.
"Marissa looked great. She was throwing very hard," said Mooney. "She threw good for four innings and was ready to come back in the game if we needed."
Stadtmauer got early run support as the team pushed across a run in the opening inning and two more in the top of third with Moynihan (RBI grounder and an RBI single) driving in two of the three runs.
The host team pulled within 3-2 in the home fourth on some shoddy fielding by Waretown, but the Thunder added three runs in the top of the fifth on Stadtmauer's two-run single and Pepe's stinging shot up the middle.
Waretown, thanks to the wildness of three EH hurlers, turned the game into a laugher by scoring four times in the sixth and another six times in the seventh to bring home the banner.
EXTRA BASES: It was Waretown's first 16-U District crown since 2007. "That team won the Regional and advanced to the World Series in Millville," said Mooney ... There are only five teams in the states -- Waretown, Egg Harbor, Millville, Vineland and Willingboro. "We have a shot to win, if we keep playing like we did (Thursday night)."

Waretown Thunder 16-U travel team takes opener

APRIL 9, 2011



WILLINGBORO, N.J. -- Waretown Thunder manager Darren Mooney says he'll take a team that battles to the end over a squad with great players any day of the week.

After all, it makes him sleep better, he says.

Well, no doubt, Mooney had a good-night's snooze when he got into bed late Saturday after watching his never-say-die unit score threee runs in the top of the last inning to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a 5-3 triumph over host Willingboro earlier in the day.

"It was a nice way to start the season," said Mooney. "I told the girls we'll be facing tougher teams along the way, and that we're not where we want to be, but that this was a great way to start the season.

"I like the way we battled and came back in the end."

The Thunder, trailing 3-2 heading into its last at-bat, got leadoff bunt singles from Kristy Peterson and Gabriella D'Amodio. A walk to Alyssa Ward loaded the bases.

After a strikeout, the righty-swinging Jessica Irwin delivered a hard-hit, two-run double down the third-base line that brought home Peterson and D'Amodio. It was Irwin's second two-bagger of the game.

A botched squeeze play by Thunder actually backfired on Willingboro and led to the Thunder's fifth run of the game.

Willingboro got its leadoff hitter on in the last inning, but a line shot by the next hitter to right field was hauled in by D'Amodio, who threw to first for a double play, dashing any hopes of a Willingboro comeback.

That made a winner out of pitcher Marissa Stadtmauer, who had relieved Ward, who pitched brilliantly for 5.1 innings. Ward, a righty, allowed just one hit and one earned run. She struck out six and walked only one.


Egg Harbor softball officials drop the ball

March 29, 2011



So we hear the folks that ran the Egg Harbor Ice-Breaker Fastpitch Softball Tournament this past weekend are feeling kind of stupid today.

And they should.

After an enjoyable -- albeit a little cold with temps in the mid-40s -- day of softball in the 10-year-old bracket on Saturday, the powers that be listened to the wrong weather forecast for Sunday and decided to cancel the 12-year-old event that day.

But when everyone awoke Sunday morning, they were greeted with sunny skies and temps in the mid-40s, kind of the same weather as the day before when the 10s played and survived.

There was talk all day Saturday that the weather was supposed to be rainy on Sunday. But by late Saturday, the forecast had changed and it was supposed to be cloudy to partly cloudy on Sunday, although still quite cold.

That prompted tourney officials to do what they did Saturday and push the start times back to 11 a.m., instead of 9 a.m. and condense the tournament throughout the day.

But for some reason overnight, someone decided they didn't want to play either because they still felt it was going to rain or that it was too cold and decided to email the coaches at 6:30 a.m. with the news that the event was canceled.

Bad move.

If it was because of rain, the tourney officials should have at least waited until daybreak to make a decision.

If it was the latter, it means the Egg Harbor tourney directors have no clue and probably should never again run the event. I mean after all, the tourney is called an Ice-Breaker and takes places no more than a week into spring -- in the Northeast.

What kind of weather did they actually expect to get? Seventy-degree temperatures? Maybe they were looking to splash on some suntan lotion, too, and lounge out in their recliners.

But forget all that.

In the end, the girls got gypped out of playing in a tournament they had prepared weeks for.

Then I find out, tourney officials are under no obligation to refund 100 percent of the entry fee and that all they have to return is 90 percent, which means five or six teams got robbed in broad daylight.

If it had indeed rained, I would say, "OK," but the fact that someone dropped the ball at Egg Harbor means they should refund all the teams' money in full. Either that or hold the 12-year-old event on another day and let the girls play, which is what this is all about.

Just book it before the summer ends, so you don't have to worry about the cold temperatures again -- and maybe some rain that may never come.


Stingray 12s busy working out indoors

January 18, 2011


There may be more than a foot snow on the softball diamonds from all the white stuff that has fallen this winter, but it hasn't kept the Stafford Stingrays 12-U softball team from going through workouts.

The squad, coming off a successful fall campaign in which manager Brian Bass' club recorded a 9-5-1 mark its first time out since forming late last summer, has been working out most every Tuesday night at the Southern Regional Middle School's C gymnasium.

Bass has been elated with the turnout so far and is looking for more participation from the girls as the spring season approaches.

"The girls are working hard and fine-tuning their game," said Bass. "I'm happy everyone is on board, but we have to keep working hard because all the good travel clubs are doing the same thing."

On any given Tuesday -- from 7 to 9 p.m. -- at SRMS, the girls, some 10-U and 14-U players included, could be seen working on hitting drills, fielding technique and baserunning.

"It's the next best thing to getting outside," said Bass. "You do what you can indoors. Right now, we're just trying to stay sharp and in shape."

Bass and his staff are looking to have a more versatile team than the one that took the field last fall.

"We want the players to play multiple positions so that we can plug them in anywhere in the field and they will perform," explained Bass. "We have a glut of infielders that must learn how to play outfield and outfielders that must learn the infield.

"In the end, the girls will be better ballplayers and understand the game better."

The Stingrays 12-U roster is pretty much set, but Bass indicated that cuts aren't out of the question and that he will have another tryout in the spring with the hope of finding more talent.

"You always want to get better," said Bass. "You have to always find the best talent in the area, and we want those girls to play with the Stingrays. I'm tired of seeing this town lose players to other places."

Bass is backed by a reputable coaching staff, consisting of pitching specialist Roxanne Keelan, hitting and catching instructor Katie McIntyre and infield mentor Joe D'Amodio. Ray Murdock has also helped the girls with their hitting.

The Stingrays lost five players to graduation in December, including shortstop Gabriella D'Amodio, outfielder/shortstop Madison Skeie, outfielder/first baseman Francesca Aimone, catcher Vicky Caiazzo and infielder/outfielder Shannon Curley.

"It's time for the younger hens to step up and take the lead," noted Bass.

Those five graduates will be a part of the Stingrays newly formerd 14-U squad (the Stingrays organization already have a 14-U travel squad), which will be managed by Rick Hewitt.

As for the current team, Bass and his staff will build around hurlers Jess Hewitt and Kristen Schmidt. Third baseman/pitcher Sarah Manna is a rising star as are Savannah Bickel and Lindsay Henefer. First baseman Amanda Rossi was the team's top hitter, while Amanda Cusicanqui provided a steady glove on the infield. Lulu Murdock and Ally Teyssier will battle it out for the catcher's spot, while Mary Kate Flanagan hopes to strengthen her defense to match her steady bat. Amanda McClellan returns from an injury and will add depth, while Alexa Cacacie was steady in the outfield, but may push some others on the infield in the spring.


EXTRA BASES: If you think you have the talent and dedication to be a part of this competitive tournament team, you should contact Bass at

D'Amodio's last-second basket lifts Van Dyke in OT

December 3, 2010


MANAHAWKIN, N.J. -- Wendy's coach Chris Smith probably doesn't want to see Gabriella D'Amodio again.

With her team trailing by a point, D'Amodio caught an inbounds pass, drove the baseline and put up a floater over two big girls that hit nothing but net as time expired, giving the Van Dyke Group a 28-27 Stafford Recreation League's Girls' 7th-10th-grade division win over Wendy's Saturday afternoon at Oxycocus School.

"I knew when I let go of it, it had a chance to go in," said the 13-year-old D'Amodio, after her opening-day heroics, which included a game-high and career-high 18 points. "When I saw it swish in, I was thinking to get back on defense."

But by that time, the game was already over.

The win was even a little more sweeter for Gabriellla since she beat her former teammates, whom she led to the playoffs a year ago.

"We can't beat you, Gabriella," Chris Smith, her former coach, told D'Amodio after the game.

Van Dyke had trailed 16-8 at one point thanks to the inside presence of Erin Smith, who sank shot after shot from inside the paint.

But by the time the intermission rolled around, Van Dyke had closed the gap and trailed by only two points.

That's when D'Amodio began to heat up, continuously penetrating the Wendy's defense to score on driving layups as the two teams traded leads several times down the stretch.

With under a minute to play, Wendy's Alexis Piarulli connected on a basket and sank a foul shot to put Wendy's up 27-24.

But a Van Dyke basket and a turnover gave the ball back to Van Dyke, which called for a timeout.

That's when Coach Smith could be heard instructing his girls "not to let Gabby get a good look at the basket."

But it didn't matter as D'Amodio took the inbounds pass and drove the baseline and pulled up in front of Erin Smith and another big girl and put up the winning basket, much to the delight of her proud parents and the numerous Van Dyke parents watching the game.

As D'Amodio was being mobbed by her teammates and coach at mid-court, Coach Smith looked in her direction and shook is head in admiring disbelief.


Waretown 16s must move on without two of their best players

November 15, 2010



So the Waretown Thunder 16-U travel team must move on without its two best players, who informed Waretown manager Darren Mooney the team, as currently composed, isn't good enough for them to play on.

For Mooney, and the rest of his team, the news came out of left field like a No. 9 hitter cracking a 500-foot homer.

Sure the loss of the Thunder's best hurler and arguably their best hitter will hurt the squad's chances, but that doesn't mean Mooney is tossing in the white towel.

"To me it means we will only work harder because there are 10-11 girls still here that want to be here," said Mooney. "They are a bunch kids who work hard and have committed themselves to this team and we will do our best for them."

As we hear it, it wasn't the players who wanted out but rather their parents. And who can blame them for wanting to put their daughters in a better situation. Heck, I did it when I left the Stafford Softball Girls' Association for Waretown so I'm not about to point any fingers. Plus, both sets of parents are good, well-respected folks who would do anything for you.

As 12-year-olds last year, Mooney's club rode the back of that departed pitcher to a District crown, second in the states and a respectable showing in the Mid-Atlantic Super Regional.

Mooney, who was contemplating retirement after last season, decided to commit to a few more years because of the team's returning nucleus. His thinking was he could earn a berth in the 16-year-old World Series with this group.

Now, without one of the best hurlers of her age in Ocean County and a tough-as-nails, heady infielder and catcher, the road to that eventual World Series just got a little more bumpier. But it doesn't mean it is a dead-end.

I like to think of it as just a minor detour. Mooney still has time to regroup and rebuild this team for next season's tournament run, and knowing Mooney he wasn't looking for a significant World Series run probably until 2012 or 2013.

That still gives the Waretown club time to work on improving their current hurlers or go out and get another prominent pitcher.

If Mooney can do that and add another dynamic player or two to the roster, the Waretown Thunder will be stronger than ever and that road to the World Series may not look so bumpy after all.

Stingray 10-Us win tournament

OCTOBER 30, 2010



Forgive Stafford Stingrays 10-U manager Bob Sattan for getting a little emotional following his squad's championship victory -- a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Diamond Divas of Tuckerton -- Saturday afternoon at the Doc Cramer fields, the culmination of the two-month Fall Series league.

It was the squad's first-ever placement in a tournament and erased memories of the team's disappointing spring season.

"It was a long-time coming," said Sattan after he had handed out all the first-place trophies and the last of the celebrating was over. "To think how far we've come from last year and now to win this, I'm just real proud of the girls."

The Stingrays pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the fifth when Sarah Manna singled home Lulu Murdock, who delivered a two-out triple into the left centerfield gap.

Then in the top of the sixth, the Stingrays behind, starting pitcher Kristen Schmidt made the lead stand up.
"The kids just wanted it," said Sattan's wife, Kathy, who has been around for all the team's downs and ups since the beginning. "The kids just never gave up."

And that was quite evident in the title game when the Stingrays rallied from a 2-0, first-inning deficit to knot the score in the home third. Taylor Bass drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on Christina D'Amodio's single. Tatiyana Ford's one-out single loaded the bases, and a strikeout later, Murdock's grounder to short was misplayed into error, bringing home Bass with the Stingrays' first run of the game. Manna then drew a two-out walk, forcing in the tying run.

Meanwhile, Schmidt had settled in from a rocky first inning and breezed through the Divas lineup as she struck out 15 batters, including 14 over the final five frames, behind a nasty fastball and a changeup that had the Divas frozen in their cleats at the plate.

"Kristen was just great," praised Bob Sattan. "The way she mixed things up was incredible. The way she recovered from the first inning was great."

The score remained tied at 2-2 until Murdock and Manna's heroics in the home fifth, which eventually brought the Stingrays their first title and a couple of tears to Bob Sattan's eyes.

EXTRA INNINGS: The Stingrays advanced to the title game by slipping past Toms River Lightning, 3-2, in the semifinal ... Egg Harbor Township beat Toms River, 3-2, in the third-place consolation game. The Divas had beaten EHT, 6-1, to get to the championship game ... Kudos to the grounds crew for pristine field conditions, and once again Susanne Bass, with cooking help from her husband Brian, spearheaded the fundraising snack-bar effort which helped raise money for the 10-U girls ... Manna and Schmidt combined on the first win against the Lightning. Cammy Beauregard delivered two key hits in the opening game to finish as one of the team's hottest hitters in October ... In the second game, Brianna Topchev picked up her first hit of the fall season, a smack into right centerfield.

Stingrays 12-U squad goes 2-0-1 in Howell event

OCTOBER 19, 2010



HOWELL, N.J. -- The goal of the fall season for manager Brian Bass was to get work for his entire squad.

Yesterday, Bass achieved that as every member of the team in attendance got plenty of at-bats and time in the field as the Stingrays 12-U squad recorded a 2-0-1 record in the Howell Fall Friendly Tournament.

The Stingrays, playing in the B bracket of the event, had their way with their last two opponents, beating the Monroe Thunder 14-3 and the East Brunswick Chaos 11-0 to raise their record to 7-4-1 in the fall.

It looked like the Stingrays were well on their way to a win in the tourney opener yesterday, but blew a 7-2 lead and wound up settling for a 7-7 tie with the Toms River Lightning.

"It was disheartening because we did everything right up until the second-to-last inning and in the last inning," lamented Bass. "There were things we could have done differently, but it didn't work out.

"But I'm pleased and very proud the way we responded in the last two games," continued Bass. "Everybody got a lot of playing time. A lot of the girls did some good things, and most importantly the players and parents had fun."

The Stingrays played the event in the memory of Stingray first baseman Amanda Rossi's grandfather, who passed away late last week after a long illness. Rossi did admirably on the day, racking up five hits and knocking in two runs which would have made her granddad very proud.

"What an event from a girl playing with a heavy heart," said Stingray assistant Joe D'Amodio. "Most importantly, we were all there for her and she needs to know that. Her loss was our loss so it was nice to win."

All of Rossi's hits came in the last two games of the day.

In the tourney opener, Madison Skeie, Mary Kate Flanagan, Sarah Mannah (2 for 2) and Savannah Bickel delivered the key hits. Pitcher Jess Hewitt went the distance.

Bass' club dominated the second game by scoring nine runs in their first at-bat. Skeie's two-run triple, Vicky Caiazzo RBI triple and Francesca Aimone's two-run triple did most of the damage.  Shannon Curley also rapped two singles in her best game of the season, while Lulu Murdock and Jess Hewitt had key hits.

The winning pitcher was Kristen Schmidt, who allowed just four hits.

The Stingrays had on their hitting shoes once again in the final game, taking a 4-0 first-inning lead as Lindsay Henefer, Rossi, Caiazzo and Flanagan delivered RBI hits. 

After adding a run in the top of the third, the Stingrays blew open the game with a six-run fourth inning to put the game out of reach. Henefer's big triple up the right-centerfield alley ignited the uprising, while Skeie and Rossi added RBI singles and Caiazzo a two-run double to back the effort of winning pitcher Hewitt, who twirled a two-hitter.

The Stingrays will now turn their attention to Saturday's three-game tournament at Berkeley.

"That will be a tougher tournament than this so the girls better be ready," Bass warned.

Stafford Stingrays 12-U fastpitch softball team wins initial game

September 19, 2010



TUCKERTON, N.J. -- If manager Brian Bass and his coaching staff learned anything about their newly-formed team Saturday it's that it doesn't give up very easily.

Playing in their first-ever game -- albeit a scrimmage -- the Stafford Stingrays 12-U club rallied from an 8-1 deficit in its final two at-bats to steal a 9-8 victory from the 14-U Diamond Divas, another new squad.

The come-from-behind win left the players, the home crowd and most of the coaching staff elated, while Stingray pitching coach Roxy Keelan said she was misty-eyed afterwards.

"It was a big win for our program being the first time out," said Bass. "It was nice to pull out the win. Does it mean we're ready for tournament play? No, but we know we are heading in the right direction. The girls did some nice things and they still have to learn some other things. And the coaching staff, we are learning about our players and what they can and cannot do."

Trailing 8-1 heaing in the top of the fifth, the Stingrays got back in the game by striking for four runs to pull within 8-5.

After an uneventful home fifth, the Stingrays plated for four runs in their last at-bat to pull ahead, 9-8. Savanah Bickel's leadoff single ignited the rally and the the eventual winning run scored on Kristen Schmidt's RBI grounder.

But the Divas had last licks and so Bass reinserted his ace Jess Hewitt on the mound. Hewitt had pitched two scoreless innings to start the game and then was relieved.

In the home sixth, Hewitt got plenty of help from her defense as shortstop Gabriella D'Amodio, running to her left, snared a hard-hit line drive that had a single written all over it out of the air. Then one play later. first baseman Amanda Rossi came off the base to take a wide throw and tagged out the runner heading to first. The final out was recorded when catcher Vicky Caiazzo threw out the runner at first after a dropped third strike.

"What an athlete Gabriella is," boasted Bass. "She made a heckava play. If that runner reaches base it could have been a different inning."

EXTRA BASES: Schmidt actually got credit for the victory. She pitched the fourth and fifth innings and allowed three runs ... The same two teams meet again Saturday in Manahawkin. First pitch is 10 a.m. ... Caiazzo nailed a would-be basestealer at second base to thwart a rally .... D'Amodio had the new team's first-ever hit, a single leading off the game.

Stingray 12-U squad coaches like what they see

Monday, August 23


MANAHAWKIN, N.J. -- The Stafford Stingrays 12-U fastpitch softball team concluded its first weekend of practices, and Stingray manager Brian Bass couldn't be happier with the progress.

"We had a nice turnout both days, the girls showed up ready to work and they have already learned some things," said Bass.

And Bass and his coaching staff, consisting of Roxy Keelan (pitching coach), Katie McIntyre (hitting and catching coach) and Joe D'Amodio (infield mentor), learned a lot about their players and what they can and cannot do.

The Friday evening practice saw the girls go through infield and outfield sessions, while Keelan got herself familiar with the pitching staff.

The practice concluded with one of D'Amodio's famous bunt-offs, a popular competition on last year's 10-U squad.

"We have to know how to bunt if we're going to be successful," noted D'Amodio. "That's why it's important for the girls to learn it. I'm just surprised a lot of the girls haven't done it before they got here. It's a key part of the game and one Coach Brian will use a lot of in his offense, especially when we face top-notch pitchers."

Hitting, hitting and more hitting was the theme of Saturday's practice under the lights at the Stafford Girls Softball Association field, where the girls went through three drill areas -- hitting small ping-pong size whiffle balls for hand-and-eye coordination, utilizing the stationary hit-away trainer baseball stick and then moving over to an area where softball-sized whiffle balls are thrown to the girls from a short distance away to build there bat speed and get used to fast pitching.

The girls then saw live pitching from two of their hurlers, Kristen Schmidt and Sarah Manna, before the practice ended with a game of "chicken" in which ground balls are hit at the players, who must field the ball cleanly and make a solid throw home.

If a player misses the ball or makes a poor throw to the plate, that player is eliminated. As each round passes, the players move closer to the batted ball. The last player standing in the fun game, which generated a lot of excitement in the stands, was Vicky Caiazzo, who survived some hots shots off the bat of D'Amodio.

"If the girls could field those shots, than they can handle anything hit at them during the season," said D'Amodio.

About the first two practices and what lies ahead for his team, which is prepping for its first tournament on Oct. 2-3, Bass said, "Look, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but this was a good start."

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Waretown Thunder 12-U District champs

Darren Mooney, left, stands with his Waretown Thunder 12-U squad, which copped the league's first-ever District crown in that age group.
Darren Mooney, left, stands with his Waretown Thunder 12-U squad, which copped the league's first-ever District crown in that age group.

A special thanks to the man who makes Waretown go


It was disheartening to see the Waretown Thunder 12-U squad's Regional run end so soon in the Mid-Atlantic Super Regional last month at the Waretown Babe Ruth League Complex.

I think the coaches and the parents took it a little harder than the players, who were in the pools later that day and texting their friends about how they were going to spend the rest of the summer now that two-a-day practices were over and a berth in the World Series was just a dream.

No doubt, I felt badly for all the players and coaches who gave their time the past 28 weeks only to have it all end so suddenly.

In the end, we had talent but just not enough compared to some of the other teams in the event.

I feel most sorry for Waretown manager Darren Mooney, who seemed to put his heart and soul into coaching the girls -- our girls.

As a matter of fact, I was on the phone with him long before the Regional started talking about the team's chances and when I got off I thought to myself, "I'm not even player on his team and I want to win for this guy."

Mooney is to be thanked for taking our girls under his wing and showing them what competitive, tournament ball is all about.

His practices were more mental and instruction rather than playing because he was set on teaching the fundamentals of the game.

Most of these girls don't realize it now, but they are going to take Mooney's lessons and knowledge of the game with them forever.

Now, there's been rumors that Mooney may decide to hang up his coaching cleats and he has every right to since his daughters have long graduated the program, but it would be a tremendous loss and he's someone Waretown would never be able to replace.

When my daughter Gabriella first tried out for Waretown's fall program in 2009, I attended the first workout and watched how Mooney worked the girls and I left quite impressed. Right then and there, I knew Waretown was the place for my daughter to learn more about the game.

And the more Waretown Babe Ruth League people I met -- Claudia Ward, the league's president, the Hewitts, Rick and Donna, Andy Tessyier and Kurt Buehrer -- I knew I wanted my daughter to be part of the Waretown experience.

And this Waretown season was even better thanks to the club teams and the tournament trail Mooney took our girls on.

Having played competitive ball growing up, I knew what the all-star tournament trail was all about, I wanted my daughter to experience the same. And if not for Mooney it would have never happened.

And what a run it was. It was nice to see how the parents came together as a group and rooted for all of the girls like they were their own daughters, and living and dying with every hit or error that was made.

Funny, too, to see what this great game of softball did to some of us on the tournament trail.

One day, for example, you're at odds with the Egg Harbor Township coaches and players, and a couple of weeks later the two teams are having a pizza party together and their respective coaching staffs and parents -- including this particular author -- are pulling for each other in the Mid-Atlantic Super Regionals.

Turns out those guys are just like ours, trying to do what's right for their girls, even though sometimes in the heat of battle things can get out of hand.

I realized what it takes to put together a tournament team -- fundraisers and donations to purchase all the necessities for the squad (ie. home and away uniforms, bags, and helmets -- a treat, no doubt, our girls deserved) -- and that things like that just don't magically appear; that there are people, parents and volunteers behind everything.

I would have never found this out or realized some things about this great sport if it wasn't for the last 28 weeks and Mooney.

So thank-you, Darren, for the great tournament run. It was a ride I know I'll never forget.

Here's the pitch

Christina D'Amodio gets set to uncork a pitch for the Stafford Stingrays 10U fastpitch softball squad. D'Amodio also plays for the Waretown Thunder.
Christina D'Amodio gets set to uncork a pitch for the Stafford Stingrays 10U fastpitch softball squad. D'Amodio also plays for the Waretown Thunder.

Young hurling D'Amodio turns pitching corner

Righty has breakout

game on mound

with 10ks in 4 innings



MANAHAWKIN, N.J. -- It seems Waretown Thunder 10-U player Christina D'Amodio has come of age in the pitching department.

D'Amodio, hurling for the Stafford Stingrays, turned in four scoreless innings of relief work and struck out 10 in the Little Rays' 5-1 Summer Series loss to the Diamond Divas, a Tuckertown, N.J.-based squad., Wednesday night under the lights at the Doc Cramer Stafford fields.

"It was a performance we were waiting for from her the past month or so," said Christina's proud mom, MariLou D'Amodio. "But tonight she put it all together. This will give her the confidence and she will be able to build on that."

It was the diminutive right-hander's longest performance of the season. D'Amodio currently works with pitching coach Roxy Keelan, a former Waretown standout. Keelan has been working once a week with D'Amodio for the last two months. And Keelan was the first person the excited D'Amodio called after her pitching performance. She didn't answer her cell phone, but Christina left a message.

"She was lights out," said Stingrays manager Bob Sattan of D'Amodio's pitching performance. "She was awesome. Her head was in the game. The (cool) weather helped and she went the rest of the way for us. Afterwards, she had a big smile on her face."

The pitching stint, for some reason, didn't earn D'Amodio her team's MVP medal for the game, but Sattan and some of his assistants felt she was deserving of one.

"We talked about it and I went into the car and pulled an extra one out of the bag and gave it to her," explained Sattan. "She deserved it."

"We weren't even thinking about a medal" said Christina's mom. "We were just so thrilled she pitched four innings and did so well."

Hazlet claims 10U Regional title by beating Egg Harbor Township


Want to know why Hazlet is 57-7?

Look no further than Monday’s championship game of the Mid-Atlantic Super Regional at the Waretown Babe Ruth League Complex.

Trailing 12-6 after three innings to co-host Egg Harbor Township, the North New Jersey state champs scored seven times in their next three at-bats to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and claim the Regional crown with a 13-12 triumph.

Since there is no 10-U World Series, the Hazlet club reached its ultimate goal.

"It feels good. I'm very proud of the girls," said Hazlet manager J.R. Rivera, who won a Regional with this team as 8-year-olds two years ago. "The girls worked hard all year. We didn't lose our composure when we got down by six runs. We kept chipping away."

Rivera also was impressed with EHT.

"It's probably the best hitting team we've seen all year," said Rivera. "Not many teams hit our starting pitchers like that. They were sound defensively, too."

Rivera’s club jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first on the strength of Michelle Nestor’s two-run single.
EHT cut the lead to 4-1 in the home first, but Hazlet got that run back in the top of the second.

Behind 5-1, EHT sent nine batters to the plate and exploded for five runs to go up 6-5 in the home second. A two-out fielding error allowed two runs to score, and a batter later, EHT cleanup hitter Victoria Szrom delivered an RBI single.

Hazlet knotted the score in the top of the third, but EHT came storming back and put up a six-spot on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning, behind Roesch and Szrom’s two RBI each.

That’s when Hazlet started to chip away at the lead, scoring four times in the fourth on big RBI hits by Megan Masi and Sarah Furch.

Then Hazlet tied the game in the fifth as Nicole Kirse scored on a wild pitch and Masi delivered another RBI single.

In the meantime, Hazlet starter Kirse didn't allow a run in the top of the fourth, and then Rivera summoned for his daughter Demi Rivera, the ace of the staff who was only permitted to pitch one inning in this game as per tourney rules, who threw a perfect fifth inning.

In the top of the sixth, Hazlet pushed across the winning run after two outs as Anna Lesa DiLaurenzio drew a walk, moved to second on a steal and scored on Makenzi Emery's RBI single.

With Kirse back on the mound to pitch the sixth in a save situation, EHT threatened with a leadoff baserunner. Two outs later and that runner at third, Hazlet catcher Nestor gunned her down leaning too far off the base to end the game, thus giving Hazlet the Regional banner.

The Stingrays rock

The champions

The champs again!


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