Newark National Little League’s Majors all-star team has enjoyed much success during the past decade, highlighted by a trip to the World Series in 2013.
Like every Majors all-star team across the country, Newark National’s goal is to make it to Williamsport, Pa., home of arguably the most popular youth sports event in the world – the Little League World Series.
Unlike more than a quarter of the teams around the world that have already been eliminated from their local tournaments, Newark National is undefeated heading into Game 3 of the District 2 Tournament, which is the first step to advance to the state tournament.
“This is our big year with a chance to advance to states, regionals and possibly the Little League World Series,” said Frank Thornton, who is managing an all-star team for the league for the fifth consecutive year. “The kids know it, and they are excited about the possibility.”
Thornton made that bold statement with a wealth of baseball experience to back it up. He has managed or coached teams for the past 20 years in five different organizations and understands the talent level it takes to win the District 2 and state titles before advancing to regionals. He also understands the commitment of not only the players, but also the coaching staff.
“I love coaching baseball, and there’s nothing better than coaching the all-stars this time of the year,” he said.
The team began practicing immediately after the end of the regular season. Their first tournament game was a 5-4 win in nine innings over New Castle on July 1.
“Timely hitting, amazing pitching, aggressive base running and great defense,” Thornton listed as the keys to the victory, which was played at the Newark American complex. “We never got down in an exhilarating nine-inning win.”
Next up was crosstown rival Newark American on July 3. Newark National didn’t need extra innings this time, notching its second straight win, 9-3.
“The keys were the same as game one,” Thornton explained. “Timely hitting, awesome pitching, aggressive base running and great defense. We fed off our energy that game one provided and the energy and atmosphere of playing at home in front of a large Newark National Little League crowd.”
With two wins under its belt in the double-elimination tournament, Newark National earned a 10-day break from playing games as teams battled in the loser’s bracket.
“We gave them off for the four-day holiday weekend and told them go be kids and take a break from baseball,” Thornton said. “That’s a very important key to winning games at this time of the year. They need a break, both physically and mentally, which I am a firm believer of. It’s a fine balance that has to be right to keep the players fresh and mentally engaged. Practicing too much can burn kids out.”
When the holiday ended, Newark National went back to work with daily practices, preparing for this Saturday’s game against Canal Little League, which is also 2-0 with wins over Capital and Brandywine.
“We have a few things to tighten up, which is always the case,” Thornton said of the practice routine. “Each game presents different opportunities that we learn from.”
One thing that hasn’t changed after two games is that Thornton continues to drive home his original message, which has helped mold this group of individual regular-season superstars become a cohesive all-star unit.
“We remind them that they are the 13 best players in the league. They were chosen for that reason,” Thornton said. “That this is their new team now. They need to come together and gel as a unit, to be leaders as they were during the regular season for their respective teams, own their role and do what is needed to help the team win.”
With two wins under its belt and coming off 10 days without playing an official game, Newark National will be more than ready to take the field at the Brandywine complex on Saturday night at 5:45 p.m.. The team’s veteran skipper is also ready, and he has his pregame speech prepared.
“It’s just another game, we’ve been here before,” Thornton shared of what he plans to say. “Play as a team, maintain a competitive edge for all six innings, be aggressive and confident at the plate, want the baseball in the field and make plays. Pick each other up, talk and chirp and feed off each other’s energy. Give us everything you have for six innings, leave it all on the field, everything else will take care of itself.”
Newark National last won the majors state tournament in 2014, capping a run of four consecutive trips to the regionals in Bristol, Conn. The majority of this year's squad made up the 10-year-year old team that won states and advanced to regionals two years ago.
“This tradition [of winning] is something the players and coaches strive to live up to,” Thornton explained. “It’s pressure, but good pressure that I think motivates us all even more.”
Regardless of how the tournament plays out, Thornton knows from experience his players will never forget the time spent together.
“I’ll hope that they had fun, enjoyed the run and special moments along the way, and are proud of their efforts and accomplishments both individually and as a team,” he said. “I will remind them that these are moments they will have to cherish forever and that they made an entire league, and possibly city and state, depending on how far we go, extremely proud.”
Charlie Porter, Jeff Marks and Darren Kelley are serving as coaches for the team. Players are Alexander Faircloth, Mark Spoor, Zachary Pruitt, Joseph Papili, Bradley Marks, Daniel Work, Nicholas DiTomasso, Charles Porter, Chase Thornton, Cameron Kelley, Brady McBride, Kaden Netta and Andrew Bulovas.