In 2013, Newark National Little League became just the second Delaware team to reach the Little League World Series. This year’s team set a goal back in June to return to Williamsport, Pa., site of perhaps the world’s most popular youth sports event.
“This is our big year with a chance to advance to states, regionals and possibly the Little League World Series. The kids know it, and they are excited about the possibility,” manager Frank Thornton said during the District 2 Tournament.
On July 24, Newark National took another step toward Williamsport when the team defeated Lower Sussex, 5-2, to win the state championship and advance to the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bristol, Conn.
“A mixed bag of emotions and thoughts for sure,” Thornton said when asked his reaction when the final out was made. “Elation, obviously, for these boys. Witnessing them experiencing and accomplishing the results of the hard work and dedication each and every one of them put in. Our motto from the start has been ‘hard work pays off’.
“Feeling proud of our coaches Charlie Porter, who played on Newark National’s 1992 team that advanced to regionals, Jeff Marks and Darren Kelley for all of the preparation they put in getting these guys ready and prepared to get to this point,” he added. “Happiness for all of the parents and families that rode the wave of emotion during each game with us. A sense of pride for being a part of a great league as I looked out and saw all of our great fans who came out to support us.”
Newark National’s win over Lower Sussex was the result of a solid all-around performance.
“We knew we needed a solid pitching performance from our starter and relievers we had lined up because Lower Sussex is a dangerous offensive team,” Thornton said. “We weathered the storms on the defensive side and put the game on our offense’s shoulders. We felt very confident our lineup would give us the run support we needed, and once again they delivered with timely hitting and aggressive base running.”
Brad Marks and Zach Pruitt each drove in two runs and that is all winning pitcher Chase Thornton, the manager’s son, needed as Newark National captured its fifth Delaware Little League title in 10 years.
“I was excited to pitch in such a big game and felt great when I took the mound,” Chase said. “It took me an inning or so to get into a grove and settle in. Once I did, my defense played great behind me and our offense did what it always does — put balls in play and gave me run support.”
Thornton has managed or coached teams for the past 20 years in five different organizations but admitted that this opportunity is by far the highlight of his coaching career.
“This is tops, hands down,” he said.
Thornton compared this experience to 2017 when he helped lead Newark National’s 10-year-old all-star team to the regional tournament in Rhode Island. Nine of the players on this year’s squad were on that team.
“I think that experience will help them immensely,” Thornton said. “They know what to expect and how to handle the pressure, adversity and intensity that a tournament of this magnitude will bring. It will also help them to cherish the moments a little more, knowing how hard it was to get back to this spot and that it’s over in a flash and the opportunity may never come again.”
Newark National, which now plays under the title “Delaware,” received a random bye in the opening round and will open on Aug. 5 at 4 p.m. against the winner of the New York-Maryland game.
Thornton said he told his players that going to regionals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“But honestly, we haven’t had to tell them much to help motivate them. This is one special group that knows the task at hand,” he said. “They were proud and excited after their district and state championship wins, believe me. But they also had a sense about them that there was still work ahead. They set their sights very high from the start, have raised the bar and challenged one another, and are fighting their way through this as a team. That is everything we told them it would take, and they have embraced the challenge from the very first practice, and we couldn’t be more proud of them for that.”
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.