On Thursday night, in the semifinal round of the World Series tournament in Bangor, Maine, Clear Ridge beat Virginia 7-0.
“I’ve been watching this since I was 12 years old,” said Clear Ridge first baseman Dave Navarro in a post-game interview with news reporters. “Always wanted to come here. It’s finally here.”
Starting pitcher Gage Olszak, who finished the regular season with a 7-0 record, threw 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and giving up four hits and a walk.
The game had an intense start with three and a half scoreless innings. In the bottom of the fourth inning, after hits from Tim Molloy and Dave Navarro, Clear Ridge took a 2-0 lead.
In the fifth inning, Tom Doyle, Mike Skoraczewski and Zach Verta loaded the bases on one out. Then Olszak stepped up and knocked in another two runs with a single, making it 4-0. By the end of the inning, Clear Ridge was up 6-0.
Clear Ridge scored another run on two doubles in the sixth inning to make it 7-0.
Olszak left the mound after the first out in the top of the seventh inning to make way for relief pitcher Paolo Zavala. He retired Virginia's last two batters for the win.
"It's a big win," Molloy told DNAinfo after the game. On defense, he combined with Skoraczewski and Navarro for two huge double plays to keep Virginia away from home plate. "It's an unreal feeling."
Mark Robinson, the team's manager, said the team played an incredible night of baseball.
"It's amazing what these kids can do," Robinson said. "They're on cloud nine, but nothing flusters these kids."
Chicago's team will now play in the Senior League World Series Championship at 1 p.m. Saturday.
They will play Australia Thursday in a 7 p.m. championship game broadcast on ESPN.
Representing the U.S. Central region, Clear Ridge is now 4-0 in the double-elimination tournament with wins over Australia, Spain and Puerto Rico.
“This has been an incredible experience,” said Debbie Molloy, the shortstop's mom. “He’s having the time of his life. It’s such a wonderful experience to see him out there with his friends.”
Clear Ridge Baseball’s World Series journey began more than a decade ago. Most of the players have been teammates since they were four years old and playing tee ball at Valley Forge Park.
“The amazing thing is I’ve known these kids since they were little,” said Patti McIntyre, whose 16-year-old son Mike Skoraczewski, plays second base. “They build each other up. Nobody talks down to one another. They’re all good friends.”
Senior League Baseball is a Little League division for players ages 13-18. Little League started the division in 1961 to allow kids to continue playing beyond the traditional structure of Little League, which began at age 9 and ended at 12.
The 16 players on Clear Ridge's roster all live in Garfield Ridge and attend Catholic high schools all over the South Side, including St. Laurence, St. Rita, De La Salle, Marist and Nazareth.
“I coached many of them throughout my years," said Tony Miller, who is in Maine watching his 16-year-old son Noah Miller play right field. "They're all pumped up. "They have TV cameras out here.”
Parents say Clear Ridge kids have something most teams don't: A ball field camaraderie forged over more than a decade of playing together.
The team finished the regular season 16-0.
For the past week, the players have been living together on the road, sharing hotel rooms in groups of four. Traveling to Maine to play ball was a new experience for most of the players, but Coach Robinson had made the trip once before.
In 2013, Clear Ridge went 0-4 in the Senior League World Series. The tough tournament play prepared Robinson for his next trip three years later.
"I knew what to expect this time," Robinson told DNAinfo Chiago. "This is my second time here."
On Monday afternoon, the team was down 7-5 going into the fifth inning against Australia. In the fifth, Clear Ridge scored six runs to take a lead the team would never relinquish.
“They’ve been together for a long long time,” said Rhonda Verta, whose 16-year-old son Zach Verta plays left field and pitched in the team's win against Puerto Rico. “They get the job done."
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