East Greenwich baseball has been a solid program for years, essentially acting as a valuable pipeline for the Kingsway High School program. However, this year’s crop from East Greenwich went where no other 11-12 team has gone before- winning the Joe Graziano State Tournament.
They were able to defeat Toms River East in the state final to advance to regional play. To take out a history-rich Toms River East program, one which boasts alumni such as current Cinncinati Reds player Todd Frazier, was quite a feat.
Going into the postseason, expectations were high. This team has been playing together for years. As a 9-10 team, this group was able to win the District 15 title, the first for East Greenwich in 10 years.
This year as an 11-12 squad, they were considered one of the favorites to win the District 15 title this year. They also thought they had a shot of winning the Section 4 title, too.
Therefore, their goal was to make it far into the state tournament. However, what they were able to accomplish went far beyond those aspirations.
There are quite a few ways to put this state title into perspective. This was the first 11-12 state championship ever for East Greenwich. They were the first District 15 (Gloucester County) team to win the 11-12 state title in 51 years (Pitman last won one in 1962). They were the first Section 4 (South Jersey) team to win the state title in 22 years (South Vineland last did it in 1991).
While their fantastic post-season run ended at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut with four tough games against the best teams in the northeast United States, they went further than any 11-12 East Greenwich team has ever gone.
Coached by Jim Szestowicki (who has been involved in East Greenwich baseball for eight years) and his assistants Dennis Burlingame and Brett Kelly, this team became known for sound defense, solid hitting, and consistent pitching- all trademarks of any good ball club at any level.
Impressively, they have used a “pitching-by-committee” system which isn’t the norm in top level ball. They also had a roster of 13 players that all were used evenly and consistently, as opposed to relying on a few star players. This was a total team effort.
Szestowicki attributes the success of this year’s club to hard work, talent, and their ability to grow together as a cohesive unit. “They worked harder than anyone, and that work paid huge dividends,” said Szestowicki. “They are very talented and have been working towards this for a while.”
Most of the team members are full-time players. Almost all of them play on the South Jersey Titans, a local travel team in which Szestowicki is the club president and Burlingame is the head coach.
They follow an intense fall ball regimen and participate in Little League ball together. They live and eat baseball, and it shows.
“What this group was able to accomplish was outstanding,” said Szestowicki. “They never give up, and everyone contributed. They’ve got a great future ahead.”
With most of these players now moving on to SJ Titan baseball, as well as a possible 13- year old intermediate East Greenwich team, chances are that we haven’t heard the last of this group. Ultimately, this group has a chance to take their talents up to Coach Ian Enders and the Kingsway High School, which has had recent post-season success of its own.
We should expect to hail local baseball champions much more in the upcoming years.