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August 26, 2009 > Niles-Centerville is world class

Niles-Centerville is world class

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.

Second in the world isn't all that bad. And that's just what Niles-Centerville's District 14 Little League All Star team accomplished when they traveled to Bangor, Maine, last week for the Senior League Baseball World Series.

Niles-Centerville, representing the U.S. West region, according to Manager Perry Romero, had a goal "to make it to Western Regionals. And then when we won Western Regionals and advanced to the World Series ... what a feeling."

The feeling was reciprocated by all in Fremont, as establishments such as Jack's Brewery in The Hub and The Florence in Niles were filled to capacity to root on their home-town team as they took on Houston, Texas, in the SLBWS Championship Saturday, August 22, televised on ESPNU.

"The whole town of Fremont has rallied behind us," said Coach Romero. "I think this is what brings our community together; and it makes us stronger. To do it from a small area like Niles is amazing."

"You can't thank the parents enough, and all the fans that have been supporting us," said Niles' starting catcher Casey Jennings. "The experience is just unbelievable."

Behind the tutelage of Manager Romero and his two coaching companions, Roger Dhanda and Mike Bronco, Niles was able to amass a 25-3 overall record for the summer-long run of baseball, which culminated in their 9-7 loss to Texas in the World Series Championship.

"This shows that a little town like Niles can produce great teams," said Jennings who noted they may not be the best team, but play with the most heart. "We're like a family out here."

Jennings and the Niles contingent, led by the likes of Tri-City Voice Male Athlete of the Month Marc Wik, ace pitchers Jack Veronin and Billy Nevin, and smooth-swinging Cody Lebon, put together a 16-game winning streak before falling to Texas.

After getting through the Western Regional Tournament with a 6-0 record, the team went 5-0 leading up to the championship game. Here's how the games went:

Sunday, August 16
U.S. West 4 - Asia-Pacific (Philippines) 1

Nevin came on in relief of Veronin and pitched six innings, allowing no runs on three hits while striking out two and walking none to earn the victory against the Philippines and a 1-0 record.

Trailing 1-0 throughout most the game, as the Philippines scored off Veronin in the first on a Mark Ong sacrifice fly, the Niles bats came alive for two in each the sixth and seventh innings to go ahead 4-1, which they would hold for the victory. Wik accounted for all four runs: in the sixth, driving in Pierce Romero, with Matt Knight coming in on a throwing error; and doubling home Romero and Knight the following inning.

"I go up to the plate every at bat looking to be aggressive," said Wik. "Pitchers try to get ahead early ... so I just look to be aggressive and drive the first pitch."

Monday, August 17
U.S. West 5 - U.S. Southeast (South Carolina) 1

Veronin was back to his old self, as he shut down the bats of South Carolina a day after Philippines' batters gave him fits. He threw a complete game, allowing just one run in his seven innings of work, giving up five hits while striking out six and walking one.

"That was frustrating yesterday because they took til there was two strikes on them ... I had to go straight at them," said Veronin, who said his curve ball was the best its been all summer. "These guys came out swinging at the first pitches ... once I saw that, I got in a groove about the second inning and I felt great from then on."

On the offensive side, Lebon and Bryce Fryan each knocked in a run; and Veronin helped his own cause, doubling home two runs in the fifth as Niles improved to 2-0 with their 5-1 win.

Tuesday, August 18
U.S. West 6 - Canada (Cornwall, Ontario) 3 (12 inn.)

In the longest game - both in innings and time - of the Senior League Baseball World Series since the tournament called Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium in Bangor, Maine, home, Niles was able to pound in three runs in the 12th inning to end the three-hour, one-minute marathon in their favor.

Jennings hit a bases-clearing double off James Amelotte to the left-centerfield gap with the bases loaded to give Niles a 6-3 lead which they would hold on to for the win.

"I think almost everybody was 0-5 at batting this game," said Jennings who admitted he was looking to swing at the first pitch. "Someone had to come up clutch, and luckily it was me."

Canada, who came back from three separate one-run deficits, including two with the game in the balance (scoring one run in both the 7th and 10th innings), couldn't muster anything off Justin Dhanda in the 12th, as Niles improved to 3-0 in pool play, guaranteeing them Pool A's number-one seed.

"We have a lot of depth in the pitching staff and it showed tonight," said Niles-Centerville Manager Perry Romero, who admitted Tuesday's game was the best game he's ever been a part of. "That's why we're leaving here winners tonight."

Thursday, August 20
U.S. West 7 - Maine District 3 (Bangor, Maine) 6 (8 inn.)

After playing in an extra-inning marathon (the longest that Bangor, Maine, has seen in SLBWS history) followed by a scheduled day off, Niles-Centerville was back at the exhilarating style of baseball they've been putting on display the whole tournament.

This time, against the host club in Maine District 3 Little League, they gave up a 5-0 lead, eventually trailing 6-5 in extra innings, before putting up two runs and going home winners, 7-6, to end pool play 4-0.

"I just have to throw my game and do what I've been doing this whole time: throw strikes and let my defense do the work," said Nevin. "(Today) helps me see where I'm at. My arm has been bothering me a bit lately. It wasn't bothering me today, so it's a good sign."

Nevin came on in the seventh and shut down Maine's rally to keep the game tied at 5-5. Maine had scored two in the sixth and three in the seventh (all off Beau Lawrence) before Nevin came on.

"I asked Beau if he still had it and he really wanted," said Romero of Lawrence coming in and saving his aces arms for the semifinals. "Beau Lawrence came in there today and did a great job for us."

However, Maine took a one-run advantage when Cody Savage scored Jacques Larochelle on sac fly. But the resilient Niles team loaded the bases with no outs in their half of the eighth. Wik singled home Knight to tie the game; and three batters later, Nevin walked, forcing in Jesse Nohr for the winning run.

"We tip our cap to Maine," said Romero. "They weren't giving up. They fought all the way through.

"But we had a game plan," Romero continued. "And fortunately things worked out for us today."

Friday, August 21
Senior League Baseball World Series Semifinals
U.S. West 7 - Latin America (San Nicolas, Aruba) 6

Storming out to another five-run advantage, as they did the day prior with Maine, Niles held a comfortable 7-2 lead before Aruba started to chip back into the game.

Niles got all seven of its runs in the third, helping Veronin notch a victory that sent them into the championship game.

West sent 12 men to the plate in the inning. Five of the seven were unearned runs, due to three Aruba errors.

With Matt Knight and Veronin on base, Mark Wik grounded to second, but Jiandido Tromp misplayed the ball, allowing Knight to score; Veronin came home two batters later on a Jennings single to left; and Billy Nevin drove in Wik with a single to left, making it 3-2 Niles.

After Bryce Fryan struck out, Niles had runners on first and second with two out. Justin Dhanda hit a bounding ball to third, but Sicnaef Loopstok neither threw to first nor hustled to the bag to force out Jennings, allowing everyone to reach safely.

"When the ball was hit, I thought he was just going to loft it over to first," said Jennings. "But then I saw him take his time, and I saw an opportunity to be safe since he wasn't sprinting toward third.

"If anything I thought he was going to tag me," Jennings continued. "But then I slid into third and the umpire made a good call."

"That's just the way Casey Jennings plays baseball," said Coach Romero. "He's an awesome athlete and gives you 120 percent every time you go out there."

That bang-bang play at third led to four more runs for Niles, blowing the game wide open. Xander Bogaerts was the victim of the poor defense, getting the loss. Bogaerts allowed five runs, all unearned on four hits in four innings.

"We really took advantage of their mistakes," said Veronin. "It wasn't the hits. It was the errors I think (that helped us) in this game."

Matt Knight struck out Darwin Escobar on the 12 pitch of the at bat with a knee-buckling curve ball to secure the victory for Niles, stranding the potential trying run on base.

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