ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic Shore and Branchburg 14-year-old baseball teams found their roles reversed Wednesday afternoon.
Atlantic Shore defeated Branchburg (Somerset County) to win a Babe Ruth Mid-Atlantic Regional title last year.
On Wednesday, the other team did the celebrating.
Branchburg beat Atlantic Shore 7-3 to win the championship at Surf Stadium. Branchburg advances to the Babe Ruth World Series to be held Aug. 18-Aug. 25 in Murray, Utah.
Atlantic Shore left 10 runners on base. Branchburg scored six of its seven runs with two outs.
"The games that we've lost have all been kind of the same," Atlantic Shore coach Mike Gill said. "We couldn't get the hit we were looking for. They got a big hit when they needed it. It wasn't meant to be for us this year."
The championship game capped the 10-team tournament, which featured players from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Atlantic Shore hopes to build on the event's success and possibly bring a Babe Ruth World Series to the region. The Babe Ruth World Series sites for 2013 already have been awarded.
"That's our goal," Atlantic Shore league president Bill Rauzzino, of Somers Point, said of the World Series. "But there's a lot of planning involved in that."
Between 35 and 40 people volunteered to work this year's tournament, Rauzzino said. Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford threw out Wednesday's first pitch.
"It was a big undertaking, but we had tremendous support from Atlantic City," Rauzzino said. "We almost had too much help from our volunteers, and that's a good thing."
The stadium was in good condition. Clear-sounding music blared from the public-address system between innings. The Atlantic City Surf, an independent minor-league team that was the stadium's original tenant, began in 1998 and folded after the 2008 season. A reminder of how old the stadium formerly known as the Sandcastle is - two non-working pay phones hung on a concourse wall.
This was the second straight year Atlantic Shore and Branchburg played for a Mid-Atlantic title. Atlantic Shore beat Branchburg 11-1 in last year's 13-year-old final.
Wednesday's game was much closer.
Atlantic Shore benefited from stellar defense as the game was scoreless for the first three innings.
Second baseman Kyle Gerace leaped and snared a line drive in the webbing of his glove in the first inning. Catcher Jack Loefflad picked a runner off second base in the second inning.
Branchburg took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth when Austin Markowski led off with a double to deep left-center field. One out later, eventual winning pitcher Kellen Hardy singled to right to score Markowski.
Branchburg scored three runs with two outs in the top of the sixth to build a 4-0 lead.
But Atlantic Shore rallied in the sixth inning. Zach Newman led off with an infield single and scored two batters later on Anthony Boselli's sacrifice fly to center field. Atlantic Shore then closed to within a run when Gerace knocked in two runs with a line-drive double to center field.
But Branchburg took advantage of shaky Atlantic Shore defense (three errors) to score three runs with two outs in the top of the seventh to build a 7-3 lead.
The defeat does not take away from what Atlantic Shore has achieved the past two years.
"This has been a dedicated group," Gill said. "I think they really put baseball in South Jersey on the map. Hopefully, this group of kids will make another run at it next year."
The Branchburg players threw their gloves in the air and mobbed each other on the infield after they got the final out. Parents stood on top of the dugout and recorded video of the scene.
"This is one of the nicest stadiums I ever played in," Branchburg's Hardy said.
Tournament organizers hope it won't be long before another team celebrates at Surf Stadium. Some towns, such as Williamsport, Pa., which annually hosts Little League World Series, are known for their support of youth baseball.
"We'd really like to make this the Williamsport of Babe Ruth," Rauzzino said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Branchburg 000 103 3-7 10 1
Atlantic Shore 000 003 0-3 8 3
2B-Markowski B; Gerace AS.