Brandon Bender swung and barreled the baseball into the right-centerfield gap at The Ripken Experience facility in Aberdeen, Md.
As the ball rolled toward the fence, Gavin Ross raced home from second and Connor Emmich charged home from first. But the play wasn’t finished.
The Ripken Experience field was structured in a way that once the ball rolled past the outfielders, it kept going. As the outfielders finally picked up the ball and launched it back to the infield, Bender hustled down the third base line and stepped on home plate.
His Hillsborough Raiders 10U travel teammates ran over and mobbed him.
Bender’s three-run, inside the park home run won Hillsborough the Ripken 873 Classic championship, 9-8, over the Brad Mar Pine Athletic Association, out of Wexford, Pa., on July 13. The homer capped a 5-1 run through the tournament for Hillsborough. The Raiders actually lost their second game in pool play but won their next four contests, outscoring opponents 52-36 over the course of the tournament.
The Ripken 873 Classic is named for Major League Baseball’s famous Ripken family, who run The Ripken Experience, a player development organization that hosts youth baseball tournaments in three states. Cal Ripken Sr. and sons Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken all spent significant time with the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, with Cal Sr. coaching on the MLB club for over a decade and Cal Jr., one of the best players of his era, playing for the O’s from 1981-2001.
The 873 Classic brought in 20 10-year-old travel teams from across the country, and Hillsborough left as the best one. The team features 11 10-year-old all-stars from Hillsborough Township.
“It was a lot of fun for the kids,” said Billy Bender, Hillsborough’s assistant coach and the father of Brandon Bender. “We were all very proud of the way the kids kept their energy high and cheered their teammates on.”
On the diamond, Hillsborough won because it got hot at the plate. The team scored 8.6 runs per game in the tournament.
“Our bats came alive,” Billy Bender said.
Hillsborough got offensive contributions up and down the lineup. The Ripken 873 Classic named a team most valuable player after every game, and Hillsborough had a different player win each time.
The team’s six MVPs were Nathan Bienstock, Shaan Patel, Aidan Murphy, Shane Borer, Kyle Simonitis and Brandon Bender. The rest of the roster consisted of Connor Emmich,Matthew Gerard, Hailee McNally, Gavin Ross and Peter Wheeler.
These players have been together for a few years now, and they are friends off the field, too. When they weren’t playing in games down in Aberdeen, the players and their families did activities together, like attending an Orioles game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, going to an arcade and playing miniature golf.
“They have each other’s backs and they are only 10 years old,” Billy Bender said. “We told them, ‘See what happens when you stay behind each other?'”
“You always hope when you do a team bonding trip, the results will be there,” he explained. “If a month from now we’re off the charts beating teams, we’ll say, ‘Yeah it worked.'”
Hillsborough has one more tournament this summer, the Old Bridge Summer Slam over the coming weekend of July 27 and 28. The team will try to finish strong and build on its 27-11-2 total record in 2019.