It has been an amazing four-year run for the New Milford Thunder baseball team -- and the best may be yet to come.

The New Milford Youth Baseball/Softball 12-year-olds captured their fourth consecutive Cal Ripken New England championship July 25 with a 5-2 victory over Exeter, N.H., at Garick Farms Park.

Basically the same travel squad previously won the New England regional title as 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds.

With their latest victory, the Thunder qualified for the 12-year-old Ripken World Series, to be held in Aberdeen, Md., starting Aug. 9.

It clearly is a landmark accomplishment for New Milford youth baseball, which has been at it since the 1950s.

"It's been four years with a special group of kids," Thunder coach Paul Gesualdi said. "It's cool for New Milford baseball. And it's history.

"We made history today, the first New Milford team to ever go to a 12-year-old World Series," he said. "It's just completely overwhelming."

Coach Gesualdi said the team has remained relatively intact all four years.

"These kids, we push them hard, we teach them everything we can teach them," he noted, "and they go out and every day they get better and better."

Two years ago, basically this same group of players went to the 10-year-olds' World Series, lost four straight games in pool play and came home early.

This time, the team hopes to stick around awhile.

"The plan is to go win this thing," Gesualdi said. "The way these guys have been playing, there's no reason we can't win it.

"The first time, we were just happy to be there," he said.

The Thunder's Max Cotier received the Most Valuable Player award for his efforts in the championship game.

He had a double, a single and a stolen base and pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing only one hit and no walks while striking out four to earn the save.

Kendall Greene started on the mound and earned the victory, throwing 3 1/3 solid innings, scattering five hits and no walks while fanning four.

Hunter Skelly had two singles, a stolen base, an RBI and two runs for New Milford.

Joey Shine had two singles, a stolen base and a run and Greene had a single and a stolen base.

But it was Austin Swanson who had the key hit for the Thunder.

After Exeter had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, Swanson blasted a solo home run into the trees beyond the fence in centerfield to tie the game.

New Milford added two runs in the second to take the lead for good.

Joey Shine set the table with a bloop single to right with one out and scored on Tyler Bowe's grounder. Hunter Skelly followed with a single and later scored on an error.

New Hampshire got a run back in the fourth on Tom Polhemus' solo homer to left-centerfield, but the Thunder pulled away with two more in the home half.

Joey Shine lined a single to left to lead off the inning and was replaced at first base by pinch-runner C.J. Brito.

C.J. promptly stole second and later scored on Hunter Skelly's single up the middle.

Hunter then scored on Kendall Greene's sharp grounder.

Max Cotier surrendered only a double in the Exeter fifth and retired Exeter in order in the sixth to seal the win.

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