Little League World Series
(Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Staten Island Mid-Island roster of kids always plays big when the time is right. Next on the list is the Little League World Series.

Just as folks on both U.S. coasts can often insultingly refer to the vast middle portion of America as “flyover states,” many of the more “haute” residents of the Tri-State region probably think of Staten Island as the “drive through borough” between New York City and New Jersey.

On Sunday, 11 Little Leaguers from the punchline borough punched their ticket to Williamsport as Mid-Atlantic champs after a perfect game, 4-0 win by Mid-Island pitcher Greg Bruno over Maryland. According to Baseball Reference, the perfect game was the eighth in LLWS history and only the second by a U.S. player.

This Staten Island team is no joke.

The team is the third from Mid-Island Little League and sixth from Staten Island to reach the tournament. The 1964 Mid-Island team is the only one to win it all.

The team pushed its record to 15-0 this season and 26-0 since last season in spectacular but not surprising fashion. Bruno was overpowering striking out 12 and throwing only 63 pitches against the Berlin, Maryland team that had outscored its previous three opponents 35-8. Bruno, who possesses great off-speed stuff, almost exclusively used fastballs, clocking in the mid to upper 70 m.p.h. range which converts to a mid to upper 90’s MLB equivalent based on time and distance factors.

Berlin nearly ended Bruno’s perfect game bid in the fifth inning when pinch-hitter Nate Berzonski ripped a line drive to right field, but Mid Island right fielder Robert Cavalieri gunned him out at first base.

Asked after the game by reporters how he shut down the high-powered Maryland offense, Bruno matter of factly responded, “Well, I’m a pretty good pitcher.”

On the post-game bus ride from Bristol, CT to Williamsport, PA, Mid-Island Manager Joe Calabrese said, “I told Greg to go right at hitters and get ahead in order to keep his pitch count below 65 to remain eligible to possibly pitch in the next game.”

Using a smooth delivery, Bruno starts from a stretch position and likes to change his pace and sometimes use a slide step to deceive batters.

Offensively, shortstop Steven Martinez drove in two runs with a two-out, third-inning double. The red-hot Martinez is hitting .833, picking up 10 hits in 12 at-bats in four tournament games.

Calabrese and team have dedicated the tournament to his late brother John, who passed away suddenly in 2014 at age 45. John’s son, John Jr. plays first base for Mid-Island. He made a nifty defensive play and doubled and scored a run in Sunday’s contest.

The team wears a number 23 patch in memory of John Sr. Both Joe and John are friends and former teammates of mine so the respect for the game along with the work ethic and grittiness that’s been instilled in these boys is no surprise to anyone who knows this family.

Playing in front of so many and for so much is an intense experience for anyone, let alone 12-year-old boys. Anyone who’s ever played in competitive youth tournaments knows that what this team has accomplished is no small task. Asked how he keeps his team loose and focused Calabrese said, “I tell them it’s the same game, the same field regardless of opponent. Just go out there and play your game.”

But the journey is, of course, not over. Mid-Island will face the Mid-West champion Grandview Little League team from Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. There are 16 teams remaining—eight U.S and eight international teams. The championship game will be played on Aug. 26.

Go get ’em, boys.