JACKSON — The Holbrook Little League team went from being one of 200 teams vying for the state championship to representing the entire state of New Jersey as they begin their quest for their next championship this weekend in Bristol, Connecticut.

After hitting four home runs against Wayne for a 10-2 win to claim the 2017 Joe Graziano New Jersey Little League state championship, the players take on a team from Washington, D.C., in their first game Sunday in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament.

Holbrook Little League's World Series Quest
(Rob Grano)

"They're a great, fun bunch of kids. They hang out together like they're 13 best friends. We don't have cliques," manager Rob Grano said of his team.

When asked if he has any of his own kids on the team he responded, "13 kids."

Grano said the team has been together since the players were 10 years old and have had a very successful three years together. Gene Dadio and Jim Osmond have been his coaches for the past two years.

"We were state champions at 10, Mid-Atlantic champions as well at 10. Last year we won the state championship. That's far as you can go when you're 11 ... We're pretty happy that we're back-to-back-to-back state champions," Grano said.

The team is "beyond excited" to be heading for the first round of the tournament, which will be carried online at ESPN3.

"We try to focus them on the task at hand, which is baseball," Grano said. "They've been talking about this probably since they were 8 years old, so this is nothing new. It's part four of the ultimate goal."

Despite their success, Grano kept it real for his team as they headed to the state tournament, and held a practice in which everyone was fighting for their position and playing time.

"I said, 'I don't care who you are or what your reputation's been or what you've done in the past. Today's the beginning of working your hardest to prove to us you deserve to be on the field as much as you are,'" Grano told the team, in an an effort to keep them focused.

The move helped reinvigorate the Holbrook squad, and they've been playing passionately ever since. Losing is OK with Grano, as long as the team gives maximum effort.

"If you do the best you can do and you try your hardest, win or lose you can leave knowing you did everything you can. That's OK. The worst thing will be if you didn't give your best you'll have regrets that you won't know but you'll have regrets for a very long time because you can't go back, you don't get a redo, this is it," Grano said.

The focus will be on baseball once the team arrives in Bristol; the kids won't see a lot of their parents.

"They are pretty much on lockdown in Bristol," Grano said, staying together for practices and watching other games.

Grano said his team went 17-1 in the season, but any of the teams in the area would have represented their district well. Toms River went to Bristol in 2010 and crosstown rival Jackson played in the tournament in 2015.

"We've been fortunate that our competition has been so good that I feel that's a benefit for whatever team makes it out of here is pretty battle-tested," Grano said.

Bob Badders contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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