One of the best things about sports is the way it ties together families, across generations and within generations.
That's particularly true of baseball, a game of fathers and sons, grandpops and grandsons, big brothers and little brothers.
Mark Steen, Ryan Williams, and Roger Hoffmann were eighth graders in the spring of 2007. They couldn't wait to get to high school, especially since each boy watched his big brother help Seneca to the only baseball title in the program's history.
Now seniors, Steen, Williams, and Hoffmann will take the field Saturday in Toms River East set on making their own history - but also on repeating some.
"I remember telling my brother that year, 'My year, we're going to get there,' " said Hoffman, a pitcher and outfielder for the South Jersey Group 3 champions.
Rich Steen, Dan Williams, and Evan Hoffmann were members of Seneca's 2007 championship team. Their little brothers were regulars at tournament games, watching with widening eyes and rising hopes.
"I always wanted to copy off him," Ryan Williams said of his older brother. "I wanted to be like him as much as possible."
Rich Steen was a first baseman and pitcher for the 2007 Golden Eagles, who beat Cranford in the state final. Dan Williams was an infielder. Evan Hoffmann was an outfielder and a designated hitter.
Their little brothers were all there that day, forming their own dreams even as their older brothers were making one of theirs come true.
"We watched those guys from the time we were like nine or 10," Mark Steen said. "They were like our role models in baseball. We were hoping that eventually it would be us."
All three athletes have played a role in Seneca's surprising surge from No. 8 seed in the sectional tournament to Saturday's state-championship game against North Jersey champion Paramus.
Williams, a shortstop, is batting .442 with a team-high seven homers and 27 RBIs. He has been on a torrid streak in the tournament, hitting two home runs against Ocean City, collecting four hits and four RBIs against Moorestown.
Steen, a catcher, is batting .377 with six doubles and 24 RBIs. He had three hits and five RBIs in the sectional finals against Moorestown.
Hoffmann, a pitcher and outfielder, has been a key role player. He has picked up his game late in the season, pitching seven innings in a victory over Paul VI, rapping a single in the state semifinals against Middletown South, and collecting an RBI in the sectional semifinals against Central Regional.
Seneca coach Sean Cassel, who was an assistant in 2007, knows that family ties help build continuity and tradition in a program.
"One of the cool parts of coaching is when former players come back and you can introduce them to the current players," Cassel said. "It's the metaphor for building a program; you're working off what others have done before you. Those guys all watched their brothers. They knew that was where they wanted to be."
Three older brothers hung Seneca baseball's first state-championship banner in 2007.
Three younger brothers hope to order another one on Saturday.