BRISTOL, Conn – The dream of returning to the Little League World Series for the second straight year is now just one win away for Toms River East.
The drive to reach Williamsport, Pa. for New Jersey’s champion 12-year-olds continued Wednesday night with a 3-1 victory over Fairfield (Conn.) American in a Metro Region semifinal at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center.
The win, powered by a two-run homer by winning pitcher Logan Macchia, propels them into Friday’s championship game (7 p.m.) against unbeaten Massapequa (N.Y.) Coast, where an invitation to what would be Toms River East’s fifth trip to the World Series hangs in the balance.
Macchia faced all but two batters, allowing four hits against the Connecticut champions. He escaped an early jam, as Fairfield loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning, only to get out of it without allowing a run.
“I think that was a pivotal in the game,” Toms River East manager Mike Mendes said. “They were amped, bases loaded. He wasn’t coming out of the game. So we knew we were riding him. We were riding him for five innings and we had seen him step up before with bases loaded and nobody out and seen him get out of it, and he stepped up in a huge way and it kind of deflated them a little bit.
“His home run juiced us and getting out of that juiced us. Two big moments in that game that he provided.”
Toms River East lost to Massapequa Coast in the opening game of the region, falling 6-3 to in seven innings on Saturday. But they remained alive in the double-elimination tournament thanks to a hard-fought 3-2 victory Sunday over Rhode Island champs Cumberland.
“To come back and be in a region final, that’s what these kids dream about,” said Mendes.
It would be the sixth appearance at the World Series for a Toms River team – Toms River National made it in 2010 – and the eight time for a team from Ocean County, with Lakewood winning it all in 1975, and Holbrook from Jackson going in 2017.
More:Toms River East Little League looks to build on rich tradition
Here are the key moments
Top sixth inning: Closing out the win
Macchia entered the final inning having thrown 76 pitches, and hit the 85 pitch limit when Brooks Fonseca singled to left, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double for the second out of the inning. At that point, Tyler Tedaro, who started in left field, came in to close out the game, but Will Hathaway singled to right. Hathaway was then thrown out trying to go to second on a wild pitch, with catcher Rich McHugh throwing strike down to second to end the game, with a video replay reversing the initial safe call.
Top fifth inning: Macchia gets big out
A two-out hit by Drew Kane brought Fairfield pitcher Will Ryan, who doubled earlier in the game, to the plate as the tying run. But Macchia got Ryan to strike out looking to preserve a 3-1 lead, with his pitch total rising to 76.
Bottom third inning: Toms River East extends lead
Toms River East’s Michael Mendes reached on an error with one out, before moving to second when right fielder Brady Gillen’s grounder to shortstop took a bad hop and was ruled a hit. The runners advanced on a ground out by shortstop Jayce Cappello. And with runners on second and third with two outs, Mendes scored on a wild pitch to increase the lead to 3-1.
Top third inning: Fairfield pulls within 2-1
Fairfield got on the scoreboard when first baseman Drew Kane led off the inning with home run to centerfield, cutting Toms River East’s lead to 2-1. Then Macchia retired the next three batters, with the final out coming on a diving stop by second baseman Phillip LaGrossa, who got the throw to first base in time.
Top of the second: Toms River East survives scare
Fairfield left fielder Brooks Fonseca reached on an error to lead off the inning, moving to second when Hudson Kofoed was hit by a pitch. Fairfield loaded the bases with no outs when catcher Max Mulhall singled to right. Trip Keyes hit a line drive to right that Brady Gillen caught, and was able to hold the runners in place with a strong throw to the infield. Macchia then bore down, striking out Meesh Mulhall and leadoff hitter Dylan Lawlor to end the threat.
“I was just thinking throw strikes, make sure they don’t put it in play and if they do I have defense behind me,” Macchia said.
Top first inning: Toms River East scores two
Mendes, the leadoff hitter, swung at the first pitch and blooped an opposite field single over the second baseman’s head. After pitcher Will Ryan, who doubled in the top of the first, got the next two batters, Macchia drilled a two-run homer over the right-centerfield fence to give his team a quick 2-0 lead.
“That pitch was right down the middle and I was like just like ‘hit it.’ And when I hit it, just a bomb,” Macchia said.
Here were the starting lineups for both teams:
Toms River East (Home team)
No., Name, Pos.
2. Michael Mendes CF
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12. Brady Gillen RF
17. Jayce Cappello SS
54. Logan Macchia P
8. Christian Mascaro 1B
9. Jake Gallagher 3B
43. Philipp LaGrossa 2B
4. Tyler Todaro LF
25. Ryan McHugh C
5. Bryce Tomitz
13. Kevin O’Donnell
88. Deklin Sloan
99. Gavin Senger
Staff: Manager Mike Mendes, Coaches Ed Todaro and George Gallagher.
Fairfield American (Visiting team)
No. Name Pos.
13. Dylan Lawlor SS
11. Drew Kane 1B
14. Will Ryan P
4. Tristan Rivera 3B
7. Brooks Fonseca LF
10. Hudson Kofoed CF
15. Max Mulhall C
3. Trip Keyes RF.
9. Meesh Mulhall 2B
1 Tommy Gardner
5. Will Hathaway
6. Patrick Jodice
16. Declan Gitman
Staff: Manager Matt Lawlor; Coaches Jorge River, Tom Keyes.