BAYVILLE - The Toms River East National Junior League team survived its share of nail-biters on its way to the N.J. Junior League Championship Tournament – which began play Wednesday night at Al Leiter Field in the Berkeley Little League Complex – so it was about time it finished off a win with some room to breathe.

After falling into an early two-run hole, Toms River East National scored five runs in the top of the fourth inning and pulled away for a 9-4 win over Elizabethport in the first round of the tournament. National will face perennial power Parsippany-Troy East in Friday’s winners bracket final at 5 p.m. at Leiter Field.

Toms River East National's Kyle Dietze fired 5 2/3 innings of quality relief to earn the win in his team's 9-4 victory over Elizabethport in the Junior League State Tournament opening round Wednesday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Kyle Dietze moved from left field to the pitcher’s mound in the bottom of the second and threw 5 2/3 innings to earn the win in relief. He reached the Junior League mandated pitch count with one out left to record in the game, finishing with 99 pitches. The game ended when Dietze – playing third base – bare-handed a groundball and threw to first for the game’s final out.

Dietze allowed two runs – one earned – on four hits and two walks with six strikeouts.

“I was ready to pitch,” Dietze said. “I was out to get as many outs as I could, one at a time. As many as I needed to help the team.”

All five runs scored by Toms River East National in the fourth were unearned, but two key run-scoring hits paved the way for the big inning. Justin Donnamaria, who lasted just one inning and allowed two runs as the starting pitcher, delivered the go-ahead, two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded to break a 2-2 tie and give Toms River East a 4-2 lead.

Justin Donnamaria go-ahead 2-run 1B from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

“This was a team win all-around,” said Donnamaria, who batted with the bases loaded in each of his first three at-bats, with nothing to show for the first two. “I wasn’t able to get the runs in the first couple times, but you’re always going to get another chance in baseball sooner or later. My coaches and teammates stayed positive and that made it easy for me to stay positive.”

East National tacked on two more runs on an RBI single by center fielder Colin Mackle, with a second run scoring on an overthrow that carried out of play. Mackle reached base in all four of his plate appearances, finishing 1-for-1 with three walks. His second walk of the game forced in a run in the top of the third to cut Elizabethport’s lead to 2-1 and give him the first of his two RBI.

Elizabethport cut the lead to 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth and it might have been closer if not for right fielder Colin Healy. With one out in the inning, Healy threw out a runner at the plate on a single by center fielder Javell Barnes to momentarily keep the score 6-3. Healy then doubled home a run in the top of the seventh, stole third and scored when the throw from the catcher went into left field.

Colin Healy RBI 2B in the 7th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Second baseman Darren Scholl tied the game with a heads-up base-running play in the five-run fourth. With the bases loaded and one out in the inning, he spotted home plate uncovered when the first baseman, catcher and pitcher all converged on catcher Michael Wardell’s pop-up in foul territory. Scholl tagged up and sprinted home on a pop-up that did not quite reach first base.

Darren Scholl steals a run with heads-up baserunning from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Toms River East National won three prior tournament games on winning hits in the bottom of the final inning, so although it took a come-from-behind effort, Wednesday’s win was a relatively low-anxiety affair.

“We knew we were going to score plenty of runs because that’s what we’ve been doing,” Donnamaria said. “We may not score first, but we know we’re going to score and as long as we stayed positive, we knew we could come back.”