Little League – Late-inning Homers Back Giordano in TR Win
BAYVILLE - Though hidden in the No. 9 spot in the Toms River Little League batting order, Bill Fleury has earned the nickname “Big Hit Bill” from his coaches and teammates. Wednesday night, in Toms River’s opener in the Joe Graziano N.J. Little League State Championship Tournament at the Berkeley Little League Complex, Fleury lived up to his nickname.
Fleury hit a tie-breaking two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning and Toms River rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat Wood-Ridge-Moonachie, 7-4, to advance to the winners bracket final Friday against Ocean City-Upper Township at 7:30 p.m.
The blast over a gray shed in left-center field was the second of two key home runs that vaulted Toms River back into the game and, ultimately, into the lead. Starting pitcher and shortstop Nick DeRose tied the game at 4 with a two-run homer onto the top of the shed in center in the top of the fifth inning.
“I’ve hit home runs before so I wasn’t really surprised when I hit it, but I definitely wasn’t up there trying to hit a home run,” Fleury said. “When I hit it, I wasn’t totally sure if it was going to get over the fence, so I was pumped when it got over.”
Wood-Ridge scored four runs in the top of the first inning to chase DeRose and force Toms River manager Pete Avallone to give the ball to starting center fielder Jonathan Giordano. Nick Aversa connected on a grand slam in the inning to account for all four runs.
“Our kids have been down in games and they’re used to scoring plenty of runs, so going down early didn’t faze them,” Avallone said. “They are still young kids, but they have played a lot of games together and have been in so many in-game situations. Not much rattles them.”
Giordano dominated for 5 1/3 scoreless innings on 82 pitches. The right-hander allowed just one hit and did not walk a batter while striking out 10.
“I was expecting to pitch at some point in the game, so I was definitely ready,” said Giordano, who will next be available to pitch in a potential championship game on Sunday. “I was expecting it to be a little later, but I was pretty much ready for anything, and once I got in, my goal was to throw strikes and go right after their hitters.”
“Any time John pitches, we know the other team is probably not going to score,” Fleury said. “He is so hard to hit. He throws gas, he locates it really well, and he has good offspeed pitches, too.”
Giordano struck out the side once and struck out at least one batter in all but one of the innings that he pitched. He allowed a lead-off single in the fifth and allowed another batter to reach on an error, but limited the damage thanks to his strikeout ability and catcher Connor Cino’s ability to handle his powerful fastball.
“I give Connor a lot of credit,” Giordano said. “I know if I had to catch my fastball, it wouldn’t be pretty. He makes it really easy to pitch. Anything I do on the mound, he gets 50 percent of the credit.”
Giordano started the game-tying rally in the fifth with a line-drive double that skipped to the left-field fence. After a ground out by Cino, DeRose fell behind in the count 1-2 and laid into a pitch from Wood-Ridge starter Matt Gibney, clearing the fence and tying the game.
“We were all happy for (DeRose) when he hit that home run because I think he was feeling a little down about the way the game started for him,” Giordano said. “We just wanted to stay positive and try to pick him up because we knew he was going to have a chance to come through for us.”
One inning later, left fielder Jason Kapp doubled to start the winning rally and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Tyler Avallone for the first out. On a 1-1 pitch, Fleury drilled the game-winning home run to end Gibney’s day.
Toms River added an unearned run off reliever and starting shortstop Liam Winslow, which came as a result of three fielding errors on the infield. Giordano drove in the first Toms River run with an RBI single in the third inning and Toms River cut the deficit to 4-2 on a throwing error by Gibney that allowed Phil Antoniotti to score from second.
Giordano finished the game 2-for-3 with a double, walk, run scored and RBI to go with a winning effort on the mound. DeRose also reached base in three of four plate appearances, getting hit by a pitch and reaching on an error. Fleury walked in his only other plate appearance prior to the home run.
“All of these guys can hit, one-through-nine,” Avallone said. “They can all hit the ball over the fence, and they can all give us a good at-bat when we need it. There were some shaky at-bats early, but these guys stayed resilient and made the adjustments they had to make.”