Little League – More Late Magic pushes Toms River into State Final
BAYVILLE – No matter how quiet the Toms River 12-year-old Little League team’s hitters seem over the first five innings of a game, they always have some fireworks ready for the final at-bat.
For the second straight game of the Joe Graziano New Jersey Little League Championships, Toms River erased a two-run deficit with two late two-run homers, this time by Jonathan Giordano and Nick DeRose with two out in the top of the sixth and final inning to stun Ocean City-Upper Township, 4-2, Friday at the Berkeley Little League Complex.
Toms River can win the state championship on Sunday by beating the winner of Saturday’s losers bracket final between Ocean City and Somerset Hills. They will now have two chances to win the championship, with a fallback game on Monday if it loses on Sunday at noon.
“It would be nice to be up early so we didn’t have to come back all the time,” Giordano said. “But winning it these last innings – the crowd is insane, and we really sense that it’s something special to play on this team. I love it.”
With his team down to its final out Friday, Giordano came to the plate as the tying run and smashed a towering drive over the administrative building in dead-center field to tie the game at 2. Alex Civitello – who replaced Wednesday’s hero, Bill Fleury, in right field in the previous inning – started the rally with a one-out single to left-center and was retired on a fielder’s choice by leadoff hitter Vinny Rose. Not only did Rose’s hustle down the line prevent a double play and extend the game, but it brought up the team’s most powerful bat as the tying run.
“A bloop and a blast. That’s all we were thinking in that inning,” Toms River manager Pete Avallone said. “We knew we had John coming up, but we have nine guys who can win it in one swing. He put a great swing on the ball, but that wasn’t even as far as he can hit it. When he gets a hold of it, it goes.”
Giordano – who pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief to win Wednesday night’s tournament opener – took ball one from Ocean City reliever Brian Furey before unloading on the 1-0 pitch for a game-tying, two-run blast.
“With a guy on first base, I knew I could possibly tie it up with one swing,” Giordano said. “Right there though, I’m not even thinking about hitting a home run. I’m just thinking of putting the bat on the ball. It’s not easy to make plays out there, and we have the heart of our order coming up behind me. I just stuck out the bat out and the ball went.”
Catcher Connor Cino followed with a single over the third base bag to extend the inning for the shortstop, DeRose. Fresh off hitting a game-tying home run in the top of the fifth inning in Wednesday’s 7-4 win over Wood-Ridge-Moonachie, DeRose worked the count full and lined a shot to right field that cleared the fence by several feet and gave Toms River its first lead.
“I felt confident that I could go up and get a base hit, which was all I was trying to do,” DeRose said. “With two strikes, I knew I needed to put the bat on the ball and fortunately, I got a pitch to hit.
“I saw it go over and I was so happy. I heard everyone yelling and saw our dugout going crazy. It just made me feel so good.”
Toms River starting pitcher Phil Antoniotti pitched a three-hit complete game with 15 of the 18 outs coming via strikeout. Antoniotti entered the sixth inning with 76 pitches, needing to record the first two outs in eight pitches or less to have a chance to complete the game (Little League rules limit each pitcher to no more than 85 pitches in a game and a pitcher can only go over if he surpasses the threshold during an at-bat).
At 82 pitches, Antoniotti fired a fastball past Ocean City third baseman Brock Mercado for the second out of the inning, giving him 83 pitches with one out to go. He struck out catcher Joe Gallagher on four pitches to set off a celebration and pull Toms River within one win of a state championship.
Gallagher touched up Antoniotti for a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning, when Ocean City-Upper Twp. recorded two of its three hits. Following the Gallagher homer, Antoniotti retired 17 of the next 18 batters, with all 15 punchouts coming during that stretch. Antoniotto struck out the last eight batters he faced and did not walk a batter in his outing.
“He had one bad pitch,” Avallone said of Antoniotti. “He hung a cutter that (Gallagher) hit out in the first inning. Other than that, he was dead on. He pitched his butt off, that’s a great game.
“Phil is the most competitive kid on the team. He’s a fighter. All that (home run) did was make him buckle down, focus in and throw harder.”
Ocean City starting pitcher Gannon Brady went 2-for-3 against Antoniotti and dominated the Toms River lineup through 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander retired the first 14 Toms River batters in order before allowing a pinch-hit single by Christian Wood with two out in the fifth to break up a potential perfect game bid.
Brady took his one-hitter into the sixth and retired pinch-hitter Joe Schiffilitti on a groundout to shortstop, but that batter pushed his pitch count over 85 and forced him out of the game. He finished with no earned runs on one hit and no walks while striking out 12.
“The first kid was really tough because he had such a good curveball,” Giordano said. “That made it hard to hit his fastball because we were all having trouble laying off of the curveball. We were able to get his pitch count up and he had to come out of the game, which was good because their second kid wasn’t as tough.”
Friday’s win resembled the late innings of Wednesday’s first-round win over Wood-Ridge. DeRose hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning to tie the score at 4 and Fleury hit a two-run shot in the sixth to give Toms River a 6-4 lead after falling behind 4-0 in the first inning.
“I think we have a good shot at winning on Sunday,” Giordano said. “If it’s (Ocean City) again, I think we’ll have a mental edge after tonight, but who knows? They might want to come back and beat the crap out of us. Either way, if we don’t win on Sunday, we’ll have a chance on Monday, so I like our chances.”