Baseball – Pitchers Come Up Clutch as Toms River East Keeps Little League Run Alive
BRISTOL, CONN. -- Not only were the Toms River East Little League 12-year-olds staring down elimination heading into Sunday night's game, but the East 13 faced three serious threats in the final three innings, with Cumberland of Rhode Island close to breaking the game open in its favor.
Thanks to pitchers Christian Mascaro and Tyler Todaro, Toms River East escaped three straight bases-loaded jams and lived to fight another day.
Mascaro stranded the bases loaded in the fourth and Todaro came in the fifth to leave the bases juiced in each of the last two innings as TR East upended Cumberland, 3-2, to advance to the loser's bracket final of the Metro Regional Tournament on Wednesday in Bristol.
Cumberland buried Toms River East in an early 2-0 home run on a mammoth two-run home run by Ryan Amaral in the top of the first inning. Mascaro came into the game on the mound with two out and a runner on first in the top of the first inning and went on to toss four scoreless innings with six strikeouts to earn the win. With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, Mascaro coaxed leadoff hitter Tyler Lamora to foul out to East catcher Ryan McHugh to end the threat.
Mascaro turned the game over to Todaro with two on and two out in the top of the fifth inning and after walking the bases loaded on the first batter he faced, Todaro played copy cat and induced an inning-ending pop-up, which McHugh again squeezed for the final out of the inning.
East could not add on to its 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth and Todaro had no margin for error in the top of the sixth. He struck out the first batter of the inning, but Leonardo Chavez followed with a single and Lamora was hit by a pitch to move the tying run to scoring position and the go-ahead run to first base.
TR East shortstop Jayce Cappello scooped up a ground ball and flipped it to second for the force out -- the second out of the inning. With runners on the corners and two out, the East dugout opted to intentionally walk Amaral after Todaro fell behind in the count, 3-0.
That once again loaded the bases with two out and after jumping in front of Cumberland cleanup hitter Dylan Slak 0-2, Todaro dotted a pitch on the outside corner and got the strike-three call to end the game and set off a celebration from an elated, relieved Toms River East squad.
In the three-game state tournament, Toms River East did not face any tense moments in outscoring its three opponents by a combined 31-1 in three wins and were not required to use any pitchers other than Logan Macchia, Brady Gillen and Mascaro. In order to keep its summer going, however, Todaro had to step up and record big outs and the starting left fielder -- who also made a diving catch in the first inning -- came up clutch.
Before its pitchers came up big, Toms River East's bats scraped together a pair of rallies that turned the 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. East answered Cumberland's two-run first inning with two runs of its own in the bottom of the frame. Michael Mendes led off the East first inning with a walk and advanced on three wild pitches, including one that scored him with the first TR East run of the game.
Cappello drew a walk with one out, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored when Logan Macchia's groundball was misplayed into a run-scoring error to tie the game at 2-2.
In the bottom of the third, Macchia started the deciding rally with a single and Mascaro grounded into a fielder's choice to trade places with his teammate. Jake Gallagher then smacked a single into right field and Mascaro raced to third with one out. The extra base proved crucial, as Phillip LaGrosso plated Mascaro with a groundout to shortstop for a 3-2 Toms River East lead.
East prevailed Sunday despite collecting only three hits and the three plays that scored its three runs did not involve a hit. Macchia, Gallagher and Brady Gillen accounted for the three hits.
Sunday's game started one hour and three minutes later than the scheduled 7 p.m. first pitch due to thunderstorms in the Bristol area.
Toms River East will find out its opponent on Monday night, with Massapequa (N.Y.) playing Fairfield American (Conn.) for a spot in the championship game. The loser will play Toms River East on Wednesday, with the winner of that game advancing to Friday's championship game against the winner of Monday's game.
While the participants in the remaining games are still unknown, it is much easier to guess who Toms River East will start on the mound in its game on Wednesday. Logan Macchia threw 53 pitches in Saturday's extra-inning loss to Massapequa, which keeps him eligible to take the ball on Wednesday.
Toms River East is looking to reach the Little League World Series for the second consecutive season, which would make the team the first from New Jersey to accomplish the feat since the decorated Toms River East teams from 1998 and 1999.