HAMPTON TOWNSHIP – Many teams tried over the last few weeks, but no one could stop the offensive juggernaut that is the Holbrook Little League 12-year old all-stars.

Holbrook mashed its way to the 2017 Joe Graziano New Jersey Little League state championship on Sunday night at Kittatinny Little League, belting four home runs in a 10-2 victory over Wayne that completed a perfect run to the state title and secured a spot in the East Regional Tournament.

Holbrook Little League defeated Wayne, 10-2, to win the 2017 NJ Little League state championship. (Robert Badders, Townsquare Media.)
Holbrook Little League defeated Wayne, 10-2, to win the 2017 NJ Little League state championship. (Robert Badders, Townsquare Media.)

Garrett Drew, Tai Mann, Christopher Cartnick and R.J. Vashey each went yard while Mann and Drew combined on the mound to hold Wayne to just two runs. Drew finished 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBI and three runs scored while Cartnick went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs. Mann was 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

Mann pitched 4 1/3 innings allowing two runs on four hits while striking out five. He ran into trouble in the fifth inning with a hit batsman and four walks that aided Wayne scoring twice, but Drew came in to shut the door with consecutive strikeouts on just six pitches to strand the bases loaded.

"We have an extremely talented bunch of boys and I consider them battle-tested," said Holbrook manager Rob Grano. "This year I never really felt they got nervous. They were relaxed and very clutch."

"It's just amazing," Drew said. "I knew we were going to win and to get the last out with a strikeout was awesome."

Holbrook, which is one of two Little League organizations in Jackson, is the fourth straight Shore team to win the Little League state championship, joining Freehold Township (2016), Jackson (2015) and Toms River (2014). Three of those teams (Jackson, Toms River and Holbrook) all hail from District 18.

"Toms River and Manchester can compete here, they are that good," Grano said. "We are battle-tested because the competition (in District 18) is unbelievable. It's like this (the state tournament)."

Holbrook got on the board early and never let up, starting when Drew scored on an error in the bottom of the first inning. He was hit by a pitch to lead off the game and advanced to second and then third on consecutive wild pitches.

The big bats of Holbrook broke the game open in the second inning by scoring four runs, all with two outs. Charlie Meglio walked to lead off the inning but Wayne’s Jonny Gilligan recorded back-to-back strikeouts. Drew, however, rocked a 1-2 fastball over the right field fence to give Holbrook a 3-0 lead.

"He through me an outside fastball and I just went with it," Drew said.

Mann then followed with a solo home run, a bullet line drive to right field, that made it 4-0. Holbrook added another run in the second when Cartnick turned a single into a double on a great hustle play and scored when Vashey reached on an error.

The lead grew to 8-0 in the fourth inning and scoring barrage once again came with two outs. Mann drew a walk and Cartnick followed with a towering two-run home run to left field to make it 7-0. Wayne changed pitchers, but the outcome remained the same. Vashey crushed the first pitch he saw for another home run to give Holbrook a commanding 8-0 lead.  

"Cartnick's two-strike moon shot, I don't know if you can hit a ball harder than that," Grano said.

"It's hard to get through our lineup three times," Grano said. "We've had our 6, 7, 8, 9 hitters hit multiple home runs. There's not safe spot."

Wayne avoided the shutout by scoring twice in the top of the fifth inning. Matt Sochaski was hit by a pitch and Damian Scelba drew a walk to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Tristan Dawson then singled to center field to lead the bases. Jake Rude drew a walk to force in a run and Jace Gilligan hit a long sacrifice fly to center field to plate the second run. Mann then walked Jonny Gilligan to prompt Grano to bring in Drew in relief. Drew struck out the next batter on three straight pitches, then did the same to end the inning and strand the bases loaded.

"Wayne is a very good team and they were starting to get going," Grano said. "We bring in Garrett Drew and he just throws gas on the black and gets two strikeouts.

Holbrook would get those two runs back in the bottom of the fifth when Dean Daddio walked to lead off and Drew singled to put runners on first and second. An RBI single by Cartnick made it 9-2 and Mike Arent, who was running for Drew, scored on a throwing error to give Holbrook a 10-2 lead.

"I feel like we can beat you in so many different ways," Grano said. "The last now 10 days I've felt is the best we've played. We've put all three phases together. We can hit with anybody, we're going to pitch well and the defense; from the time they were 7-years old they could catch the ball."

Drew closed out the state championship by striking out the first Wayne hitter in the top of the six. Daddio then made a great play on a would-be single to right field by throwing the runner out at first base for the rare 9-3 putout. Drew then recorded the final out with a strikeout to set off a celebratory pile at the pitcher’s found.

Holbrook will begin play in the East Regional Tournament on Saturday, Aug. 5 in Bristol, Conn. The tournament runs through Aug. 12 with the winner advancing to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

"I'm just really proud of these kids," Grano said. "We've had them since they were little boys and they're playing like men right now."


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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