The Toms River Section 3 championship team is already having visions of a trip to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series, but the next step toward the national stage involves a much shorter trip first.

Toms River and three other teams from around the state begin a quest for a New Jersey Little League championship Wednesday at the Berkeley Township Little League Complex in Bayville, some seven miles from the home of Toms River Little League on Maple Tree Road.

“We talked to them yesterday at practice about how many people they should expect to be there, and I don’t think they realize how many people are going to come out to watch them,” Toms River manager Pete Avallone said.

“There have been a ton of Toms River teams over the years that have made it deep into the state tournament and the town is always very supportive. A lot of these guys were playing together and going to watch the (Toms River) team in 2010 that reached the Little League World Series, so they have some grasp of what it might be like. Having it so close to home, though, adds another element.”

The double-elimination Frank Graziano N.J. Little League Championship tournament begins with a Wednesday double-header at the Moorage Road Complex, with Toms River taking on Section 2 champion Wood-Ridge/Moonachie in the second game of the double-header at 7:30 p.m. on Modell’s Field. Section 1 champion Somerset Hills and Section 4 champion Ocean City-Upper Township will open the tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Community Medical Center Field. The Tournament will continue on Friday with the loser’s bracket game at 5:30 p.m. and the winner’s bracket game at 7:30 p.m. to determine the first spot in Sunday’s championship.

Toms River’s run to the state champion tournament includes a District 18 championship game win over Holbrook on a walk-off two-run home run by Connor Cino to break a 3-3 tie and give his team a 5-3 win. Teammate Christian Wood led off the bottom of the sixth with a game-tying solo home run to keep Toms River’s hopes of a District title alive.

Following a triumphant trek through District 18, Toms River rolled through the Section 3 tournament, capped by back-to-back wins over Nottingham to secure a section championship and keep the dream alive for a second Little League World Series appearance in five years. Toms River downed Nottingham 9-1 to reach the final of the Section 3 tournament and when Nottingham survived the loser’s bracket to advance to the championship, Toms River won the second meeting between the teams, 15-5, behind a 10-run first inning.

“I thought we faced some really good pitching, but it was just one of those stretches where we got going and everyone just fed off of each other,” Avallone said. “We are a pitching and defense team first and foremost, but our kids can swing the bats too. The offense comes and goes, but our pitching and our defense have carried us.”

Avallone believes his team has four unique options to run out to the mound – all from the right side. Jonathan Giordano, Phil Antoniotti, Nick DeRose and Wood are all slated to handle mound duty over the next week.

“They all bring something different to the table and the good thing about that is it gives us options for how we want to use them,” Avallone said. “We can read how the game’s going and adjust if we need to.”

Shore Sports Network will have coverage of each round from the Berkeley Complex and will also broadcast Sunday’s potential championship game at noon on 1160 and 1310 AM. There will be a winner-take-all championship game on Monday night if the loser’s bracket champion beats the winner’s bracket champion on Sunday night.


Toms River Reps in Junior League Tournament

With all of its recent history, Toms River fittingly has two teams playing for a championship at Berkeley’s host site. Toms River East Little League is one of four teams heading to Al Leiter Field this week for the Junior League state championship tournament, which begins Wednesday at 5 p.m. with Toms River East taking on Elizabethport out of Section 2.

Section 1 champion Par-Troy East will play Section 4 champion Erial at 7:30 p.m. at Al Leiter Field in the second game of the double-header, with the winners facing one another at 5 p.m. on Friday and the losers of the two games facing off in an elimination game at 7:30 p.m. later that night.

Over the span of its run through the District 18 and Section 3 tournaments, Toms River East won three games by scoring in the bottom of the final inning, culminated by a game-winning hit by Danny Clemente in the bottom of the seventh inning to score the winning run from second and give Toms River East a 3-2 win over Sayerwood South in the Section 3 championship.