MOUNT EPHRAIM – There’s a new championship banner at the Toms River Little League Complex.
The reason for the banner was the play of the league’s 9-11 year-old all-star baseball team.
The club won the New Jersey title with a 4-3 victory over Haddonfield in the state championship game at the Mount Ephraim Little League Complex.
The winning pitcher was Jonathan LoAlbo, who hurled 6 1/3 innings. Dominic Urso, a right fielder, plated what proved to be the winning run with a two-out bunt that scored third baseman Jack Pesso in the fifth. First baseman Owen Baker hit a leadoff homer for a 1-0 lead.
“What made the title special was seeing the boys come together and progress,” said Toms River manager Angelo Urso, assisted by coaches J.M. Gold and Larry DiChiara. “They knew when they crossed those lines that they were there to do one thing and that was win.”
Toms River was emotional after the win.
“The boys were pretty stoked,” Urso said. “They made themselves into a dog pile. They got on top each of each other just like coach Gold told them to do. This is a once in a lifetime thing. Coach Gold preached during all-stars action, ‘Don’t worry about who is in the other dugout. Just take care of what you have to do. Believe in yourselves, pick each other up and we will be dog piling in front of the pitcher’s mound.’ ”
Haddonfield bested Toms River 14-12 in the first game and then they rebounded with a 7-1 win in the second game, forcing the third contest. In the first game, Toms River trailed 13-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning nearly pulled out the win in the opener.
In the second game, Gabe Obeng and Scott McConnell played big biceps baseball, slugging three and two-run homers, respectively.
Toms River was 1-3 through pool play before turning around its fortunes.
“The key to our comeback was the kids,” manager Urso said. “There was nothing stopping them. We had a motto of, ‘We don’t care who we play. They can be bigger and faster than us. We just have to worry about what we do, which is play good defense, put the ball in play and run the bases.’ If we do that, everything will work out.”
Toms River won the District 18 title, downing Brick American 12-5 in the championship game in which Obeng, a righty, was the winning pitcher. It also captured the Section III crown.
“We put a lot of pressure on the boys at the start of districts,” manager Urso said. “Our district is so tough. It was a big, giant weight off our shoulders when we got out of it.”
Urso said the team was busy during the two weeks of all-star play.
“We played a lot of games,” he said. “Pitching was another key. If we have to use more of our pitchers, it probably would have been a little tougher.”
Urso said the team belted 13 homers and scored 111 runs in all-star action.
“We allowed maybe 25 runs in all of the tournaments,” he said.
Asked how the team generated its power, manager Urso laughed and said, “Good question. Some of these guys just swing the bat. The pitchers are good. The guys just put their bats on the ball and they go. We have only one big player on the team. Everyone else is just normal size.”
Other team members were second baseman Brady Gold, catcher Tony DiChiara, center fielder Elio Scarpa, left fielder Dylan Dowertas, center fielder Roman Moyers, right fielder Kade Karpinski and right fielder Kieran Mulholland.
In four sectional games, LoAlbo, Obeng and Gold went 4-0, striking out 25 batters.
In the first game of the state tournament, Obeng pitched Toms River past Rutherford 6-1, tossing a one-hitter and whiffing 13.
“We were not thinking about the states,” manager Urso said. “We were thinking, ‘Let’s get out of the districts and see what we do in the sectionals. If we get past the sectionals, it’s all fun and games.’ The boys bought into it.
“I made out the lineup and they did everything else. Our pitching plans fell into our lap. The pitchers worked the counts well as we usually used just one pitcher per game.”
Urso said the team had quality depth.
“The best part about it was our bench,” he said. “Our bench is what kept us going. The boys did their job and produced.”
Manager Urso said the players were fun to deal with.
“We had a good time,” he said. “They were loose. We had a couple of characters who liked to sing and dance and do that type of stuff. Most of the boys were pretty funny. The boys coming off the bench and our defense were other keys. They played as a team.
“You don’t expect 11-year-olds to play like this. Once we got out of the districts, we did not care if they lost. We were happy with the fact that we went farther this year than we did last year. Next year, these boys will have big weights on their shoulders.”