WILLIAMSPORT, PA – The Toms River East Little League’s dream of winning the 74th Little League Baseball World Series died with a 2-1 loss to Abilene, Texas, in an elimination game at the Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
East is 1-2 in the modified double-elimination event.
New Jersey champion East cut its deficit to 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Steven Malato scored a run. With East runners at first and second, Carson Frazier forced a teammate at third on a 3-2 pitch, ending the fifth.
Nicknamed the Jersey Boys, East was retired in order in the sixth. Down 0-2 in the count, Garrison flied to left on a 2-2 pitch. Chris Tennaro swung through a high 1-2 fastball for a strikeout and Dom Sabatino fouled to first base on an 0-1 offering. A crestfallen East filed off the field. Some players lost battles to tears. The teams tipped their hats to each other as per a Little League tradition of sportsmanship.
“They were upset,” East manager Paul Mika said of his players. “It was tough. I really thought they were going to rally, but it didn’t transpire. This is the hardest thing they have gone through in terms of the mix of emotions.”
With Abilene ahead 2-0 in the third, East’s Max Mika, whose dad is the team’s manager, grounded to winning pitcher Dylan Regala with the bases loaded, ending the threat.
Abilene scored one run in the first and one in the second.
East won the LLBWS in 1998 when it was known as the Toms River East American Little League. Its star player was Todd Frazier, a two-time major league all-star and an uncle of Carson Frazier. With East down 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Todd Frazier was interviewed by ESPN, which showed the game live.
“This never gets old,” Frazier said. “I had a good time here (in 1998).”
Frazier, a former Toms River High School South standout under coach Ken Frank, hosted East’s current All-Star team at his practice facility at his Toms River home.
“I tried to get ’em going by throwing a little harder to get them ready for the competition,” he said. “The team came once or twice to the facility.”
Frazier hopes to make a return trip to the LLBWS with his son, Blake Frazier.
“I hope to be back here in four years,” he said. “That will be somethin’ special. That’s for sure.”
Regala, whose father is Abilene’s manager, whiffed nine batters and allowed one earned run on two hits, singles to Steven Malato and losing pitcher Cole Garrison. Regala walked one and hit two batters. Of his 85 pitches, 55 were strikes. He threw nine first-pitch strikes to 19 hitters.
Garrison, who hurled two innings, allowed two earned runs, struck out two and walked three. Of his 65 pitches, 39 were strikes. He threw six first-pitch strikes to the 14 batters he faced. He needed 37 pitches to escape the first inning.
East reliever Joey DiMeo blanked Abilene through four hitless innings, blazing his way to eight strikeouts while walking one. He hit one batter. Of his 63 pitches, 40 were strikes. He tossed first-pitch strikes to 10 of his 14 hitters.
Carson Frazier went 0-for-9 through his first three tournament games. He scored one run, whiffed five times and drew one walk.
East played errorless ball. Abilene made two errors and finished with five hits.
“As they were leaving Williamsport, I told them to hold their heads up high,” manager Mika, the league’s president, said. “We finished as the No. 1 team in New Jersey and in the top 10 in the country. I am proud of what we accomplished. By Thursday, they will be swimming in my pool and riding bikes. They’ll be together.
“There’s big things in store for all of them in the future. They are extremely athletic and have tons of talent. Don’t sleep on these Toms River boys.”
East survived its first elimination game, rallying from a 4-1 deficit and downing Manchester of Connecticut 11-4.
East erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the fifth. With fans chanting, “Let’s Go River,” DiMeo snapped a 4-4 tie, booming a grand slam over the center field fence. An emotional DiMeo circled the bases as the fans roared their approval.
DiMeo, who scored two runs, made his lone hit in four at-bats count. Winning pitcher Dominic Roma, who began the game at first base and relieved Frazier, hurled 3 2/3 scoreless-hitless innings, striking out three and walking one. Of his 46 pitches, 30 were strikes. He tossed eight first-pitch strikes to the 12 batters he faced
Frazier worked 2 1/3 innings, surrendering four runs – all earned – on five hits, including one home run. He whiffed three and walked two. Of his 58 pitches, 32 were strikes. He threw seven first-pitch strikes to the 13 batters he faced.
For East, Malato went 2-for-3, scored one run and drew two walks. Jason Verderrosa went 2-for-2, scored one run and drew one walk. Frazier, who was 0-for-3, scored one run and drew one walk. Garrison, who stroked two hits in three at-bats, drove in two runs. Sabatino hit one double in one at-bat and scored two runs. Tennaro drew two walks and drove in one run. Cailen Cimorelli went 1-for-3, drove in two runs and scored one run.
East, which played errorless ball, banged out 12 hits. Manchester played errorless ball and finished with five hits.
The game was tied at one through the first inning. Manchester scored three runs in the third for a 4-1 lead. East shaved its deficit to 4-3 with two runs in its half of the third before exploding in the fifth.
East opened the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Hastings of Nebraska.
Garrison, who suffered the loss, worked 3 1/3 innings. He allowed five runs – all earned – on 10 hits, struck out three, walked two and unleashed four wild pitches. Of his 67 pitches, 45 were strikes. He threw 15 first-pitch strikes to the 22 hitters he faced. DiMeo pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing one hit, whiffing three and walking none. Of his 27 pitches, 19 were strikes. He tossed first-pitch strikes to three of the six batters he faced.
Malato stroked two hits, including one triple, in three at-bats and scored one run. DiMeo went 2-for-2 and drew one walk. Garrison scored one run. Max Mika was 1-for-3.
Hastings took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, went ahead 3-0 in the second and pushed its advantage to 5-0 in the fourth. East scored single runs in the fifth and sixth.
East played errorless ball and stroked five hits. Nebraska laced 11 hits and made two errors. Winning pitcher Hunter Nepple, a 6-footer, hurled four innings, allowing two hits, striking out six and walking one.
NEWSY NOTES: Foreign teams were banned from the tournament because of COVID-19. East wore Mexico’s traditional uniform. … Because of the disease, attendance was limited and each team received 250 passes for family and friends for each game. … DiMeo was the first East player to hit a grand slam in the LLBWS since 1998. East played a wiffle ball game against the Cleveland Indians, who battled the Los Angeles Angels in the Major League Baseball Little League Classic at Bowman Field in Williamsport, on Aug. 22. … East also qualified for the LLBWS in 1994, 1995 and 1999. Lakewood, led by the power and pitching of Dion Lowe, won the LLBWS title in 1975 when foreign teams were banned because of eligibility issues. Each phase of the 1975 tournament – District 18, sectionals, New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic and the LLBWS – was single elimination. Holbrook of Jackson Township, paced by hot-hitting Chris Cartnick, was eliminated from title contention in the United States bracket in 2017. East finished second in the 2021 modified double-elimination Little League Baseball Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn. East won the District 18 title and a sectional crown as it advanced to this year’s 2021 LLBWS. Mo’ne Davis, the 2014 LLBWS championship pitcher, threw out the ceremonial first ball Aug. 24 to Abilene catcher Ella Bruning, the third girl to stroke three hits in an LLBWS game.
NOTE: The New York Post contributed to this report.