BRISTOL, CONN. — Both finalists in the Little League Metro region boast rich baseball traditions, but the Toms River East Little League had what the Massapequa Coast Little League program has been scrapping to win since its establishment in 1950: championships.
Facing a team with three Little League World Series appearances in the 1990’s, Massapequa ace Joey Lionetti made sure it was a night to remember for himself and his Long Island town.
Lionetti walked first batter of the game on four pitches, then bounced back to toss a no-hitter in Friday’s championship game as Massapequa Coast blanked Toms River East, 4-0, to advance to the Little League World Series.
“It was a great experience,” Lionetti told the ESPN broadcast, which included Todd Frazier, after the game. “I did everything I could to help the team and we did good on defense – no errors – and now we’re going to Williamsport.”
After Michael Mendes led off the top of the first inning with a walk, Lionetti locked in and locked down TR East’s talented lineup. He struck out the side in order in the second inning on the way to nine strikeouts for the game, which he completed on 74 pitches.
On top of the walk the only blemishes on his outing with three hit batters: pinch-hitter Kevin O’Donnell in the third, Christian Mascaro in the fourth and shortstop Jayce Cappello in the sixth. In addition to the second, the fifth inning was Lionetti’s only other one-two-three inning.
“The first at-bat, I walked (Mendes) on four pitches, but after that, I settled in,” Lionetti said. “I hit my spots, except for the hit-by-pitches.”
Mascaro was Lionetti’s counterpart on the mound and despite only completing 4 2/3 innings due to exhausting his pitch count, Toms River East’s right-hander matched Lionetti with nine strikeouts.
The first seven Massapequa hitters put the ball in play against Mascaro, and it helped the home team on the scoreboard grab a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Mikey Castellano — who hit a big two-run home run in the seventh inning of Saturday’s, 6-3, extra-inning win for Massapequa over Toms River — led off the second with a solid single to center and Ryan Huksloot followed with a bouncer back to the mound that took an unusual hop right before it got to Mascaro, allowing Huksloot to reach on an infield single.
Michael Clark then dropped down a bunt and East catcher Ryan McHugh made a perfect throw to third base, but not before Castellano slid in safely to load the bases with no one out. Liam St. George followed with another tapper back toward the mound but Mascaro’s throw to the plate was too hot for McHugh to handle and the run scored while the bases remained loaded.
“I just knew that my team had my back and everything was going to go smooth from there,” said Lionetti, who also picked up two hits at the plate in the game. “We did great at practice today in the field, so I knew we weren’t going to make any errors. It was just a great experience.”
At that point, Mascaro found his groove, striking out three straight batters, with the last one coming with dangerous leadoff hitter Christian Bekiers at the plate.
Those three consecutive strikeout started a run in which Mascaro struck out eight of the next 10 batters he faced. After the eighth of those strikeouts, Anthony Badagliacca singled with two out in the bottom of the fourth, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out, RBI single down the left-field line by Bekiers to make the score 2-0.
Massapequa added two runs in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Clark on the final pitch of the game from Mascaro, followed by an RBI single by St. George once Tyler Todaro came in to pitch in relief of Mascaro.
Toms River East’s best chance to score on Lionetti was in the top of the first, with Mendes making it all the way to third base with one out. Lionetti, however, came through with his first strikeout of the game to end the threat.
In the sixth, Lionetti retired the first two batters before hitting Cappello with two out. Again, Lionetti bounced back with a strikeout to end the game and set off the celebration — both of the no-hitter and the championship 72 years in the making.
“I didn’t know we were going to get this far, but in the regional championship I dreamt of this so many times and now we’re going to Williamsport,” Lionetti said.
For the second straight year, Toms River East’s 12-year-old season ends one win away from the Little League World Series. Last year’s team made it to the Mid-Atlantic final and lost to Pennsylvania for the second time in the regional tournament.
While the summer ended for the boys from Toms River, that summer included a second straight N.J. state championship and another chance to play on ESPN in the championship game in Bristol.
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