A couple hundred supporters from the small towns of Ocean City and Upper Township traveled to Berkeley Township on Monday night to watch the 11- and 12-year-old boys from their communities compete for a state Little League title against Toms River — a city of more than 100,000 people that has sent four different teams to the Little League World Series in the last 20 years, including one that won it all in 1998.
Toms River won another state championship, 7-6, but not before the OC-UT team made a statement.
The local boys faced Goliath in the form of Jonathan Giordano — a virtual man on the mound for Toms River. The OC-UT team would ultimately litter a neighbor’s yard with foul balls as they tried to get their bats around on Giordano’s blazing fastball.
But on just the second pitch of the game, OC-UT’s Gannon Brady smacked a home run. Two batters later, Joe Gallagher hit another homer, and OC-UT quickly let their opponents know that this would not be an easy game.
In the end, OC-UT was done in not by Goliath but by a girl.
Toms River’s Kayla Roncin, a 12-year-old female who has played baseball with the boys since she was 5, crushed a two-run home run in the third inning that gave her team a 4-2 lead that it would never relinquish. Toms River later moved Roncin from first base to pitch for the final out of the game with the bases loaded for Ocean City-Upper Township. She forced a fly ball to give her team the victory.
Trailing 7-5 heading into the top of the sixth inning (Little League games are six innings), Ocean City’s Todd Reimet struck out but pushed Giordano past the 85-pitch limit in a great at-bat. That opened the door for OC-UT to capitalize on a new pitcher in Alex Civitello.
With two outs, Luke Bowman walked. Brady followed with a single, and Brock Mercado hit an RBI single to cut the gap to one run. Civitello intentionally walked Gallagher to load the bases. But Toms River then brought in Roncin to end the threat.
No Cape May C0unty team had ever before won a sectional title and advanced to state-level competition.
The field neutral field (improved with the help of Mark and Al Leiter, Major League pitchers who grew up in the town) on Monday night was surrounded by Toms River fans 10 deep on all sides except the third-base line, where the Ocean City contingent set up camp, doing a good job of offsetting the “We are TR” chants.
The team is made up of all-stars from the six teams of the Ocean City-Upper Township league (three from each town).
The complete lineup for the team is as follows:
- Gannon Brady
- Eric Greenling
- Joe Gallagher
- Brock Mercado
- Luke Bowman
- Brian Furey
- John Lloyd
- M.J. Ginn
- Nick Troiano
- Gavyn Fox
- Jake McKenna
- Todd Reimet
- Isaac Eberly
Greg Brady, Frank Fumo and Joe Furey are coaches.
Furey was the starting pitcher and left the game in the fifth inning with OC-UT trailing by just one run. He had an RBI single. Mercado had a two-run homer in addition to his RBI single in the final inning.