Toms River, NJ East Little League prepares for glory as they enter Metro Regional Tournament
For the second year in a row a group of 12-year-old All-Stars from Toms River East Little League is representing the state of New Jersey as they continue their journey towards the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Tomorrow afternoon they begin the next task to conquer in order to get to Williamsport as they play New York in the first round of the Metro Regional Tournament in Bristol, Connecticut.
Their offense alone is clicking at the right time and firing on all cylinders.
That mixed with team chemistry and great pitching has been a recipe for success for these 12-year-old TRELL All-Stars.
"I think it's just the belief in each other, them coming together as a team and supporting each other and the belief in themselves. We had two teams this year: one of them was -- be a great teammate -- and the other one is -- it's not about what happens to you, it's about how you respond," Mike Mendes, the Manager of the 12-year-old TRELL All-Stars tells Townsquare Media News/Shore Sports Network. "I think, honestly, coming into the All-Star season, we knew -- the coaches knew -- that we had put together a really, really good team -- 1-13 are all outstanding players -- and we knew that if they played together as a team, that this is what they could accomplish."
This group of All-Stars got a taste of a deep playoff run last year as 11-year-olds and after the way things finished for them, they came back hungry and eager to overcome the hurdles that stood in their way.
"I've been coaching them since they were 10-years-old and they've had goals and dreams and last year as 11-year-olds they made it to the State Final and they lost in the State Final so when we came back this year -- I had them set some goals in the beginning of the year and a lot of their goals included winning the State Championship and going to Bristol," Mendes said. "They knew after last year's team and how they watched last year's team -- they're friends with all those guys and I'm really good friends with the coaches from last year and I had coached with them in the regular season. We took some pointers from them and those boys gave our boys some pointers in how to prepare for the upcoming season and our kids took it to heart and they really worked hard before the tournaments even started."
Before they wont the State Tournament 9-0 over Rutherford this past Sunday, they were battled tested and survived a tough District 18 and Section 3 in Ocean County and Central Jersey.
"To get through District 18 was really challenging and really tough and people always told me that was going to be your toughest competition in the state," Mendes said. "It was really, really tough competition but our kids got through it and lucky enough to get an extra inning win in the Championship against Holbrook there and we move onto the Sectionals which was no east feat. We had to go to the 'If Game' in the finals but that 'If Game' was the turning point for us as a team. I felt that was the game where our kids came together as one team, they went from 13 individuals to one team that day and we ended up winning that game 13-2 and I couldn't have been more proud of them. They just kept it rolling in the State Tournament, we played the three best teams in the state of New Jersey and we ended up scoring 31 runs in three-games and only giving up one."
This team is now part of a recent legacy of teams from TRELL since 1995 who have made special summer runs to Bristol with eyes on what the 1998 "Beasts Of The East" team was able to come back home to Toms River with from Williamsport, PA -- a World Series Title.
"We had a team in '95 go up there and obviously the team in '98 won the World Series and then we had a team in '99 go up there too -- so these boys know the history, they know that they're apart of that history now and they're excited to continue it," Mendes said. "Hopefully, we can go up to Bristol and we can have a good tournament up there and see what happens. It's an exciting time right now for the kids but they also know that we're going to have fun with this, we're going to enjoy this but they don't want to go up to Bristol just to go up to Bristol, they want to make some noise up there and try to come out on top."
There is tougher and tougher competition the higher up you go, the further your team goes into a playoff run and that'll be the case for this TRELL team as well facing New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in the Metro Tournament and then possibly down in Williamsport as well including managing the pitching staff.
"Any one play could win or lose a game and they know that, we practice that, and we talk about not watching the game but playing the game and being there -- whether that's an outfielder backing up the throw or an infielder covering a bag -- they know that any one play could make or break a game," Mendes said.
The 12-year-old All-Stars from Toms River East Little League take the field tomorrow afternoon in Bristol, Connecticut in Game One of the Metro Regional Tournament against New York at 4:00 pm over on ESPN-Plus.
The Nine Best Baseball Players From New Jersey