Toms River East had a chance at glory, but struggled in the winner’s bracket final, faltering in a 6-1 loss to Upper Providence of Oaks, Pa.
“The team that played today is not Toms River East Little League,” head coach Paul Mika told The Post after the game. “Following that loss, there was silence. You could not hear a peep. Maybe their nerves got to them.
“The kids are drained with the COVID-19 restrictions. It is becoming a lot. Being stuck in a building for hours on end sucks. The kids were not with it in all areas.”
While Upper Providence secured a place in the regional final (and in the Little League World Series), Toms River East will now play Friday (7 p.m., ESPN) in a first-round rematch against Canal of Bear, Del., in the loser’s bracket final. Cole Garrison will start for Toms River East.
Because international teams cannot travel to Williamsport, Pa. due to COVID-19, two teams from each region will make the World Series. The winner of Friday’s game will clinch the bracket’s second coveted spot.
Upper Providence earned the win behind a strong second inning. Jack Strzeminski knocked in the game’s first run with an RBI-groundout and Cooper Fanaro scored on a wild pitch moments later. Jalen Bowman’s RBI single made it 3-0 — and Upper Providence never looked back.
Toms River East struggled defensively in the frame, failing to corral infield ground balls and allowing that run off a wild pitch.
“It was an uncharacteristic game,” Mika said. “We pride ourselves on defense. We could not make a play in the infield.”
They also faltered offensively, tallying just six hits as Upper Providence’s starting pitcher, Jalen Bowman, fanned 12 in six innings of work.
Carson Frazier — nephew of former Met and Yankee Todd Frazier, who won the Little League World Series in 1998 with a Toms River East squad — was a lone bright spot. He blasted a home run deep to left field in the sixth inning.
“I am hoping to use that momentum to catapult us [Friday],” Mika said.
Now, the boys from New Jersey face a must-win game with a spot in the World Series on the line. Win and they’re in, lose and they’re out: It’s that simple.
“We are going to battle,” Mika said. “We are going to do everything we can to pull out a win.”
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