Toms River Titans edge 5-Star Mafia, 6-4, in 11U Spring Invitational final

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 18, 2024

By Sean Reilly

When the Toms River Titans show up at a tournament, success usually follows.

No matter where the Titans have played over the past couple of years, they’ve gone home either winning or finishing second. 

This past weekend was no exception, as the boys from Ocean County went unbeaten in four games to capture the Diamond Nation 11U Spring Invitational.

The capper was a 6-4 championship victory over 5 Star Mid-Atlantic Select Mafia on Sunday afternoon in Flemington.

It was the second tournament of the year for the Titans, who also won an event last week in Passaic County.

It’s been a great way to begin 2024 for the team, which will now break for about a month as the players focus on the start of in-town Little League competition. 

“We’ve been playing pretty well, and it’s the hard work of the team that’s been really showing,” Titans coach Tony Pino said. “They’ve been working hard. Our season ended in November, but right after Thanksgiving, we got right back at it with indoor workouts, conditioning, hitting and live pitching, and these boys are making it easy for the coaches.” 

A prime example is catcher Andrew DiNicola, who also bats cleanup. He played well last week, and followed with a weekend performance at ‘The Nation’ that earned him the tournament MVP award. 

In the final, he was 2-for-2 with the biggest hit of the game, a leadoff home run over the fence in left center for a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth. 

“This was a good weekend,” he said. “I did well hitting and catching.” 

The Titans, who ended the tournament with a 42-10 run difference, took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second, an inning which started when DiNicola reached on a single to third base. Jackson Pino walked before the next batter flew out to right field. 

A ground ball to shortstop resulted in a force out at third, leaving runners at first and second for Josiah Ellis.  After a double steal, Ellis hit a two-run single to center.

Ellis then stole second, and took off for third on a pitch that Will Lerche sent into left field for an RBI single and three-run lead. 

5 Star got all three runs back in the top of the third. Avery Ekerling led off with a walk, and after advancing to third on a single by Aiden Vigliotti,  scored on a throwing error which also sent Vigliotti to second. Jayyden Cosme dropped down a perfect bunt on the third base side, and stole second.

Titans Andrew DiNicola,with coach Tony Pino, was named MVP of the 11U Spring Invitational.

With runners now on second and third, Eddie Neuman was retired on a grounder to shortstop which scored a run. The tying run scored on a dropped fly ball. 

DiNicola’s home run broke the tie leading off the fourth. 

“That felt really good,” he said. “It was nice. I was just trying to get on base. I don’t even know what it was. A fastball I think.” 

The long ball was no surprise to his coach.

“He’s been catching and hitting, and the hard work he put in during the off-season is really showing right now,” Tony Pino said.

The next two batters, Jackson Pino and Dylan Votra, drew walks. After a pitching change, a double steal moved the runners to second and third for Franky Hanson. He followed with a two-run single to left field for a 6-3 advantage. 

5 Star tried to rally in the sixth when Brandon Testa hit an RBI single to center with two out and then stole second. But the next batter grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

“Now Little League starts, and we want to make sure Little League gets its shine,” coach Pino said. “Then we get back at it. We’re coming back to Diamond Nation for Memorial Day weekend, and we’re really looking forward to that.”

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