In 1995, Toms River, New Jersey, sent a team to the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that was loaded with talent and considered one of the favorites to win the Little League Championship that year. However, games are won on the field of play and that particular team failed to advance past the qualifying round, leaving many people in the New Jersey community disappointed. Fortunately, only three years later Toms River got a second chance when its Little League team once again represented the East Region of the United States at the Little League Baseball World Series. With a team boasting similar skills and containing two younger brothers of the 1995 Toms River squad, the 1998 Toms River team played with spirit and determination to capture the hearts of the fans in Williamsport, PA, and the entire town of Toms River, New Jersey. They went on to beat Kashima, Japan, 12 - 9 in the championship game to win the 1998 Little League Baseball World Series. The game was played before 40,000 people and seen on television in over 60 countries around the world.
Toms River's road to the championships wasn't easy. In its first qualifying game against the Central Region, Toms River was within one strike of winning the game when the Central Region tied the game with a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs. Toms River wouldn't give up and the game continued into extra innings...many extra innings! Two Little League World Series records were set ...The longest game (over 4 hours) and the most innings played, 11! Toms River finally prevailed in the end 9 - 8.
This long and emotional victory seemed to spark the Eastern Region champions, as they went on to go undefeated in the qualifying rounds and earn the right to play Greenville, North Carolina, (Southern Region) in the U.S. Championship game. In that game, Toms River overpowered Greenville 5 - 2, to win the US Title and earned the right to meet Kashima, Japan, (Far East International champions) for the Little League Baseball Crown. Kashima upset Canada 3 - 2 (8 innings) in the International Championship game despite a Little League World Series record 17 - strikeout performance by Jeff Duda of Canada.
Toms River and their star player, Todd Frazier, looked like they would have an easy time in the Championship game as they jumped to a 3 - 0 lead in the first inning and built a 7 – 4 lead after four innings, only to have Kashima battle back to tie the score 8 - 8 in the bottom of the fifth. The dramatic final inning for Toms River included a 2 run pinch-hit home-run by Chris Cardone that made him an instant hero as it propelled his team to a 12 - 9 victory and the 1998 Little League Championship! The town of Toms River went wild with celebration for its Little League champions, and more than 40,000 fans welcomed their team at a parade the following week. Chris Cardone even made an appearance on the David Letterman TV talk show.
Overall, it was a very exciting and competitive World Series. The European champions from Saudi Arabia (The Green Machine) also defeated the defending champions from Latin America (3 - 2) for their one win in the qualifying round.
Until next Spring and the Little League Baseball season ....Keep Swinging!