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Even the "Beast of the East" reincarnation needs to win a 1-0 game every now and again on the way to a championship and after a pitching and defensive exhibition on Thursday night, Toms River East Little League is two wins away from returning to the top of New Jersey.

Cole Garrison pitched a three-hit shutout, the defense turned in an error-free game and Joey DiMeo provided the offense with a first-inning solo home run to spark Toms River East to a 1-0 win over Hillsdale in the first round of the New Jersey Little League State Championship Tournament in Cherry Hill.

Garrison walked two and struck out five in his six scoreless frames, leaving it up to his defense to get him 13 of the 18 outs he recorded. Toms River East's gloves did not let him down, turning 13 of the 16 Hillsdale balls in play into outs without committing an error.

DiMeo, meanwhile, delivered the biggest swing of the game and it came on Toms River East's second batter of the game. The East shortstop connected on an opposite-field solo bomb with one out in the bottom of the first to make it 1-0 and that was all Garrison would need.

Garrison's toughest challenge came in the top of the sixth, when Hillsdale put two runners on with one out behind a leadoff single and a one-out walk. Garrison, however, recorded strikeouts for the first two outs - his lone two-strikeout inning of the game - and induced a game-ending out to first baseman Dom Roma.

In holding off Hillsdale, Toms River East moves on to Friday's winner's bracket final in Cherry Hill at 8 p.m. vs. Teaneck South, which stunned Haddonfield with five runs in the bottom of the sixth Thursday to walk off with a 6-5 win. Haddonfield will meet Hillsdale in an elimination game at 6 p.m.

The winner of Friday's second game will be one win from being crowned the 2021 state champion with two chances to secure the title. The loser of the Toms River East-Teaneck South game will play the winner of the Haddonfield-Hillsdale game on Saturday, with the winner of that game playing the TR East-Teaneck South winner on Sunday.

If the team with one-loss team beats the undefeated team on Sunday, there will be a winner-take all championship game on Monday at the Cherry Hill American Little League complex.


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