Joey Lionetti Jr. said winning the Metro Region Little League baseball title Friday night still hasn’t sunk in.
The 12-year-old Massapequa Coast righthander planned on attending the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, this year with his dad — as a spectator.
Now he’ll be in the spotlight.
Lionetti threw a no-hitter, allowed only four baserunners and struck out nine as Massapequa Coast shut out Toms River East of New Jersey, 4-0, at Leon J. Breen Field in Bristol, Connecticut.
The win sent Massapequa Coast to the Little League World Series for the first time in its 72-year history.
The opening ceremonies and first games are scheduled for Wednesday. Massapequa Coast has a first-round bye and will play the winner of Wednesday’s West vs. Northwest game on Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
When catcher Ryan Huksloot squeezed the final pitch after Lionetti’s ninth strikeout, it set off celebrations more than 110 miles apart.
A huge Long Island contingent that traveled to Bristol to support the team erupted in cheers. The win also brought the house down in Massapequa, where more than 500 fans gathered at Burns Park to watch the game on a gigantic movie screen.
“I really wanted to get a strikeout to end the game,” said Lionetti, a 5-9, 125-pound fireballer. “I didn’t want to give up the no-hitter. We played a great game and now I can’t believe we’re here in Williamsport for the World Series.”
Massapequa Coast is the first Long Island Little League team to qualify for the LLWS since Rockville Centre in 1978.
“It’s so incredible, but we haven’t slept much,” Massapequa Coast manager Roland Clark said, laughing. “It’s like a whirlwind, as everything is happening so fast. We won Friday night and Little League officials had us on the bus and on the way to Williamsport before 7 a.m. Saturday morning.
“We’re here and it’s everything we’ve heard about the experience. Little League treats the players like stars — it’s amazing.”
After the more than five-hour, 305-mile bus ride, Clark said the team met its two hosts, Uncle Frank and Uncle Walt. They’ve toured the complex and settled into the dorms.
“We get to practice every day and one workout is scheduled for the main stadium on Monday,” Clark said.
That workout will take place at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, where every Little Leaguer dreams of playing.
“We’re on top of the world,” Massapequa Coast shortstop Christian Bekiers said. “This place in Williamsport is everything anyone could imagine. When we got that last out, I went crazy and found myself at the bottom of the dogpile.”
Clark and assistant coach Brian Bekiers won a Senior Big League title in 1991 and played together at Holy Trinity High School. Clark said they shook hands and embraced after the final out.
“We want them to start strong and finish stronger,” Clark said. “Every kid on this team is having fun and soaking it all in. They’re getting spoiled with all the Little League gear, bats, cleats, uniforms, batting gloves and helmets.”
For one guy, the plans have changed. Lionetti earned a spot on the field instead of the stands.
“It’s going to be great,” he said.
His dad will happily watch from the bleachers.
JUST THE FACTS
n What: 75th Little League World Series.
n When: The tournament begins Wednesday.
n Where: Williamsport, Pa., Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
n Teams: 10 teams from the United States and 10 international teams will compete.
n About Massapequa Coast: The Long Island team qualified by winning the Metro Region championship Friday, defeating Toms River (N.J.) East, 4-0. Massapequa Coast’s first game in Williamsport is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. (ESPN) against the winner of Wednesday’s West vs. Northwest game.
n Championship games: Aug. 27-International final, 12:30 p.m.; U.S. final, 3:30 p.m.; Aug. 28-LLWS final, 3 p.m. (all games on ABC).