Most 12-year-olds head into Williamsport looking to make a name for themselves for the first time. But not Joey Lionetti, the Massapequa Coast ace pitcher who already achieved star status by tossing a Little League World Series-clinching no-hitter to secure MCLL’s first trip to Williamsport.
That do-or-die game against mighty Toms River East for the Metro Championship last Friday — one Lionetti said he never thought he’d reach — proved to be a major coming-of-age moment for the modest Long Island middle schooler. It made Lionetti see what’s possible as he sets to play some of the most exhilarating baseball of his life.
“Because I know that Toms River was a great team. If they made it [to Williamsport], they probably would have been one of the better teams,” Lionetti told The Post. “So I know it’s the same against any team here.”
The newfound confidence comes at the ideal time for Lionetti and his Massapequa miracle bunch. On Friday (7 p.m., ESPN), they gear up to take on Honolulu, the 2018 LLWS champs who Massapequa manager Roland Clark said are favored to win it all again.
Lionetti, who was congratulated by perfect-game pitcher David Cone during a Yankees broadcast and Scott Mayfield of the Islanders, said he’s ready to roar again on the mound should his number be called.
“It’s obviously not [the team I want to face]. But if I pitch well, and our team doesn’t make any errors and we hit their first pitcher and get them out of the game and start wasting pitchers for them, we’ll do good,” he said.
Reaching the LLWS came at a sacrifice for the South Shore standout. Ahead of the regional-round ruckus, Lionetti was supposed to be in Cary, N.C., for a final series of tryouts with Team USA this week, his father, Joey Lionetti Sr., told The Post.
“They told me they’re not going to hold it against him for next year. They’re cheering him on. It’s a huge honor to even make it to that final tryout. … He’s made three cuts already,” Lionetti Sr., who raised Joey as a single dad, said.
The overwhelmingly proud parent then said how baseball has brought their extraordinary father and son relationship even closer.
“It’s best friends. It’s sports coach, life coach. The two of us have pretty much been inseparable his entire life,” he said. “Joey has a 4.0 grade point average. … He’s in accelerated classes in school. His work ethic is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He works out and practices seven days a week and he’s extremely humble.”
Since Joey — who also wrestles, plays soccer, football and basketball — has been dorming with his teammates throughout the qualifying tournaments over the summer, this is one of the longest periods the duo has been apart. It’s something No. 13 has handled like a champ, his dad said.
“I knew he’d be prepared to take care of himself and he has demonstrated that with a very high level these past few weeks. You could tell from the [media] interviews he’s done, and from his poise and posture in high-pressure situations,” Lionetti Sr. said. “But at the same time, he’s the biggest goofball, comedian and jokester. He said ‘I threw a no hitter, daddy’ to me in a silly voice right after coming off of an ESPN interview. … Everything is a joke between the two of us. And I’m the same way. So he’s a miniature version of me.”
Glimpses of Lionetti being a merry 12-year-old (who is living every young baseball player’s dream) are surely coming through in Williamsport as well.
Lionetti, who said he was most looking forward to making new friends at the tournament, is already buddy-buddy with a player on the Texas team as the two of them have been regularly hitting the players’ arcade for some stress-free gaming. He and Massapequa have also chummed it up with the Puerto Rican team along with players from some international squads.
“It’s been really cool. Everybody’s been having a hard time trying to speak English. But it’s been pretty cool,” Lionetti said.