Once again, the team from Toms River, N.J., is two victories from winning the Little League World Series. And this time they're defying even greater odds.

Consider: 7,500 teams worldwide began tournament play this summer, and only eight made it to Williamsport.

Then, factor in that only two members of last year's title team from Toms River are back in uniform, and the chances of repeating are even more remote.

The only numbers that really matter, however, are on the scoreboard, Toms River Manager Mike Gaynor says.

"You're not going to win every game. But when it has meant something and it has counted, we've been able to pull it out," Gaynor said. "And that's why we're here today."

Great pitching and good defense don't hurt either. The team from Phenix City, Ala., Toms River's opponent in the U.S. championship Thursday, saw plenty of both earlier this week when Toms River beat them, 6-0.

The other game Thursday features Osaka, Japan against the all-stars from Puerto Rico for the International pool championship. Winners of each game play Saturday for the World Series championship.

Today, Puerto Rico defeated Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, 16-3, in its final preliminary round game.

"Lord have mercy, I wouldn't watch that thing again," Phenix City Manager Tony Rasmus said after being asked if he would review replays of his team's shutout loss to Toms River. "It would give me nightmares."

Toms River seems immune to the pressure that goes with trying to become only the third team in history to repeat as Little League champion. Monterrey, Mexico did it in 1957 and 1958, and Long Beach, Calif., in 1992 and 1993.