Hopewell’s successful American Legion season ends in state tournament

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Hopewell Valley Central High School's baseball team huddles before before a scrimage against Bridgewater-Raritan High School on Mar. 14

On July 28 at Kean University in Union, Hopewell Post 339’s season ended prematurely with a 9-3 loss to Broad Street Park Post 313 of Hamilton.

With the pool play defeat at the state tournament, Hopewell’s Senior American Legion baseball team fell short of the New Jersey Final Four for the first time since 2015.

That result was disappointing. But it didn’t change the fact that Hopewell enjoyed a great season in 2019.

Coach Mike Coryell’s club went 21-3 in Mercer County American Legion League play and won the MCALL for the second straight year. Then it won the District 2 Tournament by beating two opponents by a combined score of 20-2, earning a district title for the third time in four years.

It’s hard to win one championship in a sports season, let alone two.

“We had a tremendous season,” Coryell said.

This team was one of the easiest teams I’ve ever had to coach,” he added. “They loved being at the ball field and practicing.”

“It was a wonderful summer that I hated to see come to an end,” he concluded. 

Early in pool play weekend at Kean, Hopewell’s season didn’t look like it was about to end. The team won its first two games by a combined score of 12-2.

But during the second game on July 27, Hopewell’s standout leadoff hitter, Kenny Tagliareni, fouled a ball hard off his body. He played the rest of the game but spent the night in the hospital after it ended, and couldn’t play on July 28.

Tagliareni ended up being fine, but Hopewell missed him in its last pool play game.

On July 28, Hopewell only needed to lose by five runs to advance to the final four. If Hopewell lost to Broad Street Park, three teams in its pool would have been 2-1. But if Hopewell only lost by five, it would win the tiebreaker over Broad Street Park by virtue of run differential.

Without Tagliareni to spark the lineup, Coryell’s club lost, and by six. It left a runner on third in the seventh and last inning.

“We’ve grown accustomed to being there in the final four,” Coryell said. “So the kids came out with high expectations. But baseball can be a cruel sport sometimes.”

The loss ended both a great season and multiyear run for some of Hopewell’s best players, like right-handed pitcher/shortstop Andy Blake, catcher Luke Blair and outfielder Cole Hare. All three contributed a lot to some great Hopewell legion teams, but none of them will be eligible to play legion ball again in 2020.

“The nice part about this team is we had so many leaders,” Coryell said. “Those three were always ready to step up and keep guys in line.”

Beyond those three, though, Hopewell should return a lot of players in 2020. Eleven players from the 2019 team will be eligible again next summer.

The group includes ace right-handed pitcher Anthony St. John, second baseman Tagliareni, infielder/right-handed pitcher Liam Cleary and first baseman Dylan Galgano.

“It’s a nice nucleus that could form the heart of a lineup,” Coryell said. “For them and the younger guys, this becomes their team next year.”

“I told them that over the weekend,” he added.