America’s Pastime will be back in action on the diamond this summer with the Last Dance World Series, and high school baseball programs throughout the Greater Middlesex Conference will be taking full advantage of the opportunity to play baseball.
The statewide tournament that will feature 222 teams and is scheduled to begin on July 14 was the brainchild of Metuchen’s Saint Joseph High School baseball Coach and Athletic Director Mike Murray.
Murray gives a lot of credit to baseball programs and people in the baseball community across the state for helping jump start the tournament.
There is still work to be done to fine tune player safety measures for the tournament, Murray admits, but the coach is excited to bring some normalcy back to people’s lives with baseball this summer.
“First and foremost, our goal is to do this tournament safely and provide players with a close to normal experience of playing baseball,” Murray said. “Feeling normal is what we need right now. A lot of parents have told me that they are excited to sit in a lawn chair again and watch their kids play baseball. Feels good to see all the kids in the state looking forward to playing in the tournament.”
Murray’s St. Joseph squad is the host of the 5A-Metuchen Regional Region and the No. 1 seed in the region that is based in the South Jersey Bracket.
The No. 2 seed is Sayreville War Memorial High School, followed by No. 3 seed John F. Kennedy Memorial High School and No. 4 seed Wardlaw Rams, from Woodbridge and Edison, respectively.
It’s an eight-team bracket in total with Edison High School standing as the No. 1 seed and hosting the 5B-Edison Regional Region.
Rival John P. Steven High School from Edison is the No. 2 seed. Carteret High School serves as the No. 3 seed and South River High School rounds out the region at No. 4.
Each team in the tournament will play at least three games during the first round of pool play.
In an eight-team bracket, the two teams that are 2-0 after the first two games of pool play will square off in a contest to advance to the single elimination round of 32. The rest of the teams will advance beyond pool play depending on their record and how it compares to other teams in the entire South Jersey Bracket.
St. Joe’s Falcons will have around 19 to 21 players playing on the squad during the tournament, which will include 13 players from the Class of 2020. Both senior right-hander Adam Boucher and sophomore lefty Donovan Zak will be playing in the tournament to give St. Joseph a great one-two duo at the top of its rotation.
Making it to the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A final last year, Murray said the team had high expectations coming into the 2020 season with 16 seniors and a load of talent back in the fold.
A goal for the team is to make it to the single elimination round of 32, Murray said, but the overall goal for the squad in the Last Dance World Series is to be back playing on the field together.
“Our guys are happy to be around each other and have the chance to play together one last time”, Murray said. “This gives them some closure and allows them to end this season on their terms. We’re going to compete and have fun.”
The Monroe Township High School baseball squad was expecting to make some noise this season in the conference and will try to do so now in the Last Dance World Series.
Coach Sean Field will field a team of 22 players that will consist of 12 seniors. After watching his team work so hard in the offseason for the 2020 season and then deal with the long process of watching their spring on the diamond get canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Field said he is looking forward to seeing his players back in action this summer.
“This is a great scenario for them to play one last time together and compete,” Field said. “This tournament is great, especially for the seniors. The guys are excited to play in the tournament.”
Monroe is the No. 3 seed in the 1B-Tri-County Regional Region.
The No. 1 seed is Manalapan High School’s Monmouth Monarchs. No. 2 is Allentown High School and Robbinsville High School is the No. 4 seed.
The other part of the eight-team bracket is the 1A-Brick Regional Region that is headed by the No. 1 overall seed in the entire South Jersey Bracket in the Jackson Memorial High School baseball team.
Jackson Liberty High School, Brick Memorial and Brick Township fill out the rest of that side of the bracket.
Field knows his team has a tough challenge ahead of them and even called their bracket the toughest in the tournament. Speaking to his ball club through a Zoom meeting on June 30, Field encouraged his players to continue the team’s mindset of stepping into the batter’s box and competing.
Field said that throughout the pandemic his seniors have been holding senior practices where guys are split up into groups of four to five players for workouts on the field.
“All of our players stayed engaged throughout the entire process,” Field said. “They would send in workout videos to myself and the coaching staff.”
Field saw that drive and determination to play one last time together from his players when the team contacted him right away to sign up for the tournament when it was announced.
Old Bridge High School senior Eddie Nugent reacted the same when he heard the news of the tournament being a possibility. Thinking he had lost everything with the spring season being canceled, Nugent is excited for the opportunity he and his fellow Old Bridge teammates have to play in the tournament.
“We have to take this blessing and run with it,” Nugent said. “It’s what everyone on the team wanted and all the guys are excited about playing.”
The defending GMC champions are the No. 2 seed in the 16A-North Brunswick Regional Region. The team they beat in the conference tournament final, South Brunswick, is the No. 1 seed.
North Brunswick Township High School is the No. 3 seed and Saint Thomas Aquinas is the No. 4 seed in the region.
South Plainfield High School stands as the No. 1 seed in the 16B-North Brunswick Regional Region. The No. 2 seed is Middlesex High School, followed by Spotswood High School at No. 3 and No. 4 seed Middlesex Vo-Tech.
All games will be played at Community Park in North Brunswick.
According to Nugent, Old Bridge will have around 25 players on its roster and all six seniors will be participating in the tournament.
Nugent said it felt unreal to practice with his teammates for the first time on June 30 and that everything felt the same since the last time they practiced.
The team also is getting a lot of support from the Old Bridge community with the Sayre Woods South Little League allowing the players to workout on their fields.
“Old Bridge High School and the Old Bridge community have a great relationship,” Nugent said. “We give back a lot to the community and they do the same for us.”
South Brunswick Coach C.J. Hendricks is looking forward to seeing his players for the first time on July 13 when the NJSIAA will allow high school coaches to conduct workouts with players. Hendricks said he can’t wait to hit infield and outfield practice to his players one last time.
Until then, Hendricks’ father, Carlos, is holding practices for the team as they prepare to put a good product on the field for the tournament.
“They’re happy to be back on the field and excited to play baseball again,” Hendricks said.
South Brunswick will have around 18 players on its roster and all 10 seniors from this year’s squad will be participating in the tournament.
Hendricks admits that the disappointment he saw his players feel with the spring season being canceled was the toughest thing he has dealt with in his 15 years of coaching high school baseball. The coach is excited that his squad, especially his seniors, are getting the opportunity to play in the Last Dance World Series.
Win or lose, Hendricks’ message to his squad for the tournament is to play the best they can and to have fun with the opportunity of playing together again.
“It’s the best we can do under these circumstances,” Hendricks said. “It’s a great way to give the seniors some closure and help them end their high school careers in a nice way.”
East Brunswick High School will compete in the tournament and is the No. 3 seed in the 2A-Lincroft Regional Region.