The thrills associated with America’s pastime will be on display this summer when an event that has been dubbed the “Last Dance World Series” takes center stage for high school baseball players from throughout New Jersey.
Saint Joseph High School, Metuchen, athletic director and baseball coach Mike Murray has put together the 222-team tournament. The players who will be competing lost out on the 2020 season that was cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams representing the six schools in the Freehold Regional High School District will compete in the tournament. Pool play in the event is scheduled to begin on July 14.
“It feels amazing to get one last chance to get on the field and play,” said Dan Cowles of Colts Neck High School.
The local squads will compete in the South Jersey bracket. Teams may not use the name of their high school, nor may a team be coached by its high school head coach in accordance with rules from the FRHSD.
Colts Neck, whose team will be called Cougar Baseball, is the No. 2 seed in the 15A-Wall Regional. The pool games will be played at the North Wall Little League Complex.
According to Cowles, the team will have 17 players on the roster, including Collin Kratzer, Chase Masterson, Justin Coopla and newcomer Christian Rice. Colts Neck will have 19 players if its advances past pool play.
Chris Barbieri will coach the squad.
Colts Neck High School coach Mike Yorke said he respects the district’s decision and will support his players as a spectator and an adviser. He said he is happy the seniors are getting one more chance to play and he commended them for the way they handled the cancellation of the season.
“This tournament provides the seniors one last opportunity to play and get some closure,” Yorke said. “I want to see them have a quality experience and enjoy playing with their friends.”
Cowles said the players did a good job sticking together during the pandemic and kept themselves driven to stay in shape for the possibility of getting a chance to play during the summer.
“We are all on the same page and I think we have the guys to make a run in the tournament,” he said.
Squads from Freehold Township, Freehold Borough and Marlboro were selected into the top three seeds in what is being called the 2B-TBD Regional.
The No. 1 seed in the region belongs to Freehold Township’s Columbia Blue squad. Marlboro’s Blue and Gold team is No. 2, while Freehold Borough, to be represented as the Monmouth Dogfish, is at No. 3.
Middletown North High School is the No. 4 seed in the region.
Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, is the top seed and the host in the 2A-Lincroft Regional. Manasquan, East Brunswick and Mater Dei Prep of Middletown will also compete in the Lincroft region.
Howell’s team will be called Blue and Grey and is the No. 2 seed in the 6B-Belmar Regional, which will have games played at the Edward I. Brown Athletic Complex in Wall Township.
The No. 1 seeded Monmouth Monarchs will represent Manalapan’s baseball program in the 1B-Tri-County Regional. All pool play games will take place at the Manalapan Recreation Center.
Manalapan has a powerful lineup that would have been seeking a second straight NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV state sectional championship in 2020.
Nick DiPietrantonio and Hunter Serrano, who just graduated, and rising seniors Joe Mazza and Tom Guidice will lead the way for the Monarchs.
Despite not being able to coach his team in the tournament, Manalapan High School coach Brian Boyce said he will watch the squad play as an adviser and expects the players to have fun competing as a team one last time.
“The camaraderie is the most important part in all of this,” Boyce said. “This is a great way for our guys to get back on the field and for the seniors to get some closure. We have a good group of guys. I expect them to compete and leave everything out there on the field.”
The pool portion of the event will consist of three games. The two teams from each region that are 2-0 after the first two games will play each other, with the winner advancing to a single-elimination round.
The remaining teams may advance depending on their pool play record and how it compares to the other teams in the South Jersey bracket.