High school baseball players and coaches watched the 2020 coronavirus pandemic take away their chance to enjoy the fun-filled moments of America’s pastime on the diamond this past spring.
Because of the hard work of Mike Murray, the head baseball coach at Saint Joseph High School, Metuchen, players across the state are getting a second chance to get back on the field with the “Last Dance World Series.”
Players from more than 220 high school baseball programs will compete in a month-long tournament that is scheduled to begin on July 14.
“It’s definitely very exciting,” Red Bank Catholic High School Coach Buddy Hausmann said. “It’s a great opportunity for the seniors. They will be able to make memories from it and end their careers on the right note.”
Hausmann was one of the people in the New Jersey baseball community who helped Murray organize the tournament. He said at first he did not believe they would be able to pull it off, but he is happy things have progressed to the point where the event is ready to begin.
“We can all see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hausmann said.
There were high expectations at RBC in 2020. The Caseys were coming off a 23-6 campaign in 2019 that included going 14-0 in Shore Conference A Central Division and winning the Shore Conference Tournament championship.
Junior ace and University of Virginia commit Shane Panzini was back to toe the rubber after a sensational sophomore campaign that saw him pitch to an ERA of 0.66.
Panzini’s 21 RBI in 2019 would have added to a lineup that had seniors Chris Sparber, Rob Gonzalez and Jack Scrivanic returning to anchor it.
The cancellation of the season was tough for the team, Hausmann said, but the coach was happy with how his players handled the process.
When the players found out they were going to get the chance to play in the summer tournament, everyone was excited and on board, the coach said.
The Caseys will have a 25-man roster for the tournament and 11 seniors playing.
RBC is the No. 1 seed in the 6A-Red Bank Regional bracket.
Red Bank Regional High School is the No. 2 seed, followed by No. 3 Neptune High School and No. 4 Long Branch High School.
Hausmann likes his team’s chances of advancing past the pool play round and into the single-elimination round of 32.
The Caseys have pitching depth after Panzini with seniors Tyler Birnbaum, Brayden Kiel and Jared Terefenko. Panzini will not be able to pitch until the team’s third and final pool play game, according to Hausmann.
The pool play games will take place at RBC’s home diamond at Count Basie Park.
“It’s important to the team to have that one last game at home and playing under the lights will be awesome one last night,” Hausmann said. “Getting to wear the uniform and to have that last at-bat or last inning pitched is something all the seniors will cherish to end their careers on.”
On the other side of the bracket in the 6B-Belmar Regional, Saint John Vianney High School of Holmdel players have the No. 1 seed for a team known as RPI Baseball.
The No. 2 seed in the region is Howell High School’s Blue and Grey squad, with Monmouth Regional High School of Tinton Falls slated at No. 3 and St. Rose High School of Belmar as the No. 4 seed.
In an eight-team bracket, the two teams that are undefeated after the first two pool play games will play each other in the final pool play contest with the winner advancing to the single-elimination round of 32.
The remaining teams will advance depending on their pool play record and how their record compares to the other teams in the entire South Jersey bracket.
Monmouth Regional Coach Paul Crivello is excited to get back on the field with his squad one last time and believes his squad can make some noise in the tournament.
“We want to go out and compete and make a name for ourselves,” Crivello said. “The players lit up when I told them we were playing in the tournament. We are going to go out and play and have fun. That’s what this game is all about.”
Seniors Michael Bateman, Alex Alonso, Nick Bogan, Brett Delutis, Starion Marvin and Jeffrey Meyer will all suit up as part of the team’s 16-man roster.
Crivello said he is proud of how his players handled everything surrounding the cancellation of the 2020 season. He said he told them their attitude shows why they will be able to succeed in life.
“(Their attitude) showed that our guys understood that what is going on in the world right now is more important than baseball,” Crivello said. “How they handled everything is going to help them make it through anything else that happens in their life. I’m happy our team and the seniors have this opportunity to play one last time. It’s very exciting.”
Senior lefthander Kevin Shanes will lead the way for the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School squad that is the No. 2 seed in the 15B-Ocean Township Regional that is in the South Jersey bracket.
Ocean Township is the No. 1 seed in the region. Hazlet is the No. 3 seed and Matawan is the No. 4 seed.
Shanes and Max Nicholson are the only two seniors playing for the Bulldogs, who will have a 25-man roster for the tournament.
New Monmouth University commit Andrew Schmidt and junior classmate Thomas Elgrim are set to anchor the Bulldogs at the plate and in the field.
Shanes is excited to get on the mound and pitch a couple more times to finish off his high school career on the right note.
The senior said everyone on the team is excited to play together one last time and it showed with the players meeting in groups during the pandemic to stay in shape for a possible season.
“I can’t wait to take the field and take in everything on the field one last time with my teammates,” Shanes said. “We are a very tight-knit group of guys. Everyone is excited to play together one last time. I’m confident our group can make a run in the tournament.”