The past three weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for the baseball program at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen.
St. Joseph was in the midst of its impressive run in the Last Dance World Series when former teammate and friend Daniel Anderl was shot and killed by a gunman at his parents’ home in North Brunswick on July 19.
The team rallied around their fallen friend and helped the Saint Joseph Metuchen community heal by playing in his honor.
Saint Joseph rolled out back-to-back victories over Deptford and Williamstown to advance to the South Jersey Bracket Final Four, giving everything they had for Anderl who they knew was watching over them and was proud of what they were able to accomplish on the diamond.
It was also during all of this time that former alumni Brandon Bielak became the first player in program history to play in the Major Leagues when he pitched for the Houston Astros on July 27, earning a victory with his three and ⅓ innings on the mound that featured four strikeouts.
“The tragedy we had and having Brandon (Bielak) become our first big leaguer out of the school was a true rollercoaster and it goes back to the sanctuary of baseball,” said Saint Joseph Coach Mike Murray. “When bad things happen in life, you show up to a field and deal with it with your teammates. When good things happen, you celebrate them with your teammates. It was normal for us to come together on a baseball field and manage any emotions we had.”
For the Falcons, their emotional and impressive run ended on July 28 in the regional final four against Jackson Memorial.
The Jaguars jumped out to a 5-0 lead through the first two innings of the contest and the deficit was too much for Saint Joseph to overcome in a 6-1 loss.
Senior Andrew Boucher did his best to keep Saint Joseph in the game when he came on in relief of starter Donovan Zsak during the second inning.
Boucher tossed five great innings on the hill, giving up only one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. The senior also had a double at the plate for the Falcons.
Senior John Zarnowski collected a hit and scored the team’s only run in the fifth inning. Catcher Mark Gialluisi also had a hit in the ball for Saint Joseph.
For Murray, who was one of the masterminds behind the development of the Last Dance World Series, his team’s success doesn’t shock him and he is proud of how his guys played in the tournament.
He feels his team’s performance shows that they were capable of winning a Greater Middlesex Conference championship and making a run at a sectional title this past spring.
Murray’s main adjective when helping put together the tournament was to give his 15 seniors and the rest of the seniors around the state one last chance of playing high school baseball after missing out this past spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When people ask me why the Last Dance and why I did it, I say there’s many reasons but none more than the 15 seniors that I have,” Murray said. They’re a very special group. The end wasn’t going to be fun at any point, but you much rather it be on a baseball field.”
The success of the tournament has also made Murray happy, as the coach is glad he was able to bring some normalcy to players and their families this summer.
“Baseball is normal to me. It’s a sanctuary for me and I think a lot of kids and families feel that,” Murray said. “It’s been nice. I hope these three weeks have made kids feel normal.”