Jackson Memorial baseball team creates memories in ‘Last Dance World Series’

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Jackson Memorial High School second baseman Christian Pellone high fives teammate Ryan Lasko during pre-game introduction of the Last Dance World Series championship game on July 31. Cranford defeated Jackson Memorial, 3-1. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy retrieves his ceremonial first pitch from Jackson Memorial High School catcher Tom Cartnick before the Last Dance World Series championship game on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School center fielder Ryan Lasko lifts a fly ball to deep center during the Last Dance World Series championship game against Cranford on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School right fielder Bill Petrina hugs teammate Joe Santoriello after the team's loss to Cranford in the Last Dance World Series final on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School pitcher Joe Santriello fires in a strike during the Last Dance World Series championship game against Cranford on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School second baseman Christian Pellone high fives teammate Ryan Lasko during pre-game introduction of the Last Dance World Series championship game on July 31. Cranford defeated Jackson Memorial, 3-1. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy retrieves his ceremonial first pitch from Jackson Memorial High School catcher Tom Cartnick before the Last Dance World Series championship game on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School center fielder Ryan Lasko lifts a fly ball to deep center during the Last Dance World Series championship game against Cranford on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School right fielder Bill Petrina hugs teammate Joe Santoriello after the team's loss to Cranford in the Last Dance World Series final on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School pitcher Joe Santriello fires in a strike during the Last Dance World Series championship game against Cranford on July 31. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The baseball team representing Jackson Memorial High School powered its way to the “Last Dance World Series” championship game that was played on July 31 at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton with great starting pitching and clutch hitting.

For three weeks, joy, laughter and tremendous play on the diamond were shared by 25 players on the Jackson Memorial roster, 15 of whom recently saw their senior season lost to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The “Last Dance World Series” gave New Jersey’s high school baseball players a chance to make up for what the virus wiped away during the spring.

Despite falling to a team representing Cranford High School of Union County, 12-2, in the championship game, the Jackson Memorial players said they were grateful for the chance to take part in the event.

“It was fantastic ,” second baseman Christian Pellone said. “It was the best thing that could have happened. We played the max amount of games we could together.”

Run-producing at-bats from seniors Tom Cartnick, Carmine Petosa, Ryan Lasko and Bill Petrina were crucial in the team’s run to the championship game and the South Jersey Regional title.

Junior Matt Potok was brilliant in three starts on the mound, with two complete game gems, 22 strikeouts and one unearned run.

Senior lefthander Nick Beetel tossed five no-hit innings with five strikeouts to send Jackson Memorial to the final four in the South Jersey bracket.

Dan Greenwood and Zach Crotchfelt put together nearly five innings of great pitching out of the bullpen to help Jackson Memorial overcome a deficit and defeat Bishop Eustace, 4-3, on July 29 to win the regional championship.

“The goal set forth from the beginning was to spend the three weeks together and make it to the (championship game),” Coach Frank Malta said. “Right from the beginning we said we got cheated out of three months and we wanted to make the most of these three weeks and we did.”

In the championship game, a four-run first inning and an eight-run third inning powered Cranford to the 12-2 victory.

“We had to be as good as we were over the past few weeks and we couldn’t do that,” Malta said. “It is such a good group to be around. We were very loose throughout the tournament. We were sad to see the (seniors) go.”

Trailing 12-0 going into the fifth inning, senior Matt Feld gave the Jaguars a final spark. In what Feld said was the final at-bat of his career, the senior cracked a two-run single to left field to put the Jaguars on the board.

Happy to end his career on a two-out, run-scoring hit, Feld said he will always remember this tournament after seeing his and his classmates’ senior season taken away from them.

“I will always remember this tournament and the guys I played with this summer,” Feld said. “We don’t give up. We always fight. We always work hard no matter what.”

Playing for one another and having one last run as a team was the reason why players banded together to compete for Jackson Memorial in the tournament.

Even with 10 players committed to playing NCAA Division I baseball, the importance of playing with lifelong friends and representing the Jackson Memorial program was what the players wanted to do the most this summer.

Petosa, who is committed to play at Wake Forest University, said playing in the tournament meant everything to him.

The senior first baseman knocked in three runs during Jackson Memorial’s come-from-behind victory over Bishop Eustace. Petosa tallied four RBI in the final three games of the tournament and had a double in the championship game.

“This is the last time we are going to play together and I am happy we got that chance,” Petosa said. “It was the only COVID-19 tournament and we all got to experience it together. I will definitely cherish this season even though it got cut off. We still got to play baseball and we had some fun doing it.”

In a blood and guts effort, Cartnick gave it his all while battling a lower back injury during the tournament.

The University of Rhode Island commit produced five RBI in the final four games of the tournament, while playing stellar defense behind the plate.

Playing through the injury was worth it to Cartnick, who wanted to be on the field with his teammates one last time more than anything else.

“I just wanted to be out there with my teammates and I gave it my all as long as I could,” Cartnick said. “We have a great group of seniors and we are a very senior heavy team. We are all very close and this tournament might have made us even closer. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we are all never going to forget it.”

After Cranford starting pitcher Joe Carea recorded the final out of the game, tears ran down the faces of many Jackson Memorial players as they lined up on the third base line to receive their second place rings.

The loss stung for the players, but it signaled most importantly the end of their time together.

Three weeks of playing baseball had come to an end for a group of young men whose main focus on reaching the championship game was knowing it meant they could spend more time together playing the sport they love.

The “Last Dance World Series” was their shot to show everyone what the 2020 Jaguars were made of. No matter the outcome, playing in the tournament and reaching the championship game is something all of the players will remember when they look back on their high school years.

Lifelong memories were made in these last three weeks and they will never be forgotten.

“This is my favorite group of kids I have ever been around,” Pellone said. “We have won a lot of games together and battled through a lot of hard times. This is going to be the biggest tournament ever.”