WAYNE, NJ – This year’s Wayne Hills High School Baseball Team was looking for redemption coming into the 2020 spring season after falling short of expectations in both the county and state tournaments last year. That season was canceled due to the pandemic, but the boys from Hills are getting another chance to play in a state-wide tournament with over 200 teams called The Last Dance. Are they thinking of redemption? Are they worrying about making up for last year’s results? Not at all. Their focus, as they begin play on Tuesday is only one thing: Having Fun.
“It’s fun because we all get to play together one last time,” said Stefano Rubino, one of the recent graduates on the Wayne Hills PAL team. “We all like to screw around with each other. It’s great.”
Current and recently-graduated high school baseball players across the state are getting their shot at a 2020 season after St. Joe’s Metuchen coach Mike Murray organized the Last Dance Tournament to give seniors their last season before moving on past high school.
Along with Rubino, the Hills PAL team’s 2020 graduates are Anthony Losito, Dylan Heinold and Alessandro Gionio. The rest of the team are 10 rising seniors, one of which is Rubino’s brother, Dominic.
To make it a full family affair, the team is coached by Steve Rubino, Stefano and Dominic’s father. The assistant coaches are Eric D’Agati and Ken Kaplan, both of whom have sons on the team, too.
Like his son, Steve Rubino’s message to the team has less to do with wins and losses and more to do with enjoying their last time playing together.
“Just have fun,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t do this just to win games. I did this because they didn’t have a senior season; they didn’t get to have a normal graduation — the whole nine yards. They’re going to play at least three baseball games with kids they’ve played with since they were seven years old.”
Playing with the group they grew up with not only makes the game more fun for the team, but it also adds some emotion and makes the tournament bittersweet for the seniors.
“It’s kind of weird knowing that we can’t really play together after this because we graduated,” Gionio said. “We’re all staying in the same area, so we’ll still see each other, but it’s kind of sad seeing all of us go in separate directions. We’ve been playing together since we were six or seven years old.”
For Steve Rubino and his eldest son this tournament is even more special. The father coached both of his sons while they were growing up and playing at the Wayne PAL, and now he gets a chance to do it one more time in Stefano’s final season.
“I haven’t coached him since U14, and now, once more - in this last hoorah, I get to coach my son for at least three more games,” he said. “It’s special for both of us.”
Though the focus is on fun, and enjoying the moment, these boys are coming to play, and playing to win. Heinold expressed his excitement about the team’s potential for success.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” Heinold said. “I think we’re going to go really far.”
The game plan for the team is simple.
“We just have to pitch well and do our job on defense, and we’ll be a tough team to beat,” Rubino said.
After several days of practice, that strategy will be put into action on Tuesday, July 14 at Kane Field in Secaucus as the team takes on Fair Lawn at 1 p.m.
Just like the Wayne Valley PAL team, the Hills PAL team is excited and ready for action, and with the knowledge that this tournament is like a gift, no one is taking it for granted. There will be joy on those fields and these boys will have plenty of fun playing together one last time.
The full roster for the Wayne Hills PAL team:
- Stefano Rubino - 2020 Graduate
- Anthony Losito - 2020 Graduate
- Dylan Heinold - 2020 Graduate
- Alessandro Gionio - 2020 Graduate
- Dominic Rubino - Rising Senior
- Dominic Casamassina - Rising Senior
- Luke Kaplan - Rising Senior
- Matthew Emeric - Rising Senior
- Thomas D'Agati - Rising Senior
- Chris Giacalone - Rising Senior
- Zachary Appel - Rising Senior
- Adam O'Mealy - Rising Senior
- Michael Dericks - Rising Senior
- Philip Park - Rising Senior