WEST ESSEX AREA, NJ — Members of the West Essex and Caldwell High School baseball programs who were denied their chance to play the 2020 spring season due to the statewide coronavirus shutdown of schools will get their opportunity to play as a team in July.

The Last Dance Baseball Tournament will involve 222 teams--including West Essex and Caldwell--from all over New Jersey participating in a three-week competition that will begin with three days of pool play followed by two weeks' worth of bracket-style playoffs. Every team will be guaranteed at least three games during the pool play portion, which would begin July 14.

As something that is taking place out of season, the tournament is not an NJSIAA event. It is being organized by Mike Murray Jr., the head baseball coach at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, with help from Millburn coach Brian Chapman and an area baseball scout, J.T. Kroeger. It is considered a high school summer tournament, not a club tournament, and teams will play under National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules.

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Both West Essex and Caldwell have been placed in the same pool-play region. West Essex has drawn the top seed and Caldwell the second seed in the Caldwell Regional. The other two teams in that region are Glen Ridge and Cedar Grove.

On Day One, July 14, West Essex will play Cedar Grove, and Caldwell will play Glen Ridge. Times for the games have not yet been finalized.

According to a series of reopening directives from Governor Phil Murphy, baseball practices were allowed to begin on June 22, and games will be permitted beginning July 6. On June 22, the maximum size of outdoor gatherings was increased from 100 to 250 people, and that figure is slated to expand to 500 people by July 6.

No coaches affiliated with their spring high school programs will be allowed to work with their teams prior to July 13, according to the NJSIAA calendar of when spring ends and summer begins, and some head coaches will be turning the reins over to someone else unaffiliated with their high school programs to run the teams during the tournament.

Survivors of the pool-play round will advance to a bracket-style tournament that will start July 21, ultimately leading to a July 31 championship game at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton.