BASKING RIDGE, NJ — Members of the Ridge High School baseball program who were denied their chance to play the 2020 spring season due to the statewide coronavirus shutdown of schools will get their chance to play as a team in July.
The Last Dance Baseball Tournament will involve 222 teams--including Ridge--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.
Ridge had 15 senior baseball players on the spring roster, 13 of whom will be playing in the tournament. Ridge is the top seed in a four-team regional at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater. The Red Devils will play Rutgers Prep in the first pool play game at a time to be announced July 14. The other two teams in the TD Bank pool are Gill-St. Bernard's and Pingry, who will play each other on July 14.
Baseball players who just graduated from Ridge are Greg Bozzo, Chris Parker, Brendan Bell, Bobby Parisi, Lukas Goodman, Tommy Ramazotto, Tommy Albanese, Henry Petrillo, Chris O'Brien, Chris Stapleton, Kyle Somelofske, Owen Walker, Robbie Rutkowski and Joe Sheh are Ridge seniors who were going to be part of this season's team.
Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell said 13 Ridge seniors will be playing in the tournament. Blackwell said that when he first heard about the concept of the tournament, back in May, shortly after the spring sports season was canceled along with in-school learning, he was treating it with very guarded optimism.
"This is the last chance for most of the seniors, so when I was a little hesitant to get them going again and get them fired up over this," Blackwell said. "My job during the spring was keep them motivated and ready in case the spring season did start. I kept them cranked up only to have things keep getting pushed back two weeks, and then, ultimately, canceled. Once it looked like this (tournament) would actually go down, they were totally fired up and ready to go."
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.
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.
"One of the players' fathers, Chuck Albanese, is running practices. He coached these guys growing up. They'll be ready to go," said Blackwell, who will take the reins and coach the team once the tournament games begin. I have very high expectations. There are plenty of good teams in this tournament, but someone is gonna have to play pretty well to beat us. I expect these guys come out and have fun, and compete hard."
After the first week of pool play, surviving teams will advance to the bracket portion of the tournament in Week 2, ultimately leading up to the championship game, slated for July 31 at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton.