BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- As a self-professed “eternal optimist,” Ridge baseball coach Tom Blackwell was holding out hope until the very end.

But on Monday, the hammer came down, as the NJSIAA announced the cancellation of the spring high school sports season in conjunction with Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to keep New Jersey schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

“I was going stage by stage, two weeks, four weeks, hoping and praying, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that (the shutdown) was gonna be extended longer and longer,” Blackwell said Monday night. “I sent the team a quick e-mail today. I acknowledged that this was a big punch in the gut, but my plan is to have a Zoom conference in the next day or two to talk to them more.”

Sign Up for Basking Ridge Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Ridge had reached both the Somerset County Tournament and Section 2, Group 4 Tournament championship games last spring, and with 15 seniors on this year’s roster, Blackwell was looking forward to a potentially great season in 2020.

“This was a group that most of them played as juniors. This was gonna be one of the best teams I ever had,” Blackwell said. “They are very self-motivated. They were stung by losing in the county and section finals last year, and they worked their tails off, doing all the right things, so to have all this canceled, I feel awful.”

Team captain Greg Bozzo, a senior catcher, was also holding out hope.

“This whole thing, it’s surreal, it really is,” Bozzo said. “It’s like it isn’t even happening, like we’re gonna wake up one day and it’ll be the beginning of March again.”

Sadly for all involved, it’s the baseball season that is not happening now.

“We’ve had some really good teams,” said Blackwell, who is in his 15th season as Ridge’s head coach. “But the chemistry of this group was great, and to have that big a senior class, playing together. They know the expectations, and it was such a pleasurable experience to work wit this group of guys. They have a lot of fun. Its so important to them. This is a little bit different group. We still have a lot of talent in the program, at this point, that doesn’t ease the pain for this season, and for these seniors.”

In addition to 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.