BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- Members of the Bridgewater-Raritan 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 Bridgewater-Raritan – from all over New Jersey participating in a three-week competition that would begin with three days of pool play followed by two weeks worth of bracket-style playoffs. Every team would be guaranteed at least three games during the pool play portion, which would begin July 14.
Bridgewater-Raritan had 11 senior baseball players on the spring roster, nine of whom will be playing in the tournament. Bridgewater-Raritan, going by the out-of-season name of B-R Panthers, will host a pool play region at the Prince Rodgers Complex with Immaculata, Somerville and Bernards.
Baseball players who just graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan are Justin Sinibaldi, Manny Correia, John Travisano, Justin Peterson, DJ Ward, Michael Machiolek, David Olzakowski, Jake Olson, Aidan Schweizer, Roshan Sundar and Zach Schwartz. Matthew Goldrosen, who was going to be a student assistant in the spring, has been added to the active roster for the tournament.
"We had a pretty good squad this year," Bridgewater-Raritan varsity coach Max Newill said. "We had experience and some talented younger kids. We were looking forward to a solid year. We had 11 seniors and nine of them are going to play in Last Dance."
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 Gov. Phil Murphy, baseball practices were allowed to begin on June 22, and games were permitted beginning July 6. On June 22, the maximum size of outdoor gatherings was increased from 100 to 250 people, and that figure was 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.
"Before the 13th, the high school coaching staff can work with the graduates," Newill said, "so we’re having split practices. The coaching staff will leave, and the seniors and some parents will run practices for the underclassmen."
The pool play games will be at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, July 14-16. The varsity complex was unavailable.
"Bridgewater Recreation and Bridgewater Baseball were both very supportive of what we’re trying to do, and they are allowing us to use Prince Rodgers," Newill said. "We’re going to give the seniors the most opportunities to play, but in close game situations we are going to do our best to win. We want to get the seniors as much playing time as possible. A lot of it depends on how the game is going, too."
Newill said that regardless of the tournament's outcome, getting the players back on the diamond is a victory in itself.
"This provides some closure for them now," Newill said. "Our heart was breaking for them when they lost the spring. It is a bunch of great kids. Win, lose, it doesn't matter. We want them to have a good time."