WEST ORANGE, NJ — One run was all that West Orange needed as the Mountaineers' baseball team opened play in the statewide Last Dance Tournament Tuesday night with a 1-0 victory over Belleville at West Orange High School.

That put West Orange on a collision course with crosstown Seton Hall Prep on Wednesday night. It also served notice that the Mountaineers have a promising future.

While the Last Dance Tournament’s overriding purpose is to give the 2020 graduates a chance to close out their baseball careers in a more proper setting after being deprived of their senior seasons when the pandemic forced closure of schools and cancellation of all spring sports.

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In Tuesday’s victory over Belleville, Matt Bove, a rising junior, went 2-for-3 and scored the game’s only run. He doubled and eventually came around to score on Noah Stennet’s sacrifice fly.

On the mound, Aidan Healey and Malachi Jones combined on a four-hit shutout. Healy went the first 5 ⅓ innings and Jones threw 1 ⅔ innings for the save. 

“Healey has one of our liveliest arms, but he’s also our catcher, so we need him behind the dish, too,” said West Orange coach Stephan Zichella of the rising senior. “But if you put him anywhere on the field, he’s a good player. He is just a great athlete, and he impresses with his poise.”

Jones, a hard-throwing left-hander, is also a top-flight hitter for West Orange who plays center field when he doesn’t pitch.

“There has been a lot of good buzz among scouts about Malachi, who is going into his senior year,” Zichella said. “They see how he plays the game the way it should be played. He’s explosive like lightning on the bases and he hits with power.”

On Jones’ pitching, the coach said, “He’s fantastic. Batters have a really hard time squaring him up. He’s gonna be a prospect. A lot of colleges have already reached out about him.”

Only three players on the West Orange roster are 2020 graduates: Milton Dauber, Mark Mincolelli and Julian Lee. The rest are coming back in 2021, and that is cause for much optimism within the program.