WEST ORANGE, NJ — Members of the West Orange High School baseball program who were denied their chance to play the 2020 spring season due to the statewide coronavirus shutdown of schools will probably get their chance to play as a team in July.
The Last Dance Baseball Tournament will involve well over 200 teams--including West Orange--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.
West Orange had three senior baseball players who will now get their opportunity to represent the Mountaineers again on the field.
"We’re hoping it will happen," West Orange varsity baseball coach Stephan Zichella said. "It looks like the high school coaches will be restricted in how they can interact with athletes. They are in the middle of constructing the tournament. We might host a region at West Orange. This is really about the seniors. I think it is a great opportunity, and I am excited for the prospect of West Orange potentially hosting games."
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.
"it might be difficult for us to take an active role in coaching," Zichella said. "I am confident we will have coaches in town who have coached our kids before. They will really be able to get our kids ready. This is giving these kids a great opportunity to play. I'm hoping everything goes according to plan. If it's not feasible (for me to coach), I will be there as a spectator and excited to cheer on our West Orange baseball players."
Most of this year's Mountaineer varsity team will return for another season in the spring of 2021, but the tournament will be a special chance for senior West Orange players Milton Dauber, Julian Lee and Mark Mincolelli to get back on the diamond after they lost the chance to represent their school during the spring of their senior year.
"We are allowed up to a 25-man roster. It is about the seniors, though," Zichella said. "It would be great for the community to come out and support our players. I will be there and do anything I can to help."