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RED BANK -- On one of the most important days of his young life, Will Reyes graduated from Long Branch High School, which meant hearing his name called and walking the stage at the ceremony.

He did not, however, have time to pick up his diploma. Reyes had to tap into his considerable reserves of hustle and hightail it to Red Bank, where he was due to represent Long Branch in the Shore Baseball Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game.

After shedding his shirt, tie and dress shoes in exchange for a baseball cap, spikes and a glove, Reyes immediately made his presence felt with a go-ahead two-run single that sparked the National All-Stars to a 13-7 win over the American squad.

"Everyone was lining up to get (their diplomas) and I just sprinted down the hallways to get to my car," said Reyes, who arrived to Count Basie Park -- not the easiest place in Monmouth County to find a convenient parking spot -- in the fourth inning. "I threw my cleats on and got in the box."

Long Branch graduate and Senior All-Star Will Reyes. Photo: Matt Manley
Long Branch graduate and Senior All-Star Will Reyes. (Photo: Matt Manley)

Reyes is the prototypical player for whom the All-Star game exists. He was a three-year starter at Long Branch and likely would have been a four-year starter had the 2020 season not been canceled due to COVID. In his first two years, Long Branch went a combined 4-40 while playing in the Shore Conference Class A North division and as a senior, the Green Wave moved to the far-more-forgiving Class B Central division and finished 9-16.

While the Green Wave got to celebrate more wins and its first NJSIAA Tournament berth since 2018, Reyes missed competing against some of the Shore’s best players in Class A North and did not want to miss a chance to play with and against more of them on Wednesday night at Count Basie Park.

"I miss playing against those guys from CBA, Middletown South and all those teams there," Reyes said. "We got blown out in most of those games, but I always like competing against the the best.

"This year was good too. I got to play in the state tournament for the first time, to experience that playoff environment. It was a good way to finish high school."

Once he arrived at the game, Reyes stepped up to the plate with runners on second and third base in the bottom of the fifth inning and his team trailing, 4-3. Reyes – an outfielder and also Long Branch’s No. 1 pitcher – scalded a line drive into right field to plate both runners and give the National side a 5-4 lead it would eventually grow to 10-4.

Point Boro shortstop Connor Cilento contributed RBI singles in each of the next two innings, with Middletown North second baseman Colby McMahon also adding an RBI single in the sixth to stretch the National lead to 7-4.

Howell outfielder Russell Halvorsen smoked a two-run triple to dead centerfield to make it 9-4 in the seventh before Cilento pushed the lead to 10-4 with his second RBI single.

2023 Shore Conference Senior All-Stars. (Photo: Matt Manley)
2023 Shore Conference Senior All-Stars. (Photo: Matt Manley)

Reyes hit in the eighth spot in the batting order, which was a productive position in the lineup for the National squad. Prior to Reyes delivering the two-run single, Colts Neck outfielder Tyler Spencer went 2-for-2 with an RBI triple and two runs scored.

Spencer’s triple got the National side on the board in the bottom of the second inning and he scored the tying run on an RBI double by Wall first baseman Zach Szatkowski. He again scored the tying run in the fourth, when Raritan third baseman Billy Tigar ripped a line drive that glanced off Central pitcher Tyler Bell and carried into centerfield for an RBI single.

The American team took three separate leads in the early innings, starting with a solo home run by Toms River North first baseman Ty Kazanowsky in the top of the first inning. Shore Regional third baseman Jeff Barham followed with a long double to rightfield and scored on a two-out RBI single by Southern Regional centerfielder Brandon Brown.

The American All-Stars regained the lead, 3-2, in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Brick outfielder Will Meade and again in the fifth on an RBI double by Donovan Catholic outfielder Ryan Butchko, which ended with Butchko out at third base attempting to stretch the hit into a triple.

Trailing 10-4 heading into the eighth inning, the American side got a run back when St. John Vianney outfielder Matt Recco singled, stole second and scored on two wild pitches. In the ninth, the American squad pulled to within 10-7, but Monmouth Regional right-hander Joey Esposito finished off the victory with a pair of strikeouts.

With the win already in hand, the National All-Stars were allowed to hit in the bottom of the ninth inning and put on a show with nothing but pitchers going up to the plate. Ocean right-hander Matt King – who started the game and was a reliable hitter for the Spartans this season – roped a double that struck the shortstop, Toms River South’s Justin Diaz, in the leg and bounced away.

That was just a warm-up act for Rumson-Fair Haven closer Matt Bruno. The right-hander got exactly zero at-bats during the high school season and in his lone at-bat on Wednesday night, he crushed a two-run home run over the leftfield fence to cap the scoring at 13-7.

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