Baseball – Last Dance Week 1 Notes: Reilly’s CBA Finale; Neptune, Donovan Among Surprise Teams; Plus More
There was not a throng of Major League scouts positioned behind home plate, radar guns drawn and pointed in the direction of the 6-foot-4 flamethrower who took the mound Wednesday at Christian Brothers Academy.
Were there an actual 2020 high-school baseball season, that would have been the scene anytime CBA right-hander Pat Reilly made a start. After committing to Vanderbilt University in the fall, Reilly was drawing significant interest from Major League clubs before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the season down for good. The MLB Draft was later condensed into five rounds and the combination of the reduction in selections and Reilly’s strong commitment to play in college kept all 30 MLB teams from calling his name in June.
Instead, Reilly went back to work preparing for his next season, which will now be in Nashville with arguably the premier college program in the country. First, though, his CBA team was entered in the Last Dance World Series – one last chance for a talented collection of Colts seniors to play for a championship together. Even with a career at a major program just over the horizon and a possible early draft selection a couple of years further down the road, Reilly made it a point to be a part of the Last Dance with his fellow Lincroft Colts.
“This week was all for fun,” Reilly said. “There is a time and a place for everything and this week, with everything that has happened, this week was about coming out and having fun with our brothers for one more run. Obviously, I’m going to go out and be competitive like I am anything I step between the lines, but these innings were a little less stressful.”
Reilly’s lone appearance on the mound during the tournament came Wednesday against the Wall Knights and in his three innings of work, Reilly worked off some rust to flash his mid-90’s fastball and sharp slider during a scoreless appearance. He threw only 31 of 57 pitches for strikes and allowed five baserunners (three hits and two walks) but struck out six and was untouchable when faced with a scoring threat from Wall.
With no scouts there to evaluate him – a condition Reilly was starting to get used to over the previous year – there was no need to ramp up his fastball to max velocity. Still, it has become so much a part of his routine that Reilly felt it necessary to ramp up during his first inning of work.
“The first inning, I’m always thinking about running it up there before I settle in,” Reilly said. “Usually, my mid-week bullpens, I throw 10-to-15 pitches and my focus is on the velocity. Personally, when I go out in a game, my goal isn’t to throw as hard as I can. It’s more about feel and executing pitches consistency. Whether I’m throwing 89 or 94, if I’m executing my pitches, that’s what matters to me.”
Another of the reasons Reilly felt so compelled to play in the Last Dance was to get a chance to swing the bat in a competitive setting for one last time. He made the most of his chance by slugging three doubles out of CBA’s leadoff spot in the first two games, including a pair of ringing RBI doubles in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over Wall.
“I was just thinking about swinging as hard as I could and hitting the ball hard,” Reilly said. “It’s the last time I’ll get to bat in a competitive situation so I didn’t want to get cheated on any of my swings.”
Reilly’s combination of pitching and hitting during the Last Dance might not have been the most noteworthy performance for the Lincroft Colts. Senior Robert Beam got his first ever start with the Colts on Tuesday against Mater Dei Prep and threw a shutout with 11 strikeouts to pitch the Lincroft team past the Seraphs.
Worth the Wait: Neptune Makes Most of Two Games
Brian Young had to wait four months to finally take the ball as Neptune’s opening-day starter so when the junior and his teammates found out they would not be playing during Tuesday’s opening-day of pool play in the Last Dance World Series, it was yet another 24 hours they would have to wait to get back on the field for actual game action.
On Wednesday against Red Bank Catholic’s entry into the tournament, Young and his squad made sure the long wait was worth it.
Young threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings and sophomore Ryan Cole posted 3 1/3 scoreless frames as the Scarlet Fliers outlasted host RBC Baseball, 3-0, in the first of their two Last Dance games.
“We were disappointed we didn’t get to play (on Tuesday),” Young said. “We were all looking forward to getting to finally play so we were pumped to come back (Wednesday), especially playing RBC under the lights. I think having to wait another day just made us come out even more pumped and with even more energy.”
Young pitched into the sixth inning and exited with runners on first and second after chucking 85 pitches. Cole entered, walked the next batter, and retired Miami-bound catcher Chris Sparber on a fly out to center to end the threat.
For eight innings, Neptune had no answer for RBC senior starter Jared Terefenko, who threw 124 pitches in his eight dominant innings. When Terefenko finally came out in the ninth, however, Neptune pounced.
Seniors Rocco Richard, John Gannon and Jack Smith all walked to open the inning and Connor Maloney slapped a single through the left side to plate Richard with the game’s first run. Senior Thomas Gamba-Ellis then came through with an RBI single to right-center and Cole capped the scoring in the top of the ninth with a sacrifice fly to center.
Cole worked around a single by losing pitcher Rob Gonzalez to close out the game.
Gamba-Ellis went from one of Neptune’s offensive heroes on Wednesday to doing it all on Thursday when the Scarlet Fliers took on the Blue and Grey of Howell with a spot in the South Jersey round of 16 on the line. Gamba-Ellis allowed one run over five innings and left with his team tied, 1-1, with the lone Neptune run coming when Gamba-Ellis ripped an RBI double to left field.
With Gamba-Ellis out of the game, Howell scratched a pair of runs across in the bottom of the sixth and denied Neptune a pass into the second week of the tournament.
Neptune was robbed of a game in the tournament when Red Bank’s Bucs Baseball club had to withdrawn because of concerns one of its players might have been exposed to the coronavirus, leaving Neptune without an opponent on Tuesday but giving the Fliers a bye into Wednesday’s game vs. RBC. Despite getting only two games, Neptune’s senior core of Gannon, Richard, Jett Tinik, Smith and Gamba-Ellis got to play two highly-competitive games against quality opponents and went out with an admirable showing. Gannon, Richard and Tinik have all been varsity contributors since they were freshmen and this past week was a chance for Gamba-Ellis to make his mark before moving on.
As for Young and Cole, both showed the prospects in 2021 are bright with the left-right, one-two punch heading up the rotation.
Point Boro Shows What Could Have Been
At the end of the 2019, it was hard to envision Point Pleasant Boro being as good when the Panthers came back in 2020. In three games last week, they showed that the spring of 2020 might have exceeded 2019 – arguably the best season in program history.
That optimism stemmed from the addition of three key players who all made major contributions during the pool-play round last week. Senior transfers Oscar Scott and Kyle Fisher each delivered big hits during the course of the week and freshman Connor Cilento finished 6-for-9 while hitting out of the leadoff spot in the order.
Scott hit two two-run doubles during the week – the second of which tied Thursday’s game vs. Donovan Catholic at 5-5 in the bottom of the third inning. The Shore Regional transfer also threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in that win.
“I got to play with these guys in (American) Legion Ball last summer so I was excited to come out and play with them this year,” Scott said. “I was expecting to be one of the top pitchers and a top-three outfielder, hit in the middle of the order so I was excited. It was surprising to have the season taken away the way it was, but it’s great to have an opportunity to compete in this tournament.”
Point Boro played last week without St. John’s commit and entrenched staff ace Nick Guzzi, who would have been set to join the team in Tuesday’s South Jersey section round of 16. Guzzi would have joined a staff that showed its depth during the week without him, led by Sam Young, Cole Young, Scott, Matt DeWitte and A.J. Hernandez.
Unfortunately, Point Boro’s quest to validate its standing as one of the South’s best programs ended prematurely after the team withdrew from the tournament because of a player on its roster testing positive for COVID-19.
Griffins Bats Set the Tone for Last Dance Run
The Last Dance was going to be a chance for the Griffins Baseball Team from Donovan Catholic to show off its deep pitching staff that had another offseason to develop under second-year coach Corey Hamman.
Naturally, they scored eight runs in their first turn to the plate of the tournament.
Donovan Catholic’s squad opened eyes at the Bayville Regional with an offensive outburst in a 17-5 win over a Tuckerton-Little Egg Harbor squad made up of Pinelands players, including a first-inning eruption that set the tone for a strong week for the Griffins. Gavin Degnan clobbered a two-run double during that first inning and junior Joe Payne and junior Tyler Hmielewski each drove in three runs in the game, with Payne doubling twice and Hmielewski once.
As it happens, Donovan Catholic did put its deep pitching staff on display in winning its first two games in the Last Dance. Senior Matt Weeden was the first of five pitchers to throw one inning in the win over Tuckerton-Little Egg Harbor, then Shaun O’Keefe and Bob Nosti each threw three scoreless, one-hit frames in a 2-0 win over Central on Wednesday night. Matt Colucci closed out the win by allowing the tying runs to reach base and stranding them to nail down the save.
Degnan again came through with an RBI single in Donovan Catholic’s two-run fourth that accounted for all of the scoring in the game.
“We came into this year thinking we had a chance to win the division if we could beat Point Boro, so we were confident we could win some games this week and maybe get a chance to play them,” senior outfielder Liam Leonard said. “It’s disappointing to go out like this, especially getting out to a big lead. But we’re happy we got to play and we ended up have a pretty good week. It’s definitely something we’ll be able to remember in a positive way.”
In Thursday’s pool-play championship vs. Class B South rival Point Boro, Donovan Catholic stormed out to another big lead with a five-run top-of-the-third against the team that won the Ocean County Tournament title and reached the NJSIAA Group II final in 2019. Leonard came up with the key hit in the inning, a two-run single to make it 3-0.
Point Boro, however, responded with five runs of its own in the bottom of the third and came back with three more in the third en route to a 9-5 victory.
Nosti, Colucci and Wednesday starter Andrew Castro are all set to return as seniors in 2021 and O’Keefe will be a junior, giving the Griffins a promising core of pitching. Meanwhile, seniors like Leonard, Weeden, first baseman Christian McElroy and shortstop Mike Farinaccio got a chance to go out on a high note – even if they were hoping on a chance to play more games during the second week of the tournament.
“We were a little under .500 last year and we thought this year was going to be a big step for the program,” Leonard said. “We had some guys leave but Corey (Hamman) is getting some good players here and it’s just a matter of time before this team is going to be really good.”
Pasculli, Wright Headline Returning Standouts from SJV
Although it did not make it to next week, St. John Vianney’s RBI Baseball squad showed plenty of promise last week, particularly two players who will be returning as seniors in 2021.
Tom Wright started RBI’s opener and made headlines with six no-hit innings and 10 strikeouts. Junior Evan Pollack followed with three strikeouts in the seventh to complete the combined no-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over St. Rose.
Junior third baseman Matteo Pasculli – who transferred to St. John Vianney from Manalapan for the 2019-20 school year – started off a torrid week at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a home run in the Tuesday win. He then went 3-for-3 with a double and a triple in Wednesday’s 7-3 loss vs. Howell’s Blue and Grey and capped his Last Dance performance by going 1-for-2 with a triple and two walks in an 8-3 win over RBC. In the three games last week, Pasculli went a combined 6-for-8 with a double, two triples and a home run.
Sophomore shortstop Dan Affilito delivered a three-run home run to go with a double in Thursday’s win at Count Basie Park and left-handed ace Ryan Sekman struck out 10 while pitching into the sixth inning. Pollack also gave his team two innings of relief on Wednesday, in which he allowed one unearned run on four hits and no walks while striking out three.
The production by a group of players that will, in large part, be back in 2021 was encouraging for St. John Vianney, even more so because standout sophomore and Louisville commit Rocko Brzezniak was in Georgia during the first week of the tournament.
Kane, Manalapan Junior Class Reveal Bright 2021 Outlook
Tasked with one of the toughest draws of any No. 1 seed in South Jersey, the Monmouth Monarchs – comprised of players from Manalapan High School – turned in a strong showing that would appear to bode well for the Braves in 2021.
The Monarchs rallied from early deficits in each of their wins over Robbinsville and Allentown on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, but it was the performance of a 5-foot-8 sophomore right-hander that stood out.
Tyler Kane entered Tuesday’s game in the top of the sixth inning with his team protecting a 3-2 lead and proceeded to strike out all six batters he faced to notch the save. Kane came back two days later against a menacing Jackson Jags offense and got the game under control by pitching 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, during which he allowed three hits (all singles), a walk and struck out three.
Manalapan’s juniors also had a big tournament as a group. Returning starter and All-A-North infielder Tom Guidice clocked an extra-base hit in each of the first two games – a double with a run scored in the first game and a three-run triple in the win over Allentown. Outfielder Chris Marzo came through with the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the fifth inning on Tuesday vs. Robbinsville, then went 2-for-2 with a walk in Thursday’s loss to Jackson. Ken Sclafani, meanwhile, delivered a big two-run single in Wednesday’s six-run sixth inning and Rutgers commit Joe Mazza checked in with a double in that game as well.
Juniors Justine Simone and Nick DiMaggio combined for the first six innings on the mound on Wednesday vs. Allentown and neither allowed an earned run. Simone fell in a 2-0 hole when two unearned run scored in the top of the first. He then settled in and allowed three hits and two walks while striking out three in three innings of work.
DiMaggio picked up the well-deserved win in relief by striking out four in three scoreless innings while allowing just two baserunners – one on a hit and another via a walk.
The outgoing seniors were also a significant part of the action for the Monarchs in the past week. Princeton-bound shortstop Nick DiPietrantonio drove in three runs in the three games, including a 2-for-3 night with two RBI in the loss to Jackson. He also got the Tuesday comeback started with a fourth-inning RBI single that cut the Robbinsville lead to 2-1.
Catcher Dylan Hode had a strong game vs. Allentown, going 1-for-1 with two walks and three runs scored, while battery-mate Marc Rivera threw 3 1/3 shutout innings with one hit, one walk and four strikeouts to pick up the win and set the stage for Kane in the sixth and seventh. Rivera’s performance was particularly satisfying considering he missed most of his junior season due to injury.
For a team that did not advance into next week’s Last Dance regional round of 16, the Monarchs walked of FirstEnergy Park with a lot to be happy about and plenty to look forward to.
Shanes Passes the Torch to Young RFH Teammates
As the only senior starter and the only one of Rumson’s three returning starting pitchers to join the RFH Bulldogs for the Last Dance World Series, Kevin Shanes shouldered a heavy load in the three games last week – particularly in the Tuesday opener against the Hazlet Renegades, featuring players from Raritan High School.
“It was a lot like starting on a regular opening day, maybe even more exciting because we have been itching to play for four months now,” Shanes said. “Guys were fired up.”
Shanes battled through five innings on 86 pitches and picked up the win against Hazlet and recorded another two outs two days later in a 4-3 loss to Colts Neck while also going 1-for-2 at the plate. The left-hander was also the only Rumson player to notch a hit in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Matawan. It was a worthy farewell trio of games for the only senior starter in the promising, underclass-heavy program.
“We definitely came out to compete this week,” Shanes said. “In the future, there is a lot of promise with this group. The Shore Conference better watch out.”
Before departing after the fifth inning on Tuesday, the RFH lineup gave Shanes a 4-0 lead with a big third-inning rally. Juniors Thomas Elgrim and Brian Doherty had the two big swings – Elgrim a two-run double to right-centerfield and Doherty a two-run triple to right.
“Crazy-good performance by Shane in his first start of the year,” Doherty said. “He gave us five good innings and we were able to piece it together from there, get some big hits and come up with the win.”
Hazlet got two runs back against Shanes in the fifth on a two-run single by Justin Rivera and scratched another across in the sixth against freshman reliever John Goodes, who bounced back with a one-two-three seventh to nail down the save.
Junior shortstop Andrew Schmid also made an impact last week by going 4-for-7 with a double in the trio of games. His infield single on Tuesday started Rumson’s two-out rally in the third inning.
“Huge 90 by Schmid,” Doherty said. “When you see one of your top guys running hard like that to leg out a hit, that fires you up.”
“Leits, Cam…Action” for Central
Central scored a big win on their home turf Tuesday by beating Toms River East’s Raiders summer squad, 3-1, and did so behind its experienced senior duo of Dan Greene and Mike Masino.
The two seniors combined to allow one run on the mound, with Greene working the first four innings and Masino saving the game by pitching the final three innings. Greene also drew a bases-loaded walk that tied the game in the fifth and sophomore Shane Sajewicz broke the short-lived tie with a two-run single later in the inning.
Another Central sophomore made his anticipated 2020 New Jersey debut on Wednesday, when Central took on Donovan Catholic on the second day of pool play. Right-hander Cam Leiter – the son of Central pitching coach Kurt Leiter and the nephew of former big-league left-hander Al Leiter – fired 3 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and two hits allowed in his first action with Central since moving back to his family’s old stomping grounds from British Columbia, Canada.
Despite Leiter’s impressive performance, Donovan Catholic ended Central’s bid for a spot in this week’s round of 16 by riding a strong pitching performance of their own to a 2-0 win. The Golden Eagles closed up their week with a one-sided 13-2 win over Barnegat’s B Baseball.
Unexpected Heroes Carry Caseys
As far as results go, last week was a disappointing one for RBC’s Last Dance team, which went 1-2 and needed a six-run sixth-inning to beat Long Branch on Tuesday for its lone win.
A number of Caseys players, though, made some great memories over the three days – none more so than junior Dan DeFlores. With his team trailing, 4-2, DeFlores smashed a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning to propel RBC to a 6-4 win over the Green Wave and earn a Wednesday game vs. Neptune. Senior Jack Scrivanic also had a key two-run double in that six-run sixth inning by the Caseys.
On Wednesday, it was senior Jared Terefenko who stole the show by throwing 124 pitches over eight scoreless, dominant innings.
A tournament cannot be conducted during a pandemic without an overabundance of safety measures, which requires honesty from players and staff about their health. In that vain, the players and staff from the teams from Manasquan, Red Bank, Point Boro and Middletown South deserve credit for sacrificing an opportunity to play for the well-being of their communities and the other participants in the tournament.
Manasquan was the first team to take action when it feared its players had been exposed to COVID-19 and even did so in time to give another team – Wall – an opportunity to enter the tournament in place of the Warriors.
Red Bank coach Nick Tucker found out the family member of a player on his team had tested positive for the virus and alerted the tournament directors just before the start of the pool play on Tuesday. The Bucs Baseball team initially forfeited their opening an hoped to be cleared later in the week but when that was deemed not possible, they withdrew altogether.
Point Boro and Middletown South became the latest teams from the Shore area to drop out when both found out about positive tests on their teams over the weekend. In those two cases, the teams already played in games last week and it is possible those players exposed their opponents.
Middletown South manager Dean Esposito tried to keep his team in the tournament by ordering his whole roster to be tested but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advised the tournament organizers that players who tested negative were a risk until they were tested after the five-day incubation period had run its course.
Point Boro coach Dave Drew, meanwhile, decided to pull his team out before hearing of the CDC’s recommendation.
In the current climate, it is easy to get sucked into wondering how someone contracted the virus but the young people who came forward to let others know they could be carrying the virus deserve admiration for speaking up in the best interest of their communities.