by Andrew Garda
Baseball returned to Montclair during the week of July 13, as Montclair squads joined teams from across New Jersey who are taking part in The Last Dance World Series.
Montclair Kimberly Academy and the Mounties-Errico Baseball Club, which is composed of both recently graduated seniors and underclassmen from Montclair High School took part in the 222-team baseball tournament aiming to give the senior class of 2020 one more opportunity to take the field. It is not sanctioned by the NJSIAA, and is run by the United States Specialty Sports Association.
There have been two main rules changes for the tournament. First, teams will be allowed to bat as many as 11 players and make unlimited defensive substitutions. This is to allow coaches to give as many kids a chance to play as possible.
Second, there is no pitch count or innings limit. Since 2017, the NJSIAA has limited pitchers to 110 pitches in a single outing and 140 pitches over a five-day period. That is not the case for the tournament.
The crosstown rival Mounties and Cougars collided at Nishuane Park on Wednesday, July 15, with MHS coming out on top, 4-2.
Montclair had been on a tear since opening day on July 14, when they beat Kushner Academy 9-2 in the first round of the Montclair regional. After the win against MKA, the team went on to play another rival, Seton Hall Prep, for the regional title.
Montclair had beaten Seton Hall to win the Greater Newark Tournament in 2019, decimating the Pirates 12-1 in five innings.
It took a few extra innings this time out, but MHS “defended” its title with a 6-5 win.
Patrick Errico, who is sponsoring the team for Montclair, said it was a great performance by the Mounties.
“The team was able to execute on a couple key bunts in the 9th inning by 2020 graduate Patrick Jordan and 2020 graduate Nick Urquijo to help propel us to victory,” he wrote in an email. “We also had great pitching performances by rising seniors Sean Brown and Jeremy Sacks.”
After securing the regional title, Montclair became one of 56 teams advancing out of the pool round.
Montclair then took on Cranford at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater.
Unfortunately, Cranford was too much and Montclair struggled defensively, falling 13-9.
For recent graduate Ethan Greengrass, even the loss didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“We went from no season to beating Seton Hall Prep on a huge stage, to playing in a minor league stadium,” he said via text Tuesday night. “I’ll take it.”
To keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament has instituted precautions.
Home-plate umpires called games from behind the pitcher’s mound instead of from behind the catcher during the initial pool play and may continue doing so in later rounds.
All participants will have their temperatures taken by paid certified athletic trainers upon arrival at every site before every game. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be sent home. Players and coaches are required to wear masks in the dugout and social distance as much as possible.
Two teams from the Jersey Shore — Point Pleasant Borough and Middletown South — had to drop out of Tuesday’s round of 16 because some players may have had contact with people with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As a result, masks are required to enter every Last Dance World Series site from Tuesday onward.
Masks are required in lines to get tickets, at concessions and in bathrooms, and in the concourse. As long as people are socially distanced, masks are not required in the stands.
“When a team is in the field, the players (remaining in the dugouts) can social distance properly and masks are not required. When a team is at bat, everyone in the dugout must wear a mask — that includes players and coaches,” said tournament committee member J.T. Kroeger.
The tournament provides masks and hand sanitizer to players, coaches and officials if they need them. If guidelines are not followed, officials will halt the game until they are.