The Garden State Underclass Games, sponsored since 2013 by Diamond Nation, fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring. What better time to relive the very first Underclass Games that opened this long-running classic showcase.
The story from 2013 runs below with updates on many of the players mentioned. The showcase will be back in 2021.
A baseball delicacy of sorts was delivered to the state baseball community Wednesday night when 100 of the top underclassmen in New Jersey descended upon Diamond Nation in Flemington to participate in the first Garden State Underclass Games.
Fifty or so colleges flocked to Flemington to take advantage of the large gathering of statewide talent as four 25-man teams played a pair of 10-inning games.
The South squad edged a team from the Northwest, 3-1, and the Central squad defeated a team from the Northeast, 8-1, on a perfect evening for baseball.
We provide below some sights and sound from the inaugural Garden State Underclass Baseball Games that had us all looking forward to the Games in 2014 and beyond.
Rutgers-bound Milo Freeman of Millburn, playing for the Northwest squad, exhibited impressive bat control when the righty hitter slashed a single through the right side on a hit and run in the first inning against the South’s Mark Scarpa of Washington Township.
Editor’s note: Freeman played four years at Rutgers University.
Brandon Adbul of Old Bridge laced a double into the right-center field gap to give the Central team a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first inning. The Northeast got out of the jam, though, with some impressive pitching by right-hander Matt Littrell.
Littrell struck out the Central’s Matt Tola of Lawrenceville when he fooled him with two straight change-ups.
Abdul played college ball at Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware. Editor’s note: Littrell pitched at Monmouth University.
Roxbury grad Karl Nonemaker was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt, so it’s clear he knows talent when he sees it. Nonemaker was at Diamond Nation taking in the Underclass Games to, he hopes, the benefit of Old Dominion University.
Nonemaker is an assistant coach at Old Dominion and says, he, “is trying to make in-roads in New Jersey” with the wealth of talent in the state. Nonemaker has made an impact already, landing Pat Kane of Gloucester Catholic last year. Kane was a Second Team All-State selection in 2012 in the infield.
Right-hander Victor Diaz of Perth Amboy is a red-shirt sophomore for Old Dominion.
Editor’s note: Karl Nonemaker is now an assistant coach at Auburn University.
Junior right-hander Bryan Dobzanski of Delsea is a scout’s dream. He’s 6-4, 230 pounds and throws a 90-plus fastball.
The depth of Dobzanski’s athleticism was on full display the second weekend of March in Atlantic City when he won the NJSIAA tournament’s 220-pound wrestling championship in front of nearly 12,000 fans.
At the Underclass Games, Dobzanski settled for showing off a fastball that cranked up to 93 miles per-hour during a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth in which he struck out Elizabeth’s Kevin Campbell looking and Millburn’s Nick Meo swinging before getting Montclair’s Nick Starpoli on a weak grounder to second base.
“This is a nice complex,” said Dobzanski. “I played here in SelectFest. I love it.”
Editor’s note: Dobzanski was drafted in the 29th round by St. Louis is 2014 and reached the Cardinals’ Triple-A Memphis team last summer.
PARDON ME? WHAT YEAR?
The loaded Central squad had the only two freshman playing in the Underclass Games, 6-5, 220-pound right-hander Gianluca Dalatri of Christian Brothers Academy and 6-1, 200-pound first baseman Matt Toke of Hunterdon Central.
Neither player bears any resembles to the freshman the rest of us went to high school with.
Dalatri’s fastball was clocked at 91 and threw with a fluidity that had to impress the college coaches in attendance. Toke looked comfortable at first base and went 0-for-2 with a hard grounder to third base and a strikeout.
Editor’s note: Dalatri (photo at top of page) is a redshirt junior at North Carolina and has a 10-6 career record with a 3.12 ERA. Toke is a senior and a four-year starter at first base for Seton Hall University. He boasts a .294 career batting average.
NOT MESSING AROUND
Toms River South’s junior right fielder Russell Messler broke out onto the statewide scene last spring when he earned a First Team All-State selection by The Star-Ledger. He was just a sophomore.
Messler showed all at Diamond Nation what he is capable of when he launched a no-doubt-about-it home run well over the left field fence off Randolph’s David Sacco.
“I think it was a slider,” said Messler.
Messler and Dobzanski, by the way, had an intriguing encounter a year ago when Delsea defeated Toms River South in a regular season game. Dobzanski pitched a one-hit shutout and Messler, you guessed it, had the only hit for the Indians.
WINNING WITHOUT RUCCI
Clearview’s Rocco Cornacchia and Vineland’s Joe Smith coached the South squad, but Gloucester Catholic’s first-year coach Mike Rucci was missing in action. Rucci was involved in a fender-bender on the way to Flemington and missed the game. Rucci was an All-State player out of Gloucester Catholic and an All-American at Rowan University.
ALL RAPPED UP
The Rapps of Mendham had a lot of baseball on their plate on Wednesday night.
While Delbarton’s junior right-hander Brian Rapp pitched a scoreless inning for the Northwest squad, his two younger brothers, sixth-grader Shawn and fourth-grader Jack, were back in Mendham pitching in championship games in their rec league.
“My wife has the two younger guys while I’m here,” said dad, Tom Rapp, as he worked his cell phone to the point of distress. “It’s a crazy night.”
Brian Rapp had a neat battle with Delsea’s Bryan Dobzanski, who first waved at a curveball just off the outside corner then yanked Rapp’s next curveball, which caught a little too much plate, into left field for a single.
Editor’s note: Brian Rapp played collegiately at Boston College, was drafted in 2018 by Minnesota and went 5-1 last summer for Single-A Cedar Rapids in the Midwest West League. Shawn Rapp, now a freshman at North Carolina, delivered the game winning hit and picked up the win in relief in Delbarton’s Non-Public A state championship game last June.
New Providence junior third baseman Marc Giacalone dove flat out in the hole in the top of the eighth to snare a hot shot by Toms River South’s Russell Messler on a hop. Giacalone jumped to his feet and tagged out the runner breaking from second base on what appeared to be a sure single.
The South struck for two runs later in the inning to break a 1-1 tie on the way to its 3-1 victory.
Vineland’s John Malatesta scored Eastern’s Tom Flacco from third on an RBI grounder and Matt Lutz of Maple Shade scored on a the back end of a double steal.
Editor’s note: Tom Flacco went on to play both baseball and football at Towson University.
Rutgers Prep outfielder Anthony Brocato keyed a four-run sixth inning for the Central squad with a three-run triple that broke open a tight game on the way to an 8-1 victory over the Northeast team. Brocato finished the game with two hits.
Editor’s note: After an outstanding career at St. John’s University, Brocato played in the independent Frontier League last summer.
10-INNINGS NOT ENOUGH
The scheduled 10-inning game did hold true for the contest pitting the Central and Northeast. Each team had a couple extra pitchers so decided to extend the game to 12 innings. There’s never too much baseball when the site of the games is Diamond Nation.
We’ve mentioned the South coaches, who, despite being short a coach, appeared to be having a ball at the Underclass Games.
The same could be said for the rest of the coaches assigned duties with the Central, Northwest and Northeast squads.
Immaculata’s Kevin Cust, Hamilton West’s Mark Pienciak and Hunterdon Central’s John Augusta coached the Central squad.
The Northwest team benefitted from a five-man staff that featured Millburn’s Brian Chapman, Matt Belford of Elizabeth, Ed Collins of Chatham, Pete Zoccolillo of Morris Catholic and Ron Gavazzi of Montclair.
The Northeast squad was steered by Ferris’ Mike Hogan, Jim LaRose of Bergen Catholic and Marco Mejias of Ferris.
FROM KEARNY TO TOMS RIVER
Anyone who paid attention at all to the sport of soccer in the 1980s and 90s, whether you were from Kearny, North Jersey, California or England, you knew who the goalie was for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Today we call him Toms River East middle infielder Jonathan Meola’s father, Tony.
Jonathan Meola is a 6-1, 185-pound sophomore who shows plenty of promise with the excellent athletic genes passed down from his dad, Tony Meola, who was taking in the action at the Underclass Games like any proud baseball dad – working the camera and tripod from the first base side of the field.
“We have a big weekend ahead,” said Tony Meola. “We’ll be back here this weekend for Super 16.”
Editor’s note: Jonathan Meola has had an excellent career at Stetson University in Florida where he is a redshirt senior.