The 42nd New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches Senior All-Star Game pulled into Flemington on Tuesday for the eighth consecutive year and shined its bright talented light on Diamond Nation.
The marriage between the NJSBCA and Diamond Nation has been an excellent one and the all-star games have thrived at the state’s top baseball complex.
The Senior All-Star Game honors the top 100 seniors in New Jersey during a great night of baseball in which the New Jersey coaches also honor their own and those who’ve made significant contributions to the state’s high school baseball community.
Four teams representing the Northeast, Northwest, Central and South areas of state compete in a pair of games that showcase the talents of high school baseball best in the Garden State.
As always, DiamondNaton.com brings you the sights, sounds and happenings of the Senior All-Star Games.
The Central team’s Christian Petrillo of North Brunswick and Devin Hack of Somerville put on a speed show in the seventh inning of their team’s game against the Northwest entry. Petrillo doubled to put runners on second and third and seemed to be standing on second before the ball landed. Hack followed with a two-run single that boosted the lead to 6-0.
The speedy Hack, bound for Seton Hall University, went 2-for-3 with two singles and nearly beat out a routine grounder to shortstop in his last at bat in the ninth. Hack, a longtime Diamond Jack, has played hundreds of games at Diamond Nation.
“It’s always great to be on the big stage,” said Hack, the quintessential leadoff man, “especially with all these great players. I love playing against great competition and getting in the box against the best pitchers. That’s what makes it fun. Tonight is a little bit saying goodbye to high school and enjoying playing with these guys one more time.”
Old Bridge’s Sonny Fauci set the tone in the Central team’s 7-1 victory over the Northwest when he struck out Westfield’s Matt McIntyre, Nutley’s Marty Higgins and Morristown’s Tate Ballestero in order in the top of the first inning. Fauci, a 6-3, 190 righty, will play for St. John’s in September.
The Central’s pitching staff, in fact, was a rugged, unforgiving one. It shut out the Northwest squad through seven innings, keeping its opponent off the board until Phillipsburg Jack Stagaard hit a blast off Notre Dame’s Robbie Buecker over the left field fence for a solo home run in the top of the eighth inning.
“I was actually expecting a curveball and got a fastball up,” said Stagaard, who knows a few things about making adjustments. Stagaard completed 174 of 286 passes for 2,428 yards and 24 TDs for Phillipsburg’s sectional champion football team.
The Central staff boasted such studs as Notre Dame bound Liam Simon of Freehold Township, Old Dominion bound Joey DeChiaro of Hunterdon Central, Monmouth University bound Trey Dombroski of Wall and St. John’s bound Fauci of Old Bridge.
DeChiaro had a 1-2-3 fifth with two strikeouts and Simon pitched a scoreless eighth, permitting just a two-out walk. DeChiaro’s high school teammate, Pete Ciuffreda, got three at bats with the Central team but came up empty.
Jacob Ciccone (Lafayette) of South Brunswick induced two pop-ups and struck out a batter in a clean inning, too, for the Central team.
Lilo Paxia of Gloucester Catholic and a former Diamond Jack ripped an RBI single off the Northeast’s Ryan Ramsey to shave the deficit to 2-1 in a game the South would go on to win 7-3. Ramsey threw a one-hitter in Pascack Hill’s 2-0 victory over Point Pleasant Boro in the Group 2 final three days early. Paxia is headed to Florida State and Ramsey is bound for Maryland.
Joe Cardinale was one of the Northwest team’s coaches. Cardinale, a West Essex grad, just completed his first year as head coach of Cedar Grove (12-11). The former Montville head coach (2010-’18) has settled in nicely as the team’s head man having taught business at the Essex County school since 2008.
“I’m thrilled to be in the same building where I’m coaching,” said Cardinale. “It’s great to have immediate contact with my players throughout the day.”
Eastern coach Rob Christ was called out of the bullpen at the last minute to help coach the South’s entry at the Senior All-Star Game. Christ’s Eastern team fell to Ridgewood, 2-1, three days earlier in the NJSIAA Group 4 final.
During a pitching change by the Northeast team in the bottom of the fifth, the classy Christ left his coaching box to congratulate Ridgewood’s Kevin Seitter, who was playing third base. Seitter limited Eastern to one run on two hits over 5.2 innings in the state final.
Ridgewood coach Kurt Hommen was across the diamond from Christ but this time Hommen was on the other side of the fence enjoying the festivities. “After going through the wringer the past couple weeks, this is a nice night,” said Hommen, his Group 3 champion plaque in hand. Hommen was watching his players Kevin Seitter and Sam Favieri play.
Seitter threw 108 pitches against Eastern so could not pitch last night, but was inserted at third base. Favieri drove in a run and closed out the state final with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Sights you only see at a Senior All-Star Game included West Morris shortstop Aiden Healy having a catch in the bullpen mid-game with Roxbury’s third baseman Will Findlay. Their teams met last week in a Group 4 semifinals grinder won by West Morris, 5-4. West Morris coach Tom Reindel, nearby, said, “That’s pretty cool.”
Sights you never see at the Senior All-Star Game but understand how it can happen includes Shawnee’s Jack Balzan wearing his Burlington County uniform from the Carpenter Cup. Balzan looked sharp if not a little misplaced.
“We turned in our uniforms at Shawnee already,” said Balzan. “We had a game today in the Carpenter Cup and I just came right here.”
Certainly some players on the Northeast team who the South was competing against simply figured Burlington County was ‘some school from South Jersey.’
Mario Diez, the longtime Watchung Hills coach, was named the Joseph Hartmann Man of the Year. Diez won 476 games from 1980-1998 and 2004-2014 at the Somerset County school. That included three sectional championships, four Somerset County Tournament titles and seven Skyland Conference championships.
His peers named Diez New Jersey Baseball Coach of the Year in 1982. Diez threw out the first pitch of the game last night.
“It’s obviously an honor,” said Diez of the award after throwing his pitch off the outside corner and in the dirt. “When you think about your career you don’t think about it ending up this way. I thank my players. They made this possible. It’s always been all about the kids.”
Hall of Famers: Legendary coaches Phil Baccarella (440 wins), Bayonne, Bill Frank (520 wins), Toms River East, Norm Hewitt (631), Hillsborough, Joseph Policastro (429), Highland Park, and Jack Shaw (279), Roselle Park were a highly impressive 2019 class to enter the NJSBCA Hall of Fame.
Mike Stang Service Award winners included Jerry “Wahoo” Barker, longtime umpire and coach, Dean Ehehalt, Monmouth University coach, Bill Gore, West Deptford coach, Art Polakowski, longtime (44 years) Independent Press sportswriter, and Peter Zubiaurre, longtime coach and umpire.
Barker’s family was present to receive his honor. The amiable former Newark Tech coach and umpire was a tremendously giving soul to both the sport he loved and his fellow man. Jerry died on April 21 at the age of 61.