Senior All-Star Games remain forever a New Jersey gem

By Bob Behre | June 14, 2023

Robbie Carvelli of St. Joseph (Met.) drills a double in the fifth inning of the Senior All-Star Games.

When the NJSIAA pulled the plug this winter on the Senior All-Star Game after more than four decades of honoring New Jersey’s senior baseball players, the baseball coaches simply wouldn’t have it.

Belleville coach Joe Sorce quickly became the front man, mover and shaker to continue to hold dear a tradition the state’s baseball coaches felt was too important to discard.

Certainly, the sudden canceling of the Senior All-Star Game lit a spark among the coaches, who quickly gathered and, before long, put together a much-needed and long-desired association, a group aligned to make sure the student athletes they serve were put in the best position to succeed.

The names Pat Laguerre, Jeff Falzarano, Bill Gore, Ryan Muirhead, Chris Roof, Brian Chapman, Sam Tropiano, Chris Banos, Vinnie Abene, Jim McDermott and Mike Rooney, among others, will be remembered years from now for quickly scraping together this all-important association. But it will be Sorce who is rightly credited for providing the impetus to re-solidify, indeed save, the Senior All-Star Games.

“After I heard the (NJSIAA) wasn’t going to run the Senior games anymore, Joe was the first person I called,” said Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof, an assistant vice president in the newly formed New Jersey High School Baseball Coaches Association. “Joe got the ball rolling and we put a strong group of coaches together who wanted to be part of the new association.”

Sorce had been involved with the NJSIAA-run All-Star Games over the years as a coach and continues to have a huge hand in the annual Union-Essex-Middlesex-Hudson All-Star Games, set for June 28 this year.

“Many great men have been involved with the game, so I felt it was important for the current and future coaches to do everything we can to continue traditions and strengthen the game of baseball in New Jersey,” said Sorce.

Jim McDermott, Mount Olive/West Morris receives Northwest Service Award from Joe Sorce of NJHSBCA.

Sorce has truly taken the All-Star game to heart.

“Joe ran every meeting, reached out to the powers that be, so we could run this game and put all the coaches in charge of certain aspects of the game,” said Roof. “Joe was a rock star putting this together.”

More importantly, said Sorce, “The All-Star Game is an opportunity for these outstanding seniors to be honored and showcase their their talents.”

The 45th Senior All-Star Games delivered as it always has in providing a final, often sentimental, send off to the top seniors in the state. Diamond Nation’s Fields 1 and 3 served as an excellent setting as fans were able to easily bounce between fields to catch brilliant baseball at every turn.

Ian Kaiser of Montville leads off first base after a single to start the game for the Northwest squad.

The bottomline, of course, is the players, who have always embraced this game and did exactly that last night on a perfect night in Flemington.

This writer took in his 35th Senior All-Star Games, the last 11 of which have been with Diamond Nation as its host. Here are some of the sights and sounds of the evening.

Derek Lazier of Vernon of the Northeast team unloaded a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to knot, at 3-3, a very competitive game with the Central squad. The nine-inning game ended that way.

The loaded South Jersey team cruised to an 8-1 victory over the Northwest. Tanner Nolan of Gloucester Catholic was among the potent arms deployed to limit the Northwest squad to one run.

Nolan permitted that run, which was unearned, on no hits, struck out one and walked one fresh off his outstanding performance in Gloucester Catholic’s 10-0 victory over St. Mary of Rutherford in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game on Saturday.

Noah Baird of Hunterdon Central delivers a pitch for the Central squad in the NJHSBCA Senior All-Star Games

“It’s been pretty fun the last week and a half with the state games and tonight,” said Nolan, a lefty bound for Crowder College, a junior college in Missouri. “Everyone is playing hard tonight. It’s just a bunch of dudes playing ball.”

Nolan will play with Brooklawn Legion this summer.

Noah Baird of Hunterdon Central, a longtime Diamond Jack and a pitcher for the Central team, looked very solid in a scoreless inning in which he surrendered a walk and struck out one batter as he sported an 86-87 mile per-hour fastball. Baird is the rare senior in these games who has an unclear baseball future.

“I was getting just one inning, so I just let it go,” he said, “showcasing what I had. It was great to be out there playing with and getting to know the kids we’ve faced all year.”

Baird will attend Fairfield University in Connecticut and is hoping to show off his ever-improving pitching chops as a walk-on.

“I’m working with my pitching coach right now,” said Baird. “I want to be the best version of myself by the fall.” Baird is working with Diamond Nation’s pitcher director Steve Schrenk to fine tune things like his command.

Connor Byrne of Ridge and the Central team pitched a 1-2-3 inning two days before he was scheduled to pitch for the Trenton Generals in the ACBL. Byrne is coming off a terrific senior season and has a busy summer ahead before heading to Siena.

“This is great,” he said. “It’s an honor to play with and against the best guys around. I just looked at this like a throw day. It’s cool to be in the same dugout with guys you are used to seeing in the opposite dugout. This really is ending my high school career on a high note.”

Umpire Larry Litwin receives South Jersey Servivre Award from Sam Tropiano of NJHSBCA.

Montville’s Ian Kaiser was seen doing what we’ve seen him do since he was 12 or so years old. Kaiser, a longtime Diamond Jack, concluded an outstanding career at Montville High a week ago in a wild state tournament loss to eventual Group 3 champion Morris Knol

Kaiser led off the game for the Northwest team with a hard single. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, made a mad dash toward the center field wall to chase down a long shot by Bishop Eustace’s Raphael Rodgers.

“I’m enjoying this, playing at Diamond Nation for the last time against some great players,” said Kaiser, who is bound for Division 1 Binghamton. Kaiser is an all-around threat as a pitcher and outstanding outfielder and hitter.

Catcher Brendan Buecker of Notre Dame will never need a courtesy runner, as he exhibited by his base running in the top of the eighth for the Central team. Buecker rocked a one-out double into the right-center field gap, then alertly advanced to third on a passed ball with Gill St. Bernard’s Zach Wendell at the plate.

When the lefty-hitting Wendell swung through a breaking ball in the dirt for strike three, the catcher scooped the ball up and fired to first base for the out. But Buecker broke immediately for the plate as the ball left the catcher’s hand and dove safely across home plate ahead of the return throw.

Parker Snare of North Hunterdon receives Central Jersey Hall of Fame plague from NJHSBCA president Pat Laguerre.

“How’d you like that,” asked Buecker’s Notre Dame coach Joe Drulis. “Isn’t he a heck of a player?” Buecker will play at Monmouth University in the fall. His older brother, Robbie, was an outstanding pitcher at Notre Dame High before going to West Point. Robbie was a senior at Army this spring and went 5-4 on the mound with a 3.66 ERA.

Jimmy Mulvaney of St. Joseph (Mont.) had a fun time playing against future Fairfield University teammate Aiden Bagliano of Bergen Catholic and the Northeast squad. While Mulvaney struck out the Northeast side with a nasty mix of submarine junk that would make Jersey Mike’s cringe in fear, Bagliano had some fun, first.

Bagliano, a catcher, reached on a single and took second when the ball got past an outfielder. He stole third and scored on a passed ball as the Central catcher was having fits with Mulvaney’s junk traveling simultaneously north and west.

Mulvaney covered the plate for the throw back from the backstop and wound up on top of Bagliano.

“We were both cracking up,” said Mulvaney, “and busting each other’s chops while laying there on each other.” It was not Mulvaney’s first tangle with Bagliano.

“When we played Bergen last year, I hit him in the head with a pitch.” This is how future team chemistry is made in baseball.

Mulvaney followed Bagliano’s mad dash around the bases with three straight strikeouts, as he said, “on all sliders and sinkers. It was a super fun game.”

Martin Howell of Watchung Hills, a 6-2, 190 catcher bound for Penn State, singled and grounded out in his two at bats and caught three innings behind the plate. He also stole second after the single to remind us of his own boundless athletic ability.

“This was the best baseball I saw all year,” said Howell, another longtime Diamond Jack. “It’s the best pitching and it’s a faster pace, something I think helps me get ready for next year. It was also fun playing on the same team as Jimmy (Mulvaney), Robbie (Carvelli) and Connor Byrnes.”

William Bills of Timothy Christian receives Central Jersey Service Award from NJHSBCA president Pat Laguerre.

Howell leaves for Penn State on June 25 and anticipates taking “a class or two” as he begins preparation for his fall baseball season in State College, Pa. “We’ll do some intersquad stuff this summer with the freshmen.”

Robbie Carvelli of St. Joseph (Mont.) and a longtime Diamond Jack, looks more athletic every time we see him. The Lehigh-bound outfielder was murder batting second in the Falcons lineup this spring.

He came to the plate with a runner on first base in the top of the fifth inning against Anthony Morano of DePaul Catholic and quickly launched a blast over the center fielder’s head for a grounds rule double.

“This is a very cool game,” said Carvelli after trotting in from left field at the bottom of the inning. “It’s an amazing experience. You’re just looking for strikes up there, knowing everyone you face is a good pitcher.”

Carvelli will be busy all summer playing four-to-five games a week in, primarily, center field with the Trenton Generals in the ACBL.

Keith Williams of Rutgers Camden/Maple Shade receives SJ Service Award from NJHSBCA’s Sam Tropiano.

Honorees: The NJHSCA honored nine men for their careers and service to the sport of high school baseball.

Frank Malta of Jackson and A.L. Johnson was named the Man of the Year. The Hall of Fame Inductees were Jerry Battaglini (Northwest), Newark Central, Columbia, Newark East Side, Tony Ferrainolo (Northeast), Memorial (W.N.Y), and Parker Snare (Central), North Hunterdon.

The Service Awards honorees were Jim McDermott (Northwest), Mount Olive/West Morris Central, Mickey Hunt (Northeast), Ramapo, William Bills (Central), Timothy Christian, Larry Litwin (South), Umpire/S.J. Coaches Association, and Keith Williams (South), Rutgers Camden/Maple Shade.

Battaglini, the second winningest public school coach in Essex County history at 473 victories, resides in Florida now, but came north a few days early for the event and had a reunion of his former players and coaches in Newark.

“We met at Taste of Portugal in Newark,” said Battaglini, the choice of restaurant always integral to the event. “We had kids (now men, fathers and even some grandfathers) there from five decades of my teams.” Battaglini

Neil Midtgard, and an assistant and clinician with Battaglini over the years, was at the reunion as well as the Senior All-Star Games.

Jerry Battaglini of Newark Central/East Side and Columbia receives Hall of Fame plaque from Joe Sorce.
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