By TOM WILLIAMS
(This is an updated version of this story that contains new information)
The Last Dance Tournament, a baseball competition for high school players from 222 schools around New Jersey, will begin on July 14.
And Ocean City’s 5th & Bay field will be one of more than 50 sites around the state where the Last Dance will start.
None of these teams are affiliated with the high schools the players attend. Each team has adapted a new name for the tournament, which is run through the United States Specialty Sports Association. The NJSIAA is not involved in the event and the entry fee paid by each team covers insurance.
The primary purpose of the competition is to give baseball players from the Class of 2020 who lost their senior seasons to COVID-19 cancellations, a final chance to play. The tournament will also include freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
The six teams that are scheduled to play in Ocean City include players from Holy Spirit, Egg Harbor Township, Mainland, Atlantic Tech and Millville.
There are three other teams featuring CAL players that are playing. Vineland will play in a group of teams at Glassboro High School. Cedar Creek and Buena will be part of the pool play at Williamstown.
The winners from these many pool groups across the state will meet the week of July 21 in single elimination games at minor league stadiums around the state. The championship game will be July 30 at Arm & Hammer Field, the home of the New York Yankees’ affiliate Trenton Thunder.
Many players will not be able to play because of previous commitments, including Ocean City graduate Jake McKenna, who has signed with the Phillies; Vanderbilt commit Tom Finnegan, who will start his junior year at OCHS in September and will be playing out of state most of July; and Mainland’s Chase Petty, who has committed to the University of Florida.
High school coaches cannot be involved in coaching their players until after July 13, including practice sessions. And the rules covering the games will be different – there will be unlimited substitutions and no pitch count.
All those involved will have their temperatures taken before each game. If the temperature is 100.4 or higher, that person will be sent home. Face masks will be required in the dugouts but not by players in the field or at bat.
Each team will play three games in Ocean City and the team with the best record will advance. If there is a tie, head-to-head results and most runs scored are the tiebreakers. The Ocean City players, for example, will play Millville on July 14th, Mainland on the 15th and Holy Spirit on the 16th.
The winner of the Ocean City pool will advance to a single-elimination round at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, home of Phillies’ Class A minor league team, the Lakewood BlueClaws.