As usual, the New Jersey Senior American Legion baseball season started in early June. And as usual, the schedule started slowly because it coincided with the end of the high school baseball campaign.
But then, even after the high school season ended, the legion summer struggled to launch. The week of June 17-23 was besieged by rain and postponements. South Brunswick Post 401 even had to postpone games for two straight days.
Last week, though, the weather stayed sunny and the games went on. In the Mercer County American Legion League, teams combined to play about five games per day. June 24, 25, 26, 28 and 29 all saw at least four games go on in the MCALL, central New Jersey’s most prominent senior legion league left in this era of showcase tournament teams.
After that action packed slate, the legion baseball summer is rolling, just like normal. Each summer, this is pretty much how it goes. A slow start and then a fast finish.
Here’s a look at how all five local teams, Hopewell Post 339, South Brunswick Post 401, Allentown, Princeton Post 218 and Hillsborough, are doing so far this season.
Hopewell Post 339
Hopewell won the 2018 MCALL championship. Then, in 2019, Hopewell Valley Central High School went 18-8 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament quarterfinals, losing at Hamilton High School West, 3-2, on May 23.
So this legion club has talent and chemistry. The Hopewell players have won during almost every baseball season in recent years.
And they are winning again this summer. Hopewell Post 339 has won five straight games to improve to 11-2 overall. The club is two games behind Bordentown Post 26 for first place in the MCALL standings with a little more than two weeks left in the regular season.
A variety of players have stepped up for Hopewell during its winning streak. In an 8-5 victory over Lawrence Post 414 on June 27, Liam Cleary went 4-for-4 with a game winning two run single. In a 6-4 victory over Allentown on June 24, Anthony St. John pitched a complete game.
South Brunswick Post 401
South Brunswick is 6-7 in 2019. As expected based on that record, South Brunswick has been up and down on a game by game basis.
It did, however, earn a signature victory on June 16, beating Hopewell, 3-2. The loss was one of just two MCALL defeats on the season for Hopewell.
There is potential on this South Brunswick squad. It just needs to put it together in time for the district tournament later in July.
South Brunswick is in position to qualify for the postseason. Six or seven MCALL teams typically make the district field, and South Brunswick is in sixth place in the league standings.
Allentown has talent across its roster. But coach Justin Ely’s club is just 6-8 and in seventh place in the MCALL standings. Like a lot of legion clubs, Allentown has struggled to field a full roster in most of its games.
Ely said the team has had a full squad just four times this summer, and that Allentown is 3-1 in those games. Allentown will need full attendance to really make noise in the district tournament.
One player though, right-handed pitcher A.J. Ariano, has been totally reliable. Ariano graduated from Allentown High School in 2018, and he isn’t playing baseball in college at the Stevens Institute of Technology. So he returned from his freshman year ready to commit to the legion team this summer.
Ariano has earned victories in two of Allentown’s six triumphs so far.
“He just pounds the zone and knows how to hit spots,” Ely said. “He’s the definition of throwing a heavy baseball. It’s hard to hit.”
In Ariano, Allentown has a legitimate ace.
“He’s talented enough to play college but he wants to focus on his studies,” Ely said. “But he came back for the summer and worked to get ready.”
“That speaks to the person he is,” the coach added.
Princeton Post 218
Princeton has struggled on the diamond this summer, with just a 2-10 record through 12 games. The club is in 12th place in the MCALL standings and faces an uphill climb toward making the district tournament.
Princeton did defeat a good Lawrence Post 414 team, 10-9, on June 5. Lawrence is 10-4 overall. Princeton also beat Hightstown Post 148, 2-0, on June 24.
Hillsborough is still looking to get it going in 2019. Coach Matt Mosko’s club is 3-5 overall and has been outscored by 25 runs, with 30 runs scored and 55 runs allowed.
However, Hillsborough only has to finish in the top three in the Pyramid Baseball League standings to qualify for the district tournament. And Mosko’s squad is only a half game behind 3-4 Delaware Valley for third place in the Pyramid League.
Hillsborough certainly has the talent to make up the gap. Hillsborough High School finished 16-6 this past spring, and a bunch of players from that team are playing senior legion ball, too. They include catcher Jayden Bloch and pitchers Joey O’Donnell, Andrew Rygiel and Tyler Boose.
That’s why Mosko still has a lofty ambition for his club.
“We’ll hopefully advance to the state tournament,” he said.
The MCALL regular season is scheduled to conclude on July 17. Most of the league’s teams will be playing almost every day for the next couple weeks.
The Pyramid League season is slated to end on July 16, and Hillsborough has six games remaining on its schedule.