Lawrence Post 414 played in the New Jersey Elite 8 from July 26-28 at Kean University in Union.
And that fact alone marked a successful season.
The program had never made the state tournament before, going back almost eight decades. So even though it lost all three games in pool play at Kean, Lawrence was not afraid to admit something that sports teams only concede after the fact: it was just happy to be there.
“It was good for the kids to be there,” said Lawrence coach Jason Zegarski. “It’s the first time we’ve made it.”
In pool play, Lawrence played in the American Division with West Deptford Post 100, Whitehouse Post 284 and Hamilton Post 31. Zegarski’s club lost to Hamilton, 2-0, on July 26, Whitehouse, 5-1, on July 27 and West Deptford, 8-3, on July 28.
West Deptford and Whitehouse advanced to the New Jersey Final Four with 3-0 and 2-1 records in pool play, respectively. Four of Lawrence’s Mercer County American Legion League rivals, Hopewell Post 339, Bordentown Post 26, Broad Street Park Post 313 and Hamilton, made the state tournament, too. Only Broad Street Park advanced to the state Final Four.
“We knew when we got there it was something different,” Zegarski said. “But we showed we can hang with the best teams in the state.”
Lawrence ended 2019 as one of the eight best teams in New Jersey, and it got to that point by succeeding in the MCALL and in the District 3 Tournament.
Zegarski’s team went 15-9 in the MCALL and earned the league’s fifth district tournament bid. Then in the District 3 Tournament at Gilder Park in Bordentown, Lawrence finished 2-1 after losing its playoff opener.
The Lawrence Township squad outscored its last two opponents by a combined margin of 22-6. But the story was a lot more dramatic than that score would indicate.
On July 22 in Bordentown, in the runner-up/elimination game, Lawrence built a 5-0 lead over Washington Township Post 521 by the top of the fourth inning. Then the rains came, postponing the game to July 23 at Bob DeMeo Field in Hamilton Township. Lawrence came back the next day and finished off the biggest victory in program history, 11-1, advancing to the state tournament for the first time.
The run was so exhilarating that it nearly got Zegarski to come up with a famous Dr. Seuss line all on his own.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” said the legendary children’s author.
“You can’t be sad because it’s over. You have to just be happy we made it far,” said Zegarski.
The coach credited seven Lawrence players with leading the run.
Infielders Justin Frascella and Aidan Jodoin were the team’s 19-year-old emotional leaders. Centerfielder Jacob Kmiek and shortstop Ryan Mains sparked Lawrence’s explosive lineup at the top of the order. Left-handed pitcher Ryan Sullivan and right-handed hurler Colin D’Angelo formed a capable duo at the top of Zegarski’s rotation.
And Jimmy Vizzoni, a pitcher and second baseman, was “probably our best player,” Zegarski said.
Outside of Frascella and Jodoin, those players are all eligible to return in 2020. But that doesn’t mean they will. This is legion baseball in the era of collegiate showcase teams.
“Some Lawrence graduates said they want to come back though,” Zegarski said. “But if they want to play in a summer league for college players, I’ll find some new kids for our team.”