Four local teams prep for ‘Last Dance’ baseball tourney

Play ball!

However, that’s about to change. In two weeks, four local teams will take the field to participate in the Last Dance World Series tournament, a 222-team baseball bonanza that will take place at more than 50 locations in the state beginning next weekend.

Three knowledgeable baseball people, namely St. Joseph (Metuchen) head coach Mike Murray, Jr., Millburn head coach Brian Chapman and talent scout and amateur baseball gadfly John Kroeger put their heads together to organize the tourney.

It was designed for the players, especially the graduated high school seniors, to give them the chance to play one more time with their teammates, making up somewhat for the season that was lost in the spring due to the pandemic.

For the last 15 years or so, Joe Guardabasco has dedicated a majority of his free time to coaching the youth in his hometown of Belleville. Name the sport, Guardabasco has coached it.

“I coached football, basketball, baseball,” Guardabasco said. “I just like coaching and being around the kids.”

For most of the time, Guardabasco has been a dedicated volunteer baseball coach, working all the way up from the Belleville Little League through Senior Little League.

Guardabasco’s team won the District 8 Senior Little League (ages 13 through 15) tournament championship last year.

So then Guadabasco learned of the Last Dance World Series, he wanted to make sure that Belleville was a part of it.

“When the news of the World Series came out, I didn’t know if I could put a team in that was independent of the high school,” Guardabasco said. “So I sent some e-mails to the organizers and inquired about playing. I’m always looking for a chance to have a season for these kids.”

The organizers informed Guardabasco that he could enter a Belleville team, with 12 of the 19 members of the roster having played last season at Belleville High. The others come from Seton Hall Prep, St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Newark Tech.

“I know every single one of these kids for a long time,” Guardabasco said. “Some of them have been playing for me since they were seven years old.”

The Belleville U-18 squad (that’s the name of the team – “plain and simple,” according to Guardabasco) will play in the West Orange bracket, playing pool play against West Orange, Passaic Valley and perennial state powerhouse Seton Hall Prep, who Belleville will face in the first round of pool play July 14.

Guardabasco doesn’t care about who Belleville will face in the three-game pool play section of the tourney.

“These kids have always been playing up to the competition,” Guardabasco said. “They don’t back down to a challenge.”

The Belleville team will feature standout pitchers Gio Torres and Kevin Arroyo, both of whom were expected to be aces for Joe Sorce’s Buccaneer pitching staff at Belleville High. Arroyo is one of the players that Guardabasco has coached during the spring and summer months since Arroyo was seven years old.

“This is going to be their time to shine,” Guardabasco said. “This is their team. They’re like my stepsons. We’re real close.”

Other notable players on the Belleville U-18 roster include the Cicere brothers, Giustino and Anthony, as well as Daniel Munoz and Alberto Torres.

“They’re all looking forward to getting another chance to play,” Guardabasco said. “We have a very good team. We have kids who can play every position on the field. We can move kids around. I’ve been doing that since they were younger. I have to make sure that I have enough pitching. I never go into the next game without enough pitchers.”

North Arlington has also entered a team in the Last Dance World Series. North Arlington is in the Wood-Ridge bracket along with Midland Park and Bogota/Ridgefield Park. North Arlington will face the host Wood-Ridge July 14 at 7 p.m.

North Arlington head coach Paul Marcantuono is just grateful to get his team a chance to play organized games again, even if the Vikings are the No. 4 seed in the four-team Wood-Ridge bracket.

“When this whole pandemic hit, I was hoping that we could get some type of season,” Marcantuono said. “Rightfully so, the season was cancelled for safety reasons. But when this proposal was put out, I spoke with my wife and my family and we decided it was the best thing to do, to give the kids the chance to play again. I wanted them to get a chance to step on the field together for the last time. So we jumped all over it. I saw so many other teams sign up.”

Marcantuono was hopeful that his players were keeping themselves fit during the pandemic.

“I’m just hoping and praying that they have been doing things on their own,” Marcantuono said. “I think our placement was pretty good. We were hoping to keep the competitive balance. Of course, we’re going to try to win. We’re going to try to give every kid playing time, but we always want to win.”

The young Vikings were all set to be a force to be reckoned with in 2020. This tournament might provide those youngsters a chance to prove themselves.

“But we’re going out to have fun,” Marcantuono said. “I think it’s great that I know all the coaches in our bracket is pretty cool.”

Marcantuono said that his team has enough pitching to be competitive in the tourney.

“There’s going to be a lot of strategy involved,” Marcantuono said. “But all of our arms will be ready. We just have to figure it all out.”

Needless to say, Belleville and North Arlington will be ready for action in a few weeks.

“We’re all very excited,” Guardabasco said. “I’ve been talking to the kids and they just want to get out there and play the game again. That’s all they want.”


Next week, we’ll take a look at the other two local teams in the Last Dance World Series, namely Nutley and Lyndhurst.




Belleville U-18 team will count on the talented pitching arms of Gio Torres (right) and Kevin Arroyo in the upcoming Last Dance World Series baseball tournament. Belleville will face Seton Hall Prep in the opening round of the round robin bracket at West Orange High School July 14 at 7 p.m. Photos by Jim Hague




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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”