|South Jersey Baseball History:
The South Jersey Stars Shine The Brightest in Coaches All-Star Games
Saturday, May 18, 2002
By Charlie Schick
Twenty-five years ago, the New Jersey Baseball Coaches Association presented their first All-Star High School Tournament at Princeton University's Clarke Field complex. The format of the tournament consisted of; a one-day program with a morning doubleheader, and a championship plus consolation game doubleheader in the afternoon, all games to be 7 innings, all players must be high school seniors, and teams from New Jersey would be divided into 4 sections, Central, North I, North II, and South.
The first tournament in 1978 saw the North I team defeat the South squad 5 to 1 for the tourney championship. It was not until 1980, before the South lads would claim their first tournament title. They accomplished the feat by first squeaking past the Central Stars 6 to 5 in 8 innings of the first round game. The key blow of the contest was a 7th inning, 2-out inside the park home run by Jim Panlsen of Paulsboro High to tie the score, and send the game into extra innings. In the afternoon, the title game was dominated by the South's pitching, as Kevin Madden, Haddon Township, and Pitman's Mike McOvaine shut down the North II team's offense, and won the championship with a 7 to 1 victory.
Four years later, the South Stars won their second title, as they downed the North I team 14-6, behind an 8-run 9th inning, and made Haddonfield's Kris Perkins a winner in a first round game. In the title match, pitching was a key factor in the South's 7 to 1 victory over the Central Stars as four southern hurlers combined to limit the mid-state boys to only 3 hits.
1985 saw the South Jersey team become the first sectional squad to repeat as the tournament champions. Their exceptional pitching continued to be the major difference in dominating All-Star nines from the other three sections of the state, as they breezed to their second straight title with a 9 to 2 win over North II in the opener, and completely shut down North I club 4 to 0 in the championship final.
If there was ever any question about the quality of baseball played in South Jersey, the South All-Star team of 1986 erased any of those doubts by capturing an unprecedented third straight N.J. Baseball Coaches All-Star team Tournament. This time around, the southern gentlemen used late inning rallies to lay claim to the title, as they scored 2 runs in the 6th frame of the morning opener to best Central 5 to 3, and one run in the 7th to slide past North I 5 to 4 in the title contest.
The South rose again in 1989, when they won their 5th All-Star crown in the 12-year history of the post-season tournament. The road to the title, this time, was a little bumpier, as the South defense, 4 errors almost cost them the tourney's opening game, which they finally took 6 to 5 over Central Jersey. Four South Jersey hurlers, however, combined for a brilliant pitching effort to silence the North II offense, and walk away with an 8 to 1 win in the title game. Jeff Dewald of Cherokee High led a superb pitching staff, and center-fielder John Rivers, Bishop Eustace Prep, was named the games MVP.
1992 saw the South All-Stars return to the championship throne, when they manufactured late inning rallies to slip past Central Jersey 6 to 4 in a morning contest, and then come from a 4 to 1 deficit to tally 2 runs in both the 6th and 7th innings to roar past the North I nine, and capture the title game 5 to 4. Multi-talented Bo Gray, Cherry Hill West, finished a brilliant high school career by helping his teammates from both the pitching mound, and the plate, but it was right-hander Brett Laxton, Audubon High, who won the post-season MVP award with his multi-strikeout pitching performance.
South Jersey's dominance of the All-Star tournament continued tow years later, as they used slick fielding and a flurry of extra base hits to battle past a duo of northern challengers 9 to 5 in a first round game, and 11 to 1 over a North I squad in the 1994 title contest. The twin killings gave the southerners their 7th championship in the 17-year meeting between the All-Star teams from the 4 sections of the state.
1995 saw the South All-Stars return to the title game for the 12th time in the event's 18-year history. They managed the feat by hammering the North I nine 12 to 4 in a first round game. Overbrook's Joe Cruz, and Lakewood's Dave Sansone lead the offense, with Sansone blasting 2 triples. The title game so the talented Cruz continue his outstanding day at both the plate and in the field, as he led his mates to a 6 to 4 championship win over the Central squad, and pick up the tournament's MVP award.
After a disappointing 1996 year, the South Jersey All-Stars rebounded spectacularly in 1997, as they set numerous records on their way to their 9th crown in the tournament's 20-year history. They had the pleasure of performing their talents in front of the hometown fans, as the Coaches Association moved their post-season event to the West Deptford Union Field complex, after 19 years of play at Princeton University. The South Jersey boys quickly established themselves as a serious contender for the '97 title, as they stormed past a strong Central Jersey gang 10 to 4 in a morning first round game.
The championship game was a totally different story, as the North I All-Stars battled the South squad tooth and nail for the first 6 innings, and trailed only 4 to 2 going into the last frame. In the top of the 7th, however, the local All-Stars crushed any hopes the challengers might have had on their minds, as they exploded for a tournament record breaking 11 runs, and completely overwhelmed North I All-Stars 15 to 2.
There were plenty of southern heroes in 1998 as our lads captured the 21st All-Star tournament by pounding the North I elite 8 to 2 and then slipping past Central's best 5 to 4. Triples by Jeremy Poole and Matt DeMarco helped capture the title and marked the 10th time the South brought home the bacon.
1999 equaled a tournament record when the South earned their 3rd straight championship and 11th overall by crushing the opposition. They started with a 14 to 2 pounding of the North I nine and finished with an 11 to 2 destruction of North II's troops. Angel Sanchez's mighty bat powered the South's explosive attack.
After being shutout in the 2000 games, the local All-Stars were part of another tournament first when they ended up sharing the 2001 championship honors with the Central squad. The precedent setting event happened when the title game was canceled because of a lengthy downpour. The South earned their half of the crown by routing the North I team 10 to 4. Their 10-hit offense was led by tournament MVP Audubon's Andrew Noe's 3 hits.
With the conclusion of the 2001 All-Star games, the Coaches Association Tournament completed 24 years of competition, and South Jersey's All-Stars most definitely have shined the brightest during the period, capturing 11.5 championships, and winning 29 games, by far the most of any sectional team. Here are some other interesting All-Star tournament facts for your review.
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