Moral victories don’t let you move on in the New Jersey Last Dance World Series. But Jefferson Township High School had their fair share in what became their 2020 finale.
The Falcons gave a team populated with student-athletes from Don Bosco Prep all they could handle at Yogi Berra Stadium on Wednesday afternoon in the Round of 8 in the North Jersey portion of the knockout bracket. The Bosco squad, branded as the Diamondbacks, prevailed 3-1, but Jefferson outhit them 6-5 and committed no errors. A Diamondbacks fielding mishap allowed the Falcon’s half of the second inning to continue and indirectly led to their only run coming home.
Head coach Jason Kalish was nonetheless proud of his team despite their journey’s end
“No one expected us to be here. We’ve been the underdog in every single game,” Kalish told The Jefferson Chronicle afterward. “We were there. We were a big hit away from really taking this game from them. We were down some arms, a couple of guys away, but it was a different guy each game. We rolled with what we had, and I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Jefferson was undefeated in three games at Skylands Stadium entering Wednesday’s contest. They topped Randolph and Roxbury in shutout fashion in regional qualifying play before enduring a six-day layover due to issues beyond their control (weather and medical issues from their would-be opponent).
Placed in the elimination bracket when all was said and done, Jefferson stole a back-and-forth thriller from Bridgewater-Raritan before bowing out to the Diamondbacks.
Despite Don Bosco’s early 1-0 lead, Jefferson starter Jack Urbano held his own against a powerful roster. He ended up retiring nine Diamondbacks in a row before back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the fourth allowed them to score their winning run. The final margin was created on an RBI single immediately after. Urbano threw 3⅔ innings before giving the ball to Johnny Knox, who threw a shutout the rest of the way.
Jefferson did create some opportunities against strong Diamondback pitching. After scoring their lone run in the second (when Jason Taylor walked with the bases loaded), the Falcons got a man to at least second base in all but two of the final innings. It forced Don Bosco to remove Virginia-commit Kevin Jaxel after 4⅔ frames, though their bullpen managed to work their way out of trouble.
The Falcons’ trek ended with two men on base, but Bosco wiggled out of it to preserve the win. They’ll now play Cranford at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater for a chance to partake in the North Region championship game.
“We saw their number one (pitcher) and our kids weren’t intimidated. They battled out there,” Kalish noted. “They got the ball in play, they got some nice hits.”
The importance of such a trek was perhaps of little consolation to the Falcons, particularly the seniors, who donned gear branded with the interlocking JT for the final time. But a tournament stage that featured names like Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep and other historically prestigious names also featured the Jefferson Township High School Falcons. Kalish hopes Wednesday’s effort is not seen as the end…but only the beginning.
“I’m happy that these kids had this opportunity against these bigger programs and put our program on the map. We didn’t just get here and get steamrolled by them. We showed that we can hang with these programs.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags