Most of them had met each other a dozen years earlier, as they were first learning the game. They grew up in Medford youth athletics and then starred together at Shawnee High School as they hit their teenage years.
While the month of June was celebratory with graduation ceremonies, it was also bittersweet as the Renegades baseball players are all going their own way for college.
But the senior core of Shawnee’s team sure went out with a proverbial bang.
Burlington County’s entrant in the 34th annual Carpenter Cup was crowned champion of the celebrated Philadelphia-area tournament on June 18 at Citizens Bank Park, where they overcame deficits twice in their final five at-bats to beat Lehigh Valley 4-1.
The victory was extra sweet for Burlington County since they’d lost in the finals on the same field a year earlier to a South Jersey rival, Olympic-Colonial. For Shawnee’s six players on Burlco’s team, it capped a 2019 season that saw them win both the premiere, Delaware Valley postseason tournament (Carpenter Cup) and South Jersey’s esteemed in-season tournament (the Diamond Classic) a month earlier.
“It’s great, I’ve been playing with these guys for my whole life, my whole entire baseball career,” said senior catcher Joey Moore. “To go out on top in a tournament like this, it’s awesome.”
“It feels really good,” said senior shortstop Connor Coolahan. “ I know we went out (early) in (state) playoffs, but at least we got one championship and some of us got another, so it feels good.”
Shawnee’s fingerprints were all over Burlco’s successful run in the Carpenter Cup.
Senior Jackson Balzan, the star of the Diamond Classic championship game in May, threw three scoreless innings and Coolahan hit a sacrifice fly in the team’s 3-2, semifinal win at Citizens Bank Park over Philadelphia Catholic. In the championship game win over Lehigh Valley, Moore had two hits, including a game-tying hit in the fourth inning, and a stolen base; junior Bobby Falese and Coolahan turned a tough, clutch, 4-6-3 double play to thwart a rally in the fifth; senior Joe Dalsey had a single and a sacrifice bunt that set up the game-winning rally in the eighth; and junior Dom Frigiola struck out two and allowed one unearned run in 2 ⅓ innings of relief work late in the game.
“Not just today, but all four games,” said Shawnee coach Brian Anderson, who was on Burlco’s coaching staff. “Jackson gave us six shutout innings in two appearances, Dom comes in a pitches well in a tight situation. And hitting-wise they all contributed. For three of the four games they were at third, short and second all at the same time for the first half. So it was fun to see a Shawnee infield of sorts. I’m really happy for these guys. They all came through big.”
Although it was the first time some of them played at a major league ballpark — not everyone was on last year’s Burlco runner-up Carpenter Cup roster — most of the players weren’t overwhelmed by the atmosphere. Instead, it was one last chance to play with lifelong friends and leave their high school careers as champions.
“It’s just fun to play here, I just go out and play hard, don’t worry about the fans,” Coolahan said. “It feels good, especially after last year when we lost in the finals. So to get it this year, as a senior, in Citizens Bank Park, it feels amazing.”
Shawnee’s seniors, less than 24 hours removed from graduation when they celebrated in the Phillies home ballpark, were able to pull off the same trick Olympic Conference rivals Eastern accomplished in 2018: leave high school with Diamond and Carpenter Cup trophies in their final prep seasons.
“Our senior class has been a big part of our program’s success in the last three years, so it’s fitting that we had so many guys who had the opportunity to be represented in the Carpenter Cup,” Anderson said.
“We trust each other,” Moore said. “We have chemistry, and we’ve had it for multiple years, we know that we’ve got each other’s backs. And that’s what it comes down to, just trust and chemistry. We know we can pull through when we need it most.”
Other area players who starred in the Carpenter Cup included Delran junior R.J. Moten (a triple and a diving catch in the semifinals), Moorestown senior Brian McMonagle (three shutout innings to set the tone in the semifinal win), and Lenape senior Cade Hunter (RBI double in the 8th inning of the championship game).
The Boston College-bound McMonagle also made history in the tournament: he was the first four-year player in Burlington County Carpenter Cup history.
“It’s awesome,” McMonagle said of the championship. “The last three years we came up short and we got a little better each year, which was good, so to go out like this is awesome. … Everyone right away was just so comfortable with each other, like we’d been a team for a little bit. So we had good chemistry and a lot of good ball players obviously. We came together.”
The Carpenter Cup win was the fourth in the history of the tournament for Burlington County — all four championships have come since 2006. Overall, South Jersey teams have won the tournament 12 times and have seven titles in the last 11 years.
Current major league All-Stars Mike Trout and Sean Doolittle are among the players that have represented South Jersey teams in the tournament, which began in 1986.
“You just look all around at the different parts in South Jersey and there’s so much talent, a lot of guys able to play at a high level in college,” McMonagle said. “There’s definitely a lot of talent in South Jersey.”