Hopewell advances to NJ Final Eight in Senior American Legion baseball

Scott Jacobs

In recent years, Hopewell Post 339 has become the central New Jersey version of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With six straight National League West Division titles, two consecutive National League pennants and a 67-35 record in 2019, the Dodgers have been the most relentlessly consistent Major League Baseball team of this decade.

With five straight New Jersey Final Eight appearances, two consecutive Mercer County American Legion League titles and a 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional championship, Hopewell Post 339 has been the most relentlessly consistent Senior American Legion team on the playing fields in central New Jersey.

The Mercer County club continued that run on July 20 and 21 at Bob DeMeo Field in Hamilton Township. Hopewell won the New Jersey District 2 flag with consecutive dominating victories. Hopewell knocked off the Clinton Expos, 10-0, on July 20 and Hamilton Post 31, 10-2, on July 21.

With those victories, Hopewell won its third district title in four years, according to the club’s reliable Twitter account. The Hopewell Valley squad also improved to 26-5 in 2019. It will open the NJ Final Eight with a game against MCALL rival Bordentown Post 26 on July 26 at 3 p.m. at Kean University in Union.

Hopewell and Bordentown finished first and second, respectively, in the regular season MCALL standings. Hopewell ended at 21-3 and Bordentown closed at 20-4.

“Anything short of a state title is going to be a disappointment,” said Hopewell coach Mike Coryell. “But there’s a lot of good teams in this state.”

But before Hopewell goes for its second state title in three years, it’s worth looking back at how this program became the local version of the Dodgers.

In 2014, Warren C. Lewis, who had run the Hopewell program for over five decades, passed away. Mike Olshin replaced Lewis as general manager and Coryell took over as coach.

With legion programs under siege from all-star tournament teams across the state and country, Olshin and Coryell wanted to honor Lewis by finding a way to continue his legacy.

“Mike sought not just to have a legion program,” said Coryell of Olshin. “He said, ‘You have to build something where kids want to be here.'”

In the age of tournament teams, a sustainable legion program had to offer what those teams offer: collegiate exposure. So Olshin and Coryell started entering Hopewell in regional tournaments where scouts would be in attendance. They also began contacting scouts on their own to inform programs about Hopewell’s collegiate caliber players.

The approach worked. Hopewell has never had to struggle to fill a roster or to get players to attend most games, like so many senior legion teams have in recent years. Commitment, unity and, of course, talent, most of which comes from Ken Harrison’s Hopewell Valley Central High School program, have led to annual success, for both the team and its individuals.

Hopewell sends multiple players on to collegiate programs every summer. The team’s current roster is a healthy mix of collegiate players who just finished their freshmen campaigns and high school players who will move on to collegiate programs in 2019-20.

Catcher Luke Blair and outfielder Cole Hare play at Lebanon Valley College and Dickinson College, respectively. Right-handed pitcher Andy Blake and first baseman Dylan Galgano are going to play at Columbia University and Gettysburg College, respectively.

“For the $450 that each player pays, they are getting every bit of the college chances that they would spending ten times that with travel teams,” Coryell said. 

And unlike the travel teams, they also get to represent their community with their childhood friends.

“There is nothing like playing with high school teammates,” Coryell said. “You get all these memories.”