When your school has a basketball team that has a national reputation, it’s hard for any other sport to gain any positive recognition.
Thus is the case at St. Anthony, where the Friars are respected throughout the land for their basketball exploits.
The Jersey City school offers other sports, like baseball, which has not had the same kind of success as the hoop squad.
In fact, the Friars have struggled this season, winning just twice in 11 games, playing against all the top competition in Hudson County.
But head coach Rob Duffy, who is in his eighth year as the head of the Friars, has managed to keep his team together and keep them competitive, through the tough times. How competitive? Well, last week, the Friars upended Ferris, a solid and respectable baseball program.
“I think over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been able to get hits with two strikes,” Duffy said. “That’s what we needed to compete. We needed to score some runs. In games against Dickinson, St. Peter’s Prep, Hoboken, we didn’t make the plays necessary to win. Against Ferris, we played great defense and that helped us win.
Added Duffy, “When we make plays, we usually develop some momentum. We’ve played about 100 innings this season and in 90 of those innings, we’ve been competitive. It’s those 10 innings that have killed us.”
However, Duffy has kept a stiff upper lip through the tough times. He has been helped with the addition of veteran baseball coach Buddy Matthews, who won more than 400 games during his stellar career at Hoboken High School, leading the Red Wings to several county and NJSIAA state championships. Matthews is also the athletic director at St. Anthony.
“I would say that we’ve greatly improved since the beginning of the season,” Duffy said. “We’ve played a lot more complete games this year. Last year, we would get blown out and lose games to the 10-run rule. But playing full games shows improvement in our players. I’ve seen tremendous improvement.”
Duffy continues to put a young team on the field.
“The other day, we started six sophomores, two seniors and a junior,” Duffy said. “These kids who are sophomores are playing against kids who are older and more experienced. If we could just eliminate that one bad inning, you never know what could happen.”
Duffy raves about the talents of sophomore Jamir Carson, who pitches and also plays shortstop for the Friars.
“He has a great curveball and changeup,” Duffy said of Carson. “He is also our No. 4 hitter. He’s a very good player.”
Freshman Leo Colon is another key player with a promising future. He’s the son of former Hoboken catcher Leo Colon, now a Hoboken police officer.
“Leo is a utility player for us,” Duffy said. “He plays everywhere. He can play left field, centerfield, catcher, third base and shortstop. We move him all over.”
Junior Ray Alexander is the Friars’ centerfielder.
“He can also pitch and catch, depending on the situation,” Duffy said of Alexander. “He has really developed in his three years with us. He’s also become a leader. Others look to him for his leadership.”
Senior Miguel Candelaria has recovered from a broken collarbone he suffered last year in a collision at home plate in a scrimmage game that forced him to miss the entire season.
“He’s fully recovered and played very well for us,” Duffy said. “He also pitches.”
You can see Duffy’s dilemma. He really does not have a set lineup like most teams. That uncertainty carries over to wins and losses.
Sophomore Elvin Sandorval is the team’s first baseman.
“He has shown tremendous improvement and has delivered some big hits,” Duffy said,
Sandorval had clutch hits in the recent win over Ferris.
Sophomore Jarret Lane is the Friars’ second baseman.
“He’s a very good base stealer,” Duffy said. “He’s playing more consistently.”
Carson and Colon generally share the shortstop duties, with senior Quran Watson holding fort at third base.
“Watson is a good power hitter and a four-year player for us,” Duffy said.
Sophomore Edwin Flores is the starter in left field.
“He’s an absolute fly trap in left,” Duffy said. “If a ball goes in the air, he goes and gets it. He catches every ball. He’s getting better as a hitter as well.”
Junior Kahlil Jackson is the team’s starting right fielder.
Junior Jadon Jones is another outfielder who gets his fair share of playing time. Jones is currently out of action with a broken thumb.
“He wants to play and eventually he will play,” Duffy said. “He’s the kind of kid you want in a winning situation.”
The Friars have been devastated by injuries. Senior Sergio Fuentes would have been a top pitcher, but he suffered a shoulder injury that has kept him on the sidelines.
Senior Jaquan Smith was the third baseman, but he suffered a horrific injury earlier in the season. Smith took a ball to the face during a scrimmage and suffered a broken cheekbone, ending his season.
“It’s tough when you lose seniors like that,” Duffy said. “You expect the seniors to be there and then you have to replace them with sophomores. It’s not easy.”
Still, the Friars have kept their heads up and keep competing. There’s no way they can compete with their basketball brethren, but they are doing their best to remain solvent. They will face Lincoln in the preliminary round of the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Baseball Tournament this weekend with a chance to win and move on.
“We really don’t have any problems playing at all,” Duffy said. “We have great chemistry. The kids love being together. There are no arguments and no complaints, especially for a team that has been struggling.”
Sometimes, winning isn’t the only thing. Sometimes, just being competitive, showing up every day and giving a solid effort is all that a team can do.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.