There have been times over Tom Eagleson’s storied softball coaching career, spanning almost three full decades now, where the famed North Bergen softball guru, North Jersey’s all-time leader in coaching victories, has been in a position like he is right now.
After all, Eagleson has guided the Bruins to a record 13 Hudson County championships in his 29-year career, including winning the title again in 2012. During that time span, Eagleson has had teams, rosters that were prohibitive teams to beat the year after winning the county crown.
But none quite like this year’s group.
“I think the expectations are a little higher, because we’d really like to repeat,” said Eagleson, who has posted a 544-150 record in his tenure. “Our entire infield is filled with veterans. Our pitcher is back. She’s ready to go. I think we have to be the team to beat, but only because our core players are all back. Having our whole infield back is huge.”
Leading the way is senior left-handed pitcher Jessica Feria.
A year ago, Eagleson didn’t know what to expect from the flame thrower, because in the fall, with her first true chance of being the No. 1 pitcher, Feria had a tough time finding the strike zone.
“When she came in, she was walking like six batters a game and I have to say I was a little worried about the control,” Eagleson said.
However, a light bulb went off once the games mattered in the spring and Feria was downright dominant, winning 20 games, pitching to a 1.54 earned run average, striking out 196 batters and walking less than two batters per contest, earning Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year honors as well as being selected to the Hudson Reporter All-Area Softball Team.
“We’ve had three scrimmages thus far and her control has been even better,” Eagleson said of Feria, who has already signed a letter of intent to play at NCAA Division II Mercy College in the fall. “She’s added pitches to her repertoire. I think she’s going to be a lot better this year than last year. She’s worked very hard at her game.”
Eagleson said that Feria has become a better hitter as well.
“She’s going to be a force offensively,” Eagleson said. “She’s more than ready.”
Senior Samantha Izquierdo, who was the starting right fielder on last year’s county champion, has moved in to become the starting catcher this year.
“She’s handled it very well,” Eagleson said. “She’s developed a good rapport with Jessica and she’s handling Jessica’s pitches a lot better than I thought. I’m pretty confident with Samantha back there and she’s a pretty confident kid.”
Senior Natalie Rodriguez is the returning starter at first base.
“She’s been on the team all four years and started the last three,” Eagleson said.
Junior Alize Sarmiento returns to her spot at second base.
“She’s the leadoff hitter and the one who gets us going offensively,” Eagleson said. “She reminds me a lot of Ashley Heredia.”
Heredia, a former Bruin, was a three-time All-Area honoree who is now playing at Brookdale Community College.
Senior Nerylix Cerda is the returning starter at shortstop. Cerda earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last year.
“She’s a three-year starter and she’s absolutely the glue to the team,” Eagleson said of Cerda, who posted a batting average close to .600 last year. “She’s just a wonderful kid.”
The third baseman is also a returning starter and Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree in senior Sabrina Reyes, who may be the best fielder in the entire county.
“She’s a four-year starter and a very good glove,” Eagleson said. “We depend on her to be able to cheat defensively, because she can make plays.”
The left fielder is junior Christina Otero, who was a starter at the beginning of last season, but has returned to form so far this season.
Sophomore Jaylene Grimes is the team’s promising centerfielder.
“She’s very quick and covers a lot of ground,” Eagleson said.
Freshman Victoria Avella is the right fielder and she has a promising future – but at a different position. Avella will be the heir apparent to replace Feria in the pitching circle next season.
“We have something a little different this year,” Eagleson said. “We have three pitchers on the varsity. Most of the time, I’ve only had just the one. But this year, we have some depth at pitcher.”
Junior Amanda Cabrera is the team’s third pitcher. Eagleson promised to get time for all three hurlers this season.
Others on the roster include junior outfielder Jessica Godoy and sophomore outfielder Xiomara Taylor, who has a lot of speed.
The pieces are all there. It should be another wonderful season for the Bruins. Just how wonderful? In preseason, Eagleson was able to let the infielders work on their own.
“I don’t have to watch them take infield practice,” Eagleson said. “It’s very relaxing that way. They know what they’re doing, so I can do whatever I want.”
These are the perks that come with three decades of coaching and nearly 550 victories.
“I expect to contend this year,” Eagleson said.
As well he should.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.