When Tim O’Donnell took over the fledgling Hudson Catholic softball program three years ago, he didn’t know what to expect.
“When I took over, the girls had a lot of heart,” O’Donnell said. “But they really didn’t have experience on the varsity level. It was definitely a challenge.”
But those times are long gone, evidenced by the Hawks’ impressive 11-3 record. Among those wins was a 4-1 victory over St. Dominic Academy last Saturday.
“I told the girls that they only get a few times on the schedule to have a statement game,” said O’Donnell, who was a former Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year when he ran the now-defunct County Prep program. “St. Dominic was one of those statement games. We played very well. We needed a game like that to see where the program really is. It’s amazing to see how far the players have progressed in three years.”
O’Donnell said that he has a team full of players who can compete at the varsity level. The first few years, that wasn’t exactly the case.
“There were times that we went to games with only nine girls,” O’Donnell said.
That’s no longer the problem. More than 30 girls tried out for softball this spring and with a turnout like that, O’Donnell initiated a junior varsity program, headed by Tabitha Houghtalin, one of O’Donnell’s former standout players at County Prep.
“The program has really grown in such a short period of time,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a wonderful thing. My family has had to make a ton of tremendous sacrifices to allow me to coach the team. I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old at home, so that’s a handful. But I see the results, see their faces and we’ve come a long way in such a short time. I’m happy with the way it’s worked out.”
O’Donnell left coaching with a sour taste in his mouth. He was removed from his position one year before the Hudson County Schools of Technology eliminated sports.
“I was ecstatic to get a second chance at coaching,” said O’Donnell, who still teaches science at County Prep. “I really had no preconceived notions about what this would turn into. But it developed way ahead of schedule, more than anyone could have imagined.”
The Hawks have a roster that does not have a single senior.
The pitcher is sophomore right-hander Kristen Cunning, whose father John, a retired Hoboken firefighter, was an athlete at Hudson Catholic in his high school days.
“She’s really stepped up and become a very good pitcher,” said O’Donnell, whose anticipated starting pitcher Monica Cordova underwent shoulder surgery before the season and will miss the entire year.
“Kristen has become stronger and every time she steps out there, she gains more experience,” O’Donnell said. “The more she pitches, the stronger she gets.”
Sophomore Brittany Molta is the catcher.
“She’s improved so much as a catcher from last year to this year,” O’Donnell said. “She made three plays at the plate in the St. Dominic game. She’s going after the ball well. Her defense, blocking the ball and throwing, is like night and day. She’s come a long way. She dedicated herself to become a better catcher. She’s also improved as a hitter as well.”
The first baseman is Naomi Solano, also a sophomore.
“She had a nice season for us last year and she’s continued it this year,” O’Donnell said.
The second baseman is junior Amanda Peterson, who also plays varsity hockey at the school, playing with and against the boys. The shortstop is junior Victoria Moyeno, who is the team’s No. 2 hitter in the lineup and makes good contact.
Junior Jessica Hill, who made Hudson Reporter All-Area last year, has returned and picked up from where she left off last year. Hill, also a fine hurdler during the indoor track season, is batting better than .500 this season.
“She’s hitting the cover off the ball,” O’Donnell said of Hill. “She gets two hits a game.”
Freshman Nikki Huertas is the starting left fielder.
“She is a great contact hitter and has had her share of key hits and RBI for us,” O’Donnell said.
Sophomore Elaine Boyer is in centerfield.
“We moved her up to leadoff and she’s flourished,” O’Donnell said. “She gets on base and works the count well. She’s also a rock solid outfielder.”
Right field has been a platoon between two sophomores, Nadia Montgomery and Lili Ruiz. Freshmen Xena Borrero and Alicia Nazario get time in the outfield.
“It’s been a lot of fun and if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be there,” O’Donnell said. “I’m having a lot of fun and they’re a great bunch of kids to be around. I guess I’ll keep doing it for a while.”…
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Hudson Reporter H.S. Baseball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (16-2). 2. Bayonne (14-3) 3. North Bergen (13-5). 4. Marist (9-6). 5. Hudson Catholic (10-5).
Hudson Reporter H.S. Softball Top Five: 1. North Bergen (12-3). 2. Secaucus (11-6). 3. Ferris (10-5). 4. McNair Academic (12-5). 5. Hoboken (6-7)…--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.