WNY's Connie Mack team, left for dead on Monday, wins state title two days later
Even the most eternal optimist would have thrown in the towel.
Last Monday night, West New York Connie Mack coach Jack Nagurka walked off the field at Hoboken's JFK Stadium after enduring a 20-0 shellacking at the hands of host Hoboken in the state Connie Mack tournament.
"I thought that was it," Nagurka said. "I had a few of our parents telling me that we shouldn't give up, but I never saw a West New York team get beat that bad. Most of these kids never had to take something like that. Somebody from Hoboken came up to me and said, 'West New York never loses that bad.' Never anything like that. Hoboken just ripped everything and beat us by 20 runs. We weren't dead, but we had to win two games. After that game, I figured it was a long shot. Not many people thought we had a chance, including myself."
However, there was still a shot, albeit not a good one. West New York's Connie Mack team, filled with players ages 16 through 18, had to come back the next day and defeat North Plainfield in the first game.
Then, they had to somehow find the intestinal fortitude to knock off Hoboken, a team that had defeated them three times already this season - and the last time by 20 runs two days earlier.
"Let's put it this way," Nagurka laughed. "I knew it was going to be tough."
It was about to get tougher. In the first game against North Plainfield, West New York fell behind 9-3 in the fifth inning.
"We were losing 9-8 in the bottom of the seventh, but we scored two runs in the last inning to win it," Nagurka said. "After we won, I could see that the Hoboken kids were happy that they got us. Hey, they just beat us 20-0. I'd be happy, too."
Facing the second game of the night, with the state championship on the line, Nagurka had to make a decision on a pitcher to throw against Hoboken. His options were very limited.
"I had used my two best pitchers earlier in the week, so I didn't know who to start," Nagurka said. "My brother, Tim, suggested I use Marc Ortiz (who is the team's regular catcher). I was going to use Jayson Rodriguez, but when my brother said to use Marc, I literally took the ball out of Jayson's hands and gave it to Marc."
Ortiz, the former Memorial High School standout, is currently a backup catcher at St. Peter's College. It had been a while since he started and pitched a game. But Ortiz came through, firing a four-hitter, leading West New York to the improbable 5-1 victory that enabled them to secure their first-ever Connie Mack state championship.
With the win, West New York now moves on to the Connie Mack Eastern Regionals, which will take place this weekend in Flemington, N.J. If WNY is successful at that tournament, then they will move on to the Connie Mack World Series in New Mexico next weekend.
Nagurka is still having a tough time believing what transpired.
"These kids are amazing," Nagurka said. "I never could have imagined coming back and beating them. Hoboken is a very good team with a lot of good players. But nothing ever phases this team. They lose tough games and keep coming back."
What makes the run even more improbable is the fact that if Hoboken didn't earn an automatic bid to the state tournament as being the host team, then West New York would have never been able to qualify. Hoboken won the regular season championship, earning them the automatic berth.
"We were the second place team in our league," Nagurka said. "That's how we got in."
But they are the No. 1 team in the state right now.
"No doubt about it, we're playing with house money," Nagurka said.
The West New York team that will play in the Eastern Regionals this weekend has a nice blend of familiar high school and college standouts, as well as up-and-coming stars. Gil Zayas, the youngest player on the team at only 15, mans first base. Kiki DelValle, who will be a junior at Memorial, is the team's second baseman. They represent the youth.
Rodriguez, the All-Area player for Memorial last season, plays shortstop and is one of the team's pitchers, while Manny Feito, a standout for Memorial the last two seasons, plays third. Ortiz and Wilson Giraldo handle the catching duties.
Memorial standout Hutch de la Rosa, and featuring Andy Luna and Milton Rodriguez, leads the outfield. Jason Burgos is a fine reserve, on the mound, at first base and the outfield.
The pitching staff is headed by former Memorial star Steve Wohltman, who is headed to Long Island University on a baseball scholarship. Rodriguez, Ortiz and Memorial's Adel Acosta have also chipped in on the mound.
As the team moves on to the next level, American Amateur Baseball Congress rules allows West New York to pick up players that played in their league during the regular season, but have now completed play with their respective teams. So Nagurka is reaching into the Hoboken roster and pulling out three plums - namely pitcher Chris Paciga, outfielder/infielder Fran Rotella and outfielder Dwayne Dowell.
"All three of them will help us a lot during the tournament," Nagurka said. "We're pleased to have a great pitcher like Paciga with us. With the competition we're going to face, we could always use more pitching."
If West New York can face a little of the same luck it enjoyed last week, then they can start making plans to visit New Mexico.
And if anyone has any interesting features they would like to see in EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to write to me c/o The Hudson Reporter, 1400 Washington St., Hoboken, NJ, 07030, or call 798-7800, ext. 751 and leave a message, or e-mail me at OGSMAR@aol.com.