Although the town of Secaucus definitely sits within the geographical region known as Hudson County, the Secaucus High School athletic teams were never really considered part of Hudson County.
Because the Patriots competed in the old Bergen County Scholastic League, the athletic teams from Secaucus High were never given a chance to compete for Hudson County honors.
Sure, the girls’ volleyball team won umpteen championships in the only true Hudson County Tournament prior to a few years ago. There’s no denying those county titles won by coaches like the legendary Maria Nolan and later Sheila Rivera and Tiffany Aciz.
But for all the other sports at Secaucus? They had to settle for competing for league and state sectional titles. In that respect, Secaucus received no respect when it came to being part of the Hudson County sports scene.
Many people believed that Hudson County high school sports resided in the old Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association – the almighty HCIAA – and nothing else. You were either in the HCIAA or you didn’t even exist in the eyes of most of Hudson County sports zealots.
There were countless times that a Secaucus athlete made an All-County team or in these pages, an All-Area team, where there legitimacy was questioned to the highest order.
“They’re from Secaucus,” the critics would say. “They’re not from Hudson County. They don’t belong.”
It used to set off debates that lasted for months, even years.
Weehawken was also part of that same scorn. The two neighboring schools were treated like abandoned orphans.
Recently, Weehawken was able to eliminate some of that outsider mentality with its performance in the Ed Ford Memorial Hudson County Baseball Tournament, going all the way to the finals before losing to top-seeded St. Peter’s Prep.
And the Secaucus girls’ basketball team broke down some of those long-standing grudges by advancing all the way to the Hudson County Tournament finals in February before losing to eventual champion Lincoln in overtime.
However, until one of the outsiders actually overcame the barriers and won a title, those barriers would remain in place.
“Until you win something, no one says that you can play,” Secaucus head softball coach Cherryl Bott said.
It’s true. The proof is in the pudding. Win something and we’ll see if you belong.
Well, Secaucus finally belongs. The Patriots broke down that old-school mentality by finally defeating one of the old-school programs.
Led by the brilliant pitching of senior Danielle Roesing and clutch eighth-inning hitting, the Patriots defeated North Bergen, 4-2, to capture the school’s first-ever Hudson County Softball Tournament title last Saturday at the New Jersey City University Gerrity Athletic Complex.
“It says that we can play,” Bott said. “Today, we’re the best.”
They sure are. The Patriots knocked off the defending county champion, took down the most dominant softball program in Hudson County over the last two decades. Thirteen times, North Bergen got to purchase jackets with “Hudson County Champs” in bright and bold letters boldly proclaimed across the back.
Secaucus might have won its share of BCSL and now NJIC titles, but there was never a chance to have a true Hudson County championship. Until now.
The Patriots had a chance three years ago. In 2010, the Patriots advanced to the Hudson County Tournament title game and had a five-run lead late, only to watch High Tech steamroll to a 20-8 victory.
Five current seniors on the Secaucus roster remember that day vividly. They wanted another chance at redemption.
“We certainly didn’t want to have déjà vu happen all over again,” Roesing said.
So they took an early two-run lead, then watched as the old school warriors from North Bergen battled back in an attempt to repeat as champions. The Bruins scored a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 2-2. Alize Sarmiento delivered the clutch RBI single for the Bruins.
Such a comeback could have been emotionally deflating for the upstart underdogs of Secaucus, trying to rid the prejudice that had been against the school for ages.
But Bott never doubted her team once.
“I never felt that they sensed any pressure,” Bott said. “That’s a testament to them. We had been in three other extra inning games. We had been in that position before. All we had to do was push one across and have Danny [Roesing] take care of the rest.”
The Patriots did one better. They scored twice in the top of the eighth inning, with catcher Jessie Koerner delivering the third of her hits, an RBI single, and Kim Alfonso knocking home the other, giving Roesing a two-run lead to play with.
“We just knew that if we put the ball in play, anything could happen,” Bott said.
So the Patriots concentrated on making contact against the Bruins’ strikeout machine Jessica Feria. Although they did go down on strikes 11 times against the flame-throwing Feria, the Patriots did manage to get the key hits when they were needed.
“We got on base and the kids came through,” Bott said.
And Roesing wasn’t about to let the chance for a county title slip away. She pitched in that loss to High Tech three years ago.
“We hadn’t been here in a while,” Roesing said. “I felt like I let my teammates down and didn’t do my best that time. I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Roesing got her 13th strikeout in the final frame and when the last out was recorded on a pop out, the celebration began. Secaucus had finally arrived. The school had a true county champion.
“It feels great,” Roesing said. “I’m just totally speechless.”
“It was fitting to put this together like this, especially for the five seniors,” Bott said. “They’ve been with me since their freshman year. We’re the party crashers. That’s what we’ve been saying all year. People said we didn’t belong. But we felt we were ready. With our league schedule and going outside to play good teams, we were used to facing good pitching.”
Bott stopped and paused for a second, realizing what had taken place.
“You know, it definitely feels better on this side,” she said.
The winning side. The side that had arrived. Secaucus was finally a true Hudson County champion. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.