Pat Laguerre was very familiar about what it took to get to a Hudson County baseball championship game.
After all, Laguerre had the fortune of taking the now-defunct St. Mary to several title games in the old HCIAA, both at the Seglio and Coviello Divisions.
Laguerre did the same last year in his first year at his new position as the head coach at St. Peter’s Prep.
There was only one problem. In all those appearances in the county title game, Laguerre never experienced a victory.
“I stopped counting,” Laguerre said. “I think it’s six, but I’m not sure.”
Six is the correct total of county title games without a win. The albatross hung around his neck, especially after the last two county title appearances.
In 2010, Laguerre’s St. Mary squad had an 8-1 lead against Bayonne in the fifth inning and blew the lead en route to a loss. Last year, the Marauders had a five-run lead against Marist and blew it.
It was a fact that the Prep players were well aware of.
“We had a chance to win it for him last year,” senior pitcher Ryan O’Connor said. “We were all disappointed for him.”
O’Connor pitched in that loss to Marist in the county title game last year.
“I needed some redemption for myself,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t have my best game last year.”
Laguerre had all the confidence in the world in his left-handed ace.
“He didn’t come here [Cochrane Field at the Ed “Faa” Ford Complex in Caven Point] to pitch,” Laguerre said. “He came here to win a county championship.”
O’Connor pitched an absolute gem, firing a two-hitter, striking out 12, leading the Marauders to a 2-0 victory over upstart Weehawken in the championship of the Ed Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament.
“No question, Ryan was motivated to do well,” Laguerre said. “Ryan’s easy to read. He just stays the same all the time. And he wanted the ball. He has a lot of confidence right now. He’s locked in.
Added Laguerre, “The way he was throwing and throwing strikes, I never thought our lead would slip away. He truly believed he was going to get it done. I have to think he’s an All-State pitcher right now.”
O’Connor owns a 6-0 record this season and a stingy 0.70 earned run average. The numbers do translate into an All-State performer.
“It was the biggest game of my career,” O’Connor said with a smile. “Well, so far. We’ve all been waiting for this moment for four years. We wanted to go out on a high note.”
The game was a showdown between two of Hudson County’s finest hurlers – O’Connor for Prep and Sal Mendez for Weehawken.
The Marauders scratched out a run in the first inning.
“That was all we needed, the way Ryan was pitching,” Laguerre said. “He was throwing hard and throwing strikes. I have a lot of respect for [Weehawken head coach Anthony] Stratton and Sal. But we were scrapping and clawing. We’re the best team in the county and we had to play like the best team. We just had to finish it and put a nice bow on it.”
Mendez gave up one run over the first three innings, but he wasn’t his typical dominant self. In the fourth inning, Mendez said that he felt something weird in his pitching forearm near his elbow. He came out of the game and was replaced by Jimmy McCall, who did a fabulous job in relief.
But losing their ace to injury sort of deflated the Indians’ spirits. It was a combination of O’Connor’s pitching and Mendez’s injury that ended the Indians’ miraculous run in the county tourney.
In reality, O’Connor would have beaten anyone last Saturday. He was that good.
“Once we came back and beat Hudson Catholic [last week in the county semifinals, coming from behind twice to win], I knew this was going to be our day,” O’Connor said. “We won a game we weren’t supposed to win. This was ours.”
Mostly because of O’Connor, who showed why he received a scholarship to Fairfield University.
“I heard that they were a good hitting team,” O’Connor said of Weehawken. “We didn’t have an easy road to get here. I had to establish my fastball early and pound it inside.”
That’s exactly what O’Connor did _ shutting down the Indians in one of the best pitching performances ever in a county title game.
“He’s been a little overlooked,” said Laguerre, standing on the field on crutches after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery two weeks ago. “But he’s been pitching and winning for us all year.”
Laguerre credited his senior leadership.
“We have fabulous leaders who make my job so much easier,” Laguerre said. “They’re also good players. They’re very focused. It’s a good group. They also get along together so well. I knew we were going to win this game because of one name, Ryan O’Connor.”
Laguerre finally got his victory bath from his players at Caven Point. After six tries, he deserved to feel that cold blast on his head and back.
“It makes my ankle feel better,” Laguerre said. “This is great. It took a while but it feels great.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.