Although the Memphis Tigers steamrolled their way to their second Sandy Koufax World Series title in the last three years, there were a lot of reasons to feel good about the performance of Hudson County in the tournament, both on and off the field.
First, the Hudson County All-Stars, which served as the host team, represented themselves quite well, winning two games in the tournament before falling in the semifinals to the eventual champions.
Considering that the team had only a handful of practices together before the first game in the tourney, winning twice and placing among the Final Four in the nine-team double-elimination bracket was no small feat.
Coached by former Hoboken High School standout and current St. Peter's College shortstop Josh Piniero, the Hudson County team featured kids from all over the county, like Jersey City, North Bergen, Weehawken, Bayonne and three players from Secaucus, including Mike Hansen, who had one of the best all-around performances in the tournament.
Hansen pitched five solid innings in one of the early round games and thrilled the hometown crowds by blasting a home run in the second round victory.
Another standout performer was Hoboken's Rubiel Mercado, who pitched a complete game four-hitter, striking out 12 in another victory. Mercado also played a flawless shortstop.
Robert Del Fino, who plays for Hudson County Prep, had a fine tournament at the plate, delivering at least two hits in three of the four games the Hudson County team player. Del Fino also smacked a homer in the team's second round victory.
Yessy Tejada, Alain Rivera, Kevin Guarini and Chris Bligh were also among the talented players who shined during the World Series for the host team.
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was in attendance for mostly every game and actually went out to help the groundskeepers get the field ready Saturday morning after the vicious thunderstorm Friday night.
"Everything turned out fine," Elwell said. "It was a wonderful experience for all of us hosting the Sandy Koufax tournament. There was a great level of play throughout the tournament and the Hudson County team did very well. Even with the heavy rains, we had our fields ready."
Added Elwell, "If we had more time to prepare, I think we could have done even a better job. The hotels, the restaurants, the businesses were all accommodating to our visitors. I'm extremely pleased with the way we all came together and welcomed people from all over the country to Secaucus. People came in and had a good impression of us and left with a good feeling about our community."
Elwell said that he would be more than willing to welcome the tournament back again next year, if the Amateur American Baseball Congress (AABC), the organization that runs the Sandy Koufax World Series.
"If they're willing to consider us, then we'd be willing to host again," Elwell said.
Elwell said that he also plans to honor the entire Hudson County team and coaching staff at a future town council meeting.
"We want to be able to get the whole team here to show them some recognition for a job well done," Elwell said. "They did well."
So did the town of Secaucus, for taking something that was thrown at them at the last minute and turning it into a world-class affair. - Jim Hague