The All-Area Baseball Team features six players who made the team a year ago. The All-Area Softball Team has 10 repeat performers. That just proves the level of consistency that graces the fields of the county each year.
Leading the way among the baseball honorees are the individual awards.
The Player of the Year is St. Peter's Prep catcher Nick Criaris, who made the team last year as a first baseman. Criaris, who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 18th round of last week's Major League Baseball amateur draft, batted .473 with five homers and 35 RBI this season for the HCIAA Coviello Division champions.
Criaris was mentioned by practically every opposing coach as the top player in the county and his numbers back up the praise. The 6-2, 225-pound left-handed hitting slugger also banged out eight doubles and two triples this season.
The Pitcher of the Year is Memorial ace Robinson Polanco, who is also a repeat honoree on the All-Area squad. Polanco had a 7-2 record this season with a 1.1l earned run average and 110 strikeouts in just 57 innings. He surrendered just 28 hits and walked just 19. The lefty Polanco ends his high school career with a brilliant 22-3 career mark with the Tigers.
Polanco's teammate, junior Jesus Castano, earns the Most Valuable Player award. Castano, an All-Area selection as a utility performer, showed his versatility by being a dominant force on the mound, in the field at shortstop and at the plate.
As a pitcher, the junior righty was 8-2 with a 1.00 ERA. At the plate, Castano batted .410 with two homers and 24 RBI, along with seven doubles and two triples. Opposing coaches also called Castano the best fielding shortstop in the county.
The Baseball Coach of the Year is St. Peter's Prep's Joe Urbanovich, who took a team that was a 13-12 disappointment in 2004 and turned it into a 23-3 powerhouse and another HCIAA championship a year later.
Urbanovich is the granddaddy of all Hudson County baseball coaches and never truly gets the credit for his brilliant 30-plus year career in coaching.
Molding this team into a champion could very well be Urbanovich's best coaching job to date and certainly worthy of the Coach of the Year nod.
The other returning All-Area players from last year's team are pitcher Mike Vitale of Bayonne, third baseman Kris Gonzalez of County Prep, designated hitter Gabe Ramirez of North Bergen and utility selection Rubiel Mercado of Hudson Catholic.
Two All-Area baseball newcomers have seen their names appear on All-Area lists before, namely football.
Second baseman Vinnie Johnson, Jr. of Hoboken made the All-Area Football Team as a defensive back last fall.
Outfielder Mike Brown of St. Peter's Prep adds a baseball honor to his litany of football awards.
Brown, who is headed to the University of Virginia on a football scholarship and who represented New Jersey last week in the Governor's Bowl, is the only performer to ever make the Hudson Reporter's All-Area football team for four straight years. He adds the baseball accolade to his already historic resume.
Turning the page to softball, St. Dominic Academy's brilliant Leigh Ann Murduca earns two post-season honors, as the Pitcher of the Year and the Most Valuable Player.
Murduca, who guided the Blue Devils to their third straight HCIAA Coviello Division title this season, had a 24-6 pitching record this year with a ridiculously low 0.39 ERA, shaving better than two full runs off her ERA of a year ago. She struck out an amazing 300 batters on the nose and walked just 14.
As a hitter, Murduca batted .558, which is 150 points higher than she did last year. She had one homer and 38 RBI and collected 48 hits, 10 of which were doubles.
It is truly a season for the memory banks, as Murduca earned All-Area honors for her fourth straight year.
The Player of the Year was High Tech shortstop Lauren DeGrushe, who batted .500 with four homers, 12 doubles and 23 RBI. DeGrushe moved from third base to shortstop this season and didn't miss a beat.
The Softball Coach of the Year is someone who is more recognized for his prowess on the football field.
Hoboken rookie head softball coach Ravon Anderson, a former high school All-American and All-State standout during his days as a Red Wing before playing collegiately at North Carolina and then Rutgers, earns the nod as Coach of the Year for leading the Red Wings to the HCIAA Seglio Division title, snapping a five-year, 82-game reign of dominance by High Tech.
Other than Murduca (fourth time) and DeGrushe (third time), the other eight returning All-Area players are Tiara Smith of North Bergen, Shannon Force of Bayonne, April Jacob of High Tech (third time), Jessica Klein and Jenna Wendolowski of Holy Family Academy, Cory Roesing of Secaucus, Natalie Lugo of Hoboken (third time), Danielle Gaffey of County Prep and Lauren Canonico of St. Dominic Academy. - Jim Hague