Talk about your instant success.
In only its second year of existence, the North Bergen Little League entered a team into the 10-year-old District 7 All-Star tournament this summer for the very first time.
"We felt like we had the talent this year to do it," said Mike Bartulovich, who is the president of the North Bergen Little League softball program and served as the head coach for the 10-year-old All-Stars. "We knew that the girls wanted to play, so we decided to enter a team in the tourney for the first time and see what happens."
Sure enough, the North Bergen softball queens captured the District 7 title recently, defeating Bayonne in the finals by a score of 13-6.
"I think we had an idea we would do pretty well even before the season started," Bartulovich said. "We're getting a lot more girls who want to play softball in the league and we're developing a lot of players. So even before the tournament began, we had a feeling that we would do well."
One of the reasons why Bartulovich felt so confident, even if his team was a first-year tourney participant, was the development of some young pitchers, like his daughter, Brooke, and Breanna Perez.
Brooke Bartulovich and Breanna Perez are so far advanced for pitchers at 10 years old. In fact, citing a need to develop pitchers, Bartulovich initiated a program where interested young ladies would go and work on their pitching one day a week. The program already paid its dividends with the development of Brooke and Brianna.
"Brooke was strong all year long and she pitched nearly every single game during the regular season," the elder Bartulovich said. "By the end of the year, Brooke was an accomplished pitcher. But Brianna really surprised me and showed me a lot. She basically became a pitcher this year and developed nicely."
Perez was the winning pitcher in the title game against Bayonne.
Melanie Tirado was the team's catcher. Not only was Tirado a steady influence behind the plate, but she also became one of the team's best hitters.
Megan Kennell was the team's first baseman. Kennel was also a good hitter and was the team's ace relief pitcher if Bartulovich or Perez ever faltered.
"We had a very good hitting team," Bartulovich said. "All of the girls hit well."
Brielle Forbes was the starting second baseman. Bartulovich said that Forbes developed into a fine fielder. Shortstop duties were handled by Brooke Bartulovich and Perez, when either one wasn't pitching.
Jessica Perez, no relation to Brianna, was the slick fielding third baseman.
Bartulovich rotated his outfielders, using Nicole Reilly, Kristyn Bermudez, Melissa Malia, Kayla Moore, Anelia Rosario and Erica Parra in the outfield. Playing the same rules as Little League baseball, all of the players had to see at least two innings of action during the course of each game, so they all played considerable roles in the championship run.
"They were a good bunch of girls, all willing to listen and learn," Bartulovich said. "The big thing was that we got them on the field as an All-Star team this summer and then we were able to bring home a banner. It will hang there as a memory for them forever. People said that Little League was strictly for boys, but we wanted to make sure to get softball a chance, help these girls develop. Now, these girls have their own banner and they're recognized on their own."
The North Bergen All-Stars traveled to Carlstadt last week to participate in the Section 1 tournament with other District champs from Districts 5, 6 and 8. Although North Bergen ended up losing twice to Little Ferry/South Hackensack, thus getting eliminated from the section tournament, it still was a successful summer for the newcomers from North Bergen.
"No question, we will always have a 10-year-old All-Star team from now on," Bartulovich said. "There always has to be that first time. This was it and they won. I think word of mouth will now get out and we'll get more girls interested in playing in the future."
Which is what having summer programs are all about - getting more and more participation down the road.
The EXTRA INNINGS weekly feature focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area. If you have any noteworthy information to contribute to the EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to contact Jim Hague by voice mail at (201) 798-7800, ext. 751, by general mail at 1400 Washington St., Hoboken, NJ 07030, or via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. Please include a telephone contact name and number, in order to secure further information for a possible story. -Jim Hague