The first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken, and that legacy continues each spring when local high school, college, and Little League players get their moment in the sun.
In high school softball and baseball, two of the teams to watch this season are the defending Hudson County baseball champions, the Hudson Catholic Hawks, and the BCSL National Division softball champions, the Secaucus Patriots.
The Hudson Catholic Hawks are a unique team. Unlike so many teams that see veteran stars and leaders graduate, many of the regulars from last year's squad are back, and a majority of the roster is composed of senior athletes. This gives the champs a strong base of talent and leadership, giving them an even bigger edge against the numerous county foes that will seek to dethrone these kings of the diamond.
Rob Doughty, a Star Ledger "Player to Watch" for the '08 season, leads the Hawks' talent parade this season. Last year, Doughty blossomed into a star on the field, with both the bat and while on the mound. Of course, the really bad news for the rest of the Hudson County baseball teams might be the fact that Doughty's tremendous pitching numbers were actually trumped by his teammate, Sean McGrath. Posting an ERA of a little over two runs, he pitched to a record of eight wins and just two losses. That was merely the tip of the iceberg for McGrath's impressive junior year, striking out 115 batters.
If the Hudson Catholic boys' strength comes from the team's experience, the Secaucus softball squad is looking towards the team's comradeship to help keep them at the top of their game. Unlike many school athletic programs, who often see the faces of their athletes change as the seasons pass, the Secaucus roster is comprised of many of the names that filled the fall volleyball roster and the winter basketball roster.
Of course, a family atmosphere is not the only thing this team has going for them. In addition to the success experienced on the court earlier this year, the Patriots are also looking to defend their own league championship from last spring.
Similar to the task ahead of the Hudson Catholic squad, the Patriots are looking to defend the BCSL National Division Title. They also, though, are hoping to rinse the bitter taste of a heartbreaking defeat from their mouths. As last season came to a dramatic conclusion, the team got so close to their ultimate goal, but feel they also fell very short. Much like the NFL's New England Patriots, Secaucus was unable to cap the perfect season with the perfect championship. In extra innings, Hoboken was able to knock off Secaucus in the North 2, Group 1 state championship.
Now, like any great team, the Secaucus squad has a superstar to lead the way. Jenna Totaro, already having captured all-county nods in volleyball and basketball this scholastic year, is looking to pull off an awards hat trick. Time will tell.
Bulldogs looking to bite
Of course, every defending champion will always have a league stacked full of opponents that are all anxiously awaiting their opportunity to dethrone the kings and rule the realm of the diamond.
This coming Wednesday (April 16), the Ferris Bulldogs, led by veteran head coach Mike Hogan, hope to beat the Hudson Catholic Hawks.
Last year, in the Hudson County playoffs, the Bulldogs fell to Bayonne, the tournament's number two seed, in the opening round. A playoff loss to a quality team, especially a perennial power like Bayonne, is obviously nothing to be ashamed of, especially when that team ends up in the finals, ultimately falling to Hudson Catholic. That was certainly Hogan's take on the situation, as he also noted that Bayonne looks be tough once again this year.
Though his squad finished a couple of games under .500 last season, wrapping up with 12 wins against 14 losses, Hogan felt there were plenty of positives to build upon. Despite some early season struggles, the Bulldogs were able to make a late surge, securing spots in both the county and state playoff tournaments.
In their regional state playoff game, Ferris, a number 10 seed, fell to West Morris-Central, a number seven seed. Again, though the Bulldogs were defeated, it was yet another tough opponent that handed them the loss, apparent in the fact that West Morris-Central went onto to lose to Cranford by a single run in the finals.
Of course, any team that is looking for a successful season needs to field a roster with a talented blend of veteran leaders and up-and-coming stars. Returning players like Ricardo Rivas (an '07 All-County selection) and Andres Lopez are setting an example for the younger talent including David Rivera and Angel Colon.
As for weaknesses, Coach Hogan's main concern is with the pitching staff. "We're inexperienced at pitching, and as you know, that's the key," he said.
Indeed, defense wins championships, and the pitcher sets the defensive tone in baseball. Still, Hogan is confident that things can fall into place for his staff once they are able to get some innings under their belt.
Pitching is not the only problem that Hogan is currently trying to address. "We're still trying to get over some March injuries," he said. No surprise there, considering preseason injuries are known to happen in baseball, especially when you are forced to combat cold, wet weather. On the injury front, the Bulldogs are especially missing the defensive talents of their centerfielder, Cedric Bedeta, thanks to an arm injury. Though Bedeta is still able to make it into the lineup, currently serving as a designated hitter, Hogan will gladly welcome the opportunity to see him once again tracking down balls out in center.
Now, even Hogan was not about to make any excuses for his team, it can easily be said that the lack of an experienced pitching staff and nagging injuries have led to early season hiccups for the Bulldogs.
The team has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start early in the year, losing games to some top-ranking squads, like St. Peter's Prep and Bayonne, but Coach Hogan believes an impressive independent victory against St. Raymond (N.Y.) points towards far better times for the Bulldogs. In that game, the Ferris bats, which had previously been looking to shake off the frosty weather, heated up to the tune of an 11-run outburst, an attack spearheaded by two hits and an RBI from Luis Pozo, who also picked up the win.
So will the Ferris Bulldogs put pitching issues and pulled muscles behind them? Can they surpass the success of last season and go deeper into the playoffs? Only time will tell. The season is still young, and as the Ferris squad proved last year, stringing together a nice winning streak can make early season struggles seem like a distant memory.
A good indication of what exactly Ferris will have to offer during the rest of the season could be their April 16 match-up against those defending champions, the Hudson Catholic Hawks.