Coming into the 2014 high school baseball season, junior Elijah Pereira was slated to be the top hurler on the Ferris pitching staff.
There was only one problem.
“The problem is that he’s also our top shortstop,” said veteran Ferris head coach Mike Hogan. “A lot of the other teams have the luxury of having pitchers who strictly pitch. That’s just the nature of high school baseball. He definitely has the best arm on the team, but we also need him to play shortstop.”
“There isn’t another shortstop behind me,” Pereira said. “I’ve been playing shortstop since I came in as a freshman.”
So it left the Bulldogs in a bit of a quandary, because as everyone knows, no matter how talented Pereira is, he can’t exactly play both positions at the same time.
“I always feel like the team needs me in the field at shortstop,” Pereira said.
However, last week, the Bulldogs had two tough games against Kearny and Memorial. No matter how much Hogan needed Pereira, the shortstop, he needed Pereira, the pitcher a heck of a lot more.
“He throws strikes,” Hogan said. “He’s not overpowering, but he has good stuff.”
“I throw a fastball, curveball and changeup,” Pereira said. “I throw mostly fastballs. I know that I have to come in and do my job as a pitcher.”
Pereira first came in and made like Mariano Rivera – ironically, Pereira wears No. 42, like the sure-fire former New York Yankee closer – and earned a save in the Bulldogs’ clutch win over Kearny, a team that had only one loss and had wins over Marist, Union City and North Bergen before facing Ferris.
Pereira was able to handle the relief role, because he also earned a save in a win over Dickinson the week prior.
But the big challenge came two days later, when Pereira earned the start against one of the county’s perennially top contenders, Memorial.
“I knew that they were a good team and I was going to face a tough lineup,” Pereira said. “I knew I had to do whatever I could to help my team get a win. That was basically my approach.”
Pereira kept the mighty Tigers to only one run and a handful of hits through seven innings. Unfortunately for Pereira, the Bulldogs managed only to score one run through seven innings, then eight, into the ninth.
Pereira had thrown 114 pitches through nine innings of a 1-1 tie.
“I don’t know what I was doing out there,” Pereira said. “I was just going on pure adrenaline. It was just me and the catcher and I was throwing strikes. I wasn’t thinking about getting tired.”
“His control is very good,” Hogan said. “He’s only walked one batter all year. He was holding his own and pitching well.”
As it turned out, the Bulldogs scored twice in the 10th inning, earning a hard-fought 3-1 win over Memorial. While Pereira didn’t earn the victory himself, there’s no way the Bulldogs would have had the win without his stellar pitching.
For his efforts, Pereira has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Pereira was so pumped up that he wanted to pitch further.
“I probably could have gone all 10 if I had to,” Pereira said. “It felt amazing to hold a team like Memorial to one run. I knew I did my part to help the team win, but it was a team effort. As long as I do what I can to help the team, that’s all that matters.”
Hogan is impressed by the way Pereira has taken the bull by the horns, both on the field and off.
“His defense has been very good,” Hogan said. “He’s a very good student and a very hard worker. He leads by example. He’s not a vocal kid. He’s very quiet. He’s not the kind to get in people’s faces, but he leads by the way he acts. He has committed himself to the game and that’s outstanding.”
Pereira knows that his pitching and defense have been solid.
“Hitting is a process,” Pereira said. “I think it’s coming along more. On my off days, I’m always looking to take extra batting practice to try to get better. I think it’s helping me a little bit.”
Pereira is also trying to make a name for the Bulldogs. Right now, they own a 6-7 record, but Pereira feels that they can make some noise down the stretch.
“Ferris is not a big name around the county, but we’re a good team,” Pereira said. “It’s a whole different team now at Ferris. We’re better. We’re showing that we’re out to play and compete every single game, but our goal is still to win the county.”
Although he’s just a junior, Pereira wants to get the chance to play college baseball after next year.
“I will wait to see who comes to take a look at me,” Pereira said. “I just want to be able to get my name out there.”
Hogan believes that Pereira can play college baseball somewhere.
“He can definitely play at the NJAC [New Jersey Athletic Conference, where New Jersey City University plays] schools,” Hogan said. “He’s only 16, so he’s still got some maturing to do. But he has good ability, good range at short and a great arm. Sometimes, I think all he needs is confidence at the plate. He just doesn’t hit up to his ability. But he works very hard. He can definitely play at the next level. If he gets his game together, he can be very good.”
Those words come from the man who helped to send two of his former players, namely John Valentin and Willie Banks, to the major leagues. Valentin and Banks played for Hogan at St. Anthony back in the 1980s.
Pereira loves hearing those words.
“It feels really good,” Pereira said. “I didn’t expect any of this. I just want to continue to make a name for myself. I’m an A/B student, so I should be able to get into college.”
And he should be able to play somewhere in college, either at shortstop or as a pitcher. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.