The Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association will hold its final championships on May 30. That is, if the weather gods can cooperate and stop the wet stuff from falling like it has been for practically the entire spring.
But thanks to the NJSIAA’s realignment plan that has turned the world of high school sports in New Jersey totally upside down, the HCIAA, which has been conducting league championships since the Great Depression, will sponsor its very last ones, the baseball and softball Super Saturday quadruple header.
The HCIAA has been a fixture in local high school sports since 1929. It has been one of the oldest active athletic associations in New Jersey sports, with perhaps the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League (NNJIL) being older.
But the state realignment plan will dismember the HCIAA in its entirety after this scholastic sports season, ending its run as one of New Jersey’s premier high school sports leagues.
As the HCIAA slowly becomes a thing of the past, it is making sure that its final baseball season is definitely a memorable one.
The HCIAA Coviello race is completely up for grabs. The league playoffs are slated to begin Wednesday, but no one knows the match-ups just yet.
That’s because at press time, any one of four teams can still claim the regular season title and the top seed.
Currently, the Soaring Eagles of Union City own an 11-4 record. So do the defending champions, the Tigers of Memorial. That fact alone is wild. You have one school in its first season ever as a unified program battling with the school that has captured the most HCIAA baseball championships ever.
Plus, those two teams have split their two meetings this season, so if both teams end in a tie and it comes down to tiebreakers as to what team gets the No. 1 seed, you may need an MIT mathematician complete with a theorem and a slide rule to figure the whole scenario out.
It gets better. Bayonne is just a half-game out of the lead with a 10-4 record. St. Peter’s Prep, which has endured perhaps the biggest roller coaster of a season in veteran coach Joe Urbanovich’s career, is right there, owning a 10-5 record.
The Marauders were left for dead a few weeks ago, even losing a game to Dickinson, which has won just once all season, but they’ve been resilient and won six of seven down the stretch to climb back into contention.
So that’s four teams all within a game of each other, battling for the regular season title and the first seed in the playoffs. Bayonne has two games left against front-runners Union City and Memorial. If the Bees win both, they’re the top seed. Memorial has only one game left, the game with Bayonne. Union City’s final game is against Bayonne. It’s one gigantic, confusing mess.
The other two playoff teams will more than likely be Marist as the fifth seed and North Bergen, which has been playing better ball of late, as the No. 6 seed.
But that’s all we know for now. A week before the playoffs are to commence – a playoff season that has already been delayed nearly two full weeks because of the horrific weather – and not a single team or coach knows their playoff opponents.
“Right now, there’s a possibility where you can have three of the top four teams finishing with identical records,” said Memorial head coach Tony Ferrainolo, the active leader in coaching victories in the entire state. “You have all these different possibilities and only one week before the playoffs begin. I don’t remember anything like this, especially in terms with so many teams involved. I can go back to the days where we had the HCIAA North and South and perhaps there were two or three teams involved down the stretch, but never where it’s come down this late with four teams.”
Ferrainolo had a simple explanation to the madness.
“Everyone has been beating each other,” Ferrainolo said. “You can never predict who is going to win one day or the other. It proves anything can happen. We went to Ferris last week and lost. Prep lost to Dickinson. It’s been crazy.”
Ferrainolo pointed to a game that the Tigers battled rival North Bergen for six innings.
“We faced a red-hot North Bergen team and we were down to our last strike, down two runs,” Ferrainolo said.
But Jose Toribio came through the clutch, delivering a bases-clearing double that gave the Tigers the huge win and kept the hopes of winning the regular season crown alive.
“It was a great win for us, a great comeback win,” Ferrainolo said. “It was also great because [Tigers’ ace] Michael [Kuzirian] was struggling with back spasms and had to come out after two innings, but Jose Zaldana came in and did a great job in relief.”
Ferrainolo also brought up an interesting dilemma that all of the Coviello teams face. The NJSIAA will announce the seeding for the upcoming state tournament on Thursday. It means that the HCIAA Coviello playoff combatants will have to juggle their pitching to accommodate both the county and state playoffs at the same time.
“We could have a team playing for a state sectional title on Friday, May 29 and then playing for the county championship a day later,” Ferrainolo said. “We’d like to get two championships and at the least, like to be playing for the two. The objective is to get to those games. But maybe you have to be sensible to realize you can’t get enough pitching to get both. If you don’t have the pitching, then you have to concentrate on one.”
In recent years, the HCIAA schedule was set up to not have any conflict whatsoever with the state playoffs, but the wicked rains in April and May caused everything to get backed up this season.
So now, it leaves us with an interesting stretch run for the very last HCIAA championship.
Let’s see what transpires over the next two weeks.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.