Tom Eagleson, the dean of Hudson County softball coaches with 502 career victories, ranking him seventh all-time in career softball victories in New Jersey, knows that his North Bergen squad is the preseason favorite to bring home a county title this year – and deservedly so.
For one, the main rival down the block, namely defending county champ High Tech, no longer exists as a threat. The program has gone by the wayside thanks to budgetary woes, leaving the door wide open for the Bruins to take over as the head softball honchos in the county.
But Eagleson wasn’t going to base his season on what High Tech would have done anyway. He knew that the Bruins would be a solid group this season, based on his four returning seniors who have been mainstays in his program for four solid years.
“The core four or whatever you want to call them has been outstanding since Day One this year,” Eagleson said. “Without a doubt, we’re ready this year, even more than last year.”
The Bruins were 20-9 last year, won the regular season Hudson County divisional title, but then lost to High Tech in the semifinals.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Eagleson’s optimism lies in the talented right arm of senior pitcher Carla Arismendi, who has been a three-time honoree on the Hudson Reporter All-Area team.
“She’s throwing a lot harder and her stuff is a lot better,” Eagleson said of Arismendi, who has a chance to pitch for the Puerto Rican national softball team. “Her change-up is definitely more effective. She’s better than ever.”
Arismendi is getting a lot of looks from NCAA Division I colleges and should secure a scholarship deal within the coming weeks.
The other senior leaders are second baseman Tiffany Garzon, shortstop Jazmin Palma and centerfielder Ashley Heredia, all of whom have earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors in the past.
“Garzon and Palma have been absolutely tremendous, the best I’ve seen them together,” Eagleson said. “They’re taking the leadership role more and taking the game of softball more seriously. I expect them both to have solid years.”
All four seniors have started every game since they were freshmen, so that experience will go a long way to the Bruins’ success this season. There aren’t a lot of teams that can boast that kind of experience and maturity.
Senior Nicole Bellucci is the team’s catcher, with sophomore Jessica Feria at first base. Feria was at High Tech last year, but did not start with the varsity. Junior Kayla Muniz fits into the mix, but she was a transfer from County Prep and has to sit out the first 30 days. Muniz is a talented player who could become the starting catcher in time.
Garzon and Palma are fixtures at second and short, with sophomore Sabrina Reyes holding down the third base duties.
Sophomore Nerylix Cerda will be in left field, with the quick and ground-covering Heredia in centerfield. Eagleson has said time and time again that he’s never had an outfielder who can roam the field as well as Heredia can.
Senior Ashley Vazzona, straight off her finest basketball season, is the team’s right fielder.
“She’s been playing great out there as well,” Eagleson said.
Senior Maria Montalvo will be the Bruins’ designated player, contributing at the plate and in the field wherever she is used.
“It’s really been great,” Eagleson said. “I can sense that this is going to be a special year. The kids know what to do and everyone has been at every practice from the very beginning. Without a doubt, this has the makings of being a good one.”
Eagleson has upgraded the Bruins’ independent schedule with the anticipation of it being a great year. The Bruins will face Cedar Grove, Union, Montclair, Bloomfield, Cranford and River Dell in independent action. They open the season, weather permitting, against Holy Family, with county games on tap next week against Union City and Kearny.
“It’s definitely our hardest schedule, but I want them to be tested,” Eagleson said. “I think the season is going to be a lot of fun.”
It should be if the year ends with a county title, as anticipated…
We will have more on Hudson County’s best baseball and softball teams in the weeks to come. As preseason baseball teams to watch, St. Peter’s Prep should be a force to be reckoned with, with pitching aces Paul Pappaceno and Mike Doran returning. Hudson Catholic has a new coach in alumnus and former Rutgers University backstop Alberto Vasquez. Union City should be a tough foe with a host of returning players back for last year’s Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year Chip Benway. Bayonne has perhaps the area’s best all-around talent in pitcher/infielder Mike Santana.
Ferris welcomes back a very familiar face in head coach Mike Hogan, who returns after a two-year hiatus. It’s great to see Hogan back in the coaching box.
Hoboken welcomes back two standout hurlers in lefties Kenny Roder and Abe Groomes, giving veteran coach Buddy Matthews his best 1-2 pitching punch in a few years.
In softball, Hoboken has secured the services of several talented players from High Tech, while the best of the former Lasercats, Angelique Nieves, has settled into her new surroundings at Union City High School.
Hudson Catholic has a new coach in former County Prep head coach Tim O’Donnell, who was once the Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year. O’Donnell will certainly get that fledgling program going in the right direction in no time flat.
Secaucus should be a very solid squad, although the basketball injury that standout All-Area performer Shannon Waters suffered might hurt the Patriots early in the season. It should be interesting to see who toes the mound for head coach Cheryl Bott as the season begins.
McNair Academic’s Natalia Estremera, a two-time All-Area honoree, should be one of the best hitters around for another year.
So it should be an interesting spring locally. Make sure to look for features on other local teams in the weeks to come….
We received word that North Bergen basketball coach Kevin Bianco is doing well in his 18-month battle against leukemia. Bianco wanted to thank all the people who sent him get well wishes through phone calls, texts and e-mails over the last few months. Bianco had to take this past season off due to his medical condition, but he has told friends that he plans to be back coaching again very soon. That’s great news for someone who has been an inspiration to everyone since his diagnosis. Keep fighting, Coach. It’s what you do best…
The “Strikeouts for Scholarships” program that is headed by local sportswriter and sportscaster Ed Lucas is holding a fundraiser May 12 at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City.
The guest speakers will be Dan Mallory and his daughter, Laura, who both recently climbed Mount Everest together, along with some other members of their family. The Mallorys will make a presentation about their successful climb of Everest.
The charity was formed in honor of Lucas, who lost his sight at age 12 while playing baseball. The program helps Seton Hall University students with disabilities reach their goal of attaining a college degree.
For more information about the dinner, call Dino Vasquez at (201) 795-9779, Steve Stamos at (201) 823-0247 or Tom Bragen at (201) 725-4742….
In closing, it was also 20 years ago this week that the old Hudson Dispatch ceased publication. The newspaper was a fixture in Hudson County, especially North Hudson, for more than 140 years and was once the second oldest paper in New Jersey. But on April 5, 1991, the doors of the building on 39th Street were closed and the presses stopped, ending an era that included this sportswriter, but enabled him to move on to write for the Hudson Reporter, where he’s remained for the last two decades.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of my appearance in the pages of the Hudson Reporter newspaper chain.
Twenty years? It does seem like yesterday – and the last column written by this reporter at the Hudson Dispatch was about the 1991 Final Four, featuring a meeting with a 19-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, an 80-year-old John Wooden and witnessing Bobby Hurley make basketball history in Indianapolis. Ah, such great memories, now in the memory bank for 20 long years…-- Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read more of Jim’s other work on his blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.