The phone call was made last week to St. Peter’s Prep head baseball coach Pat Laguerre, and much like every single call between the coach and reporter over the last 20-plus years, it began with pleasantries.
“How are you doing Coach?”
“I’ve had better days,” Laguerre said. “In fact, I’m pretty miserable.”
Miserable? Laguerre? He’s one of the most affable and funniest men alive. His command of the English language, littered with expletives (he admits he’s trying to curtail what he says), has no peers in Hudson County. He’s always a great phone call and interview.
Plus, Laguerre’s baseball team is enjoying a phenomenal season, winning 18 of 20 games, earning the top seed in the Hudson County Tournament that begins this weekend.
“You didn’t hear?” Laguerre said. “I thought you were calling because you heard.”
Nope. News doesn’t always travel in this direction.
“I ruptured my Achilles tendon,” said the second-year head coach at Grand and Warren.
It was Spirit Week at Prep and Laguerre, a former basketball player at Jacksonville University during his playing days, decided to play in a faculty/student basketball game. Laguerre, not realizing that he’s not exactly 20 years old anymore, played in the game.
“I took a bad step and ruptured the Achilles,” Laguerre said. “With everything going on, the timing couldn’t be worse.”
He just had the surgery to repair the injury on Monday. He’s in a soft cast up to his knee and can’t put any weight on the reconstructed ankle.
A day later, a recuperating Laguerre took the phone call to talk about his 18-2 team that is ranked among the top teams in New Jersey, right now earning the No. 6 position in the state.
Laguerre, who is vowing to coach his team from the dugout the rest of the season, knew before the season that he had a talented team. But being 18-2 and ranked among the top 10 in the entire state?
“To be honest, we’re right where I thought we’d be,” Laguerre said.
Before the season started, Laguerre said that he had a good team, but he wondered how everyone would blend together. He was asking four sophomores to play prominent roles. He had other players manning different positions.
“It was all about how quickly the younger kids adapted,” Laguerre said.
Sure enough, Laguerre counted on the development of four sophomores, namely Corey Caddle, Kyle Bowes, Mike Marino, and Dan Cooney, to blend in with his returning players.
Caddle, Bowes and Marino have been among the best Marauder hitters. Cooney has been the team’s closer.
“They’ve all done a great job,” Laguerre said.
But the heart and soul of the Marauders has been junior shortstop T.J. Ward, who has developed into one of the best all-around players in New Jersey. Ward is batting .469 this season with five homers. He has 16 extra base hits, ranking him among the top 10 power hitters in the state.
No one ever questioned Ward’s talents, but his power surge has been unbelievable.
“I always knew he had pop in his bat,” Laguerre said. “But he’s hit five bombs and he should have had a couple more. His power display has been a surprise to some, but I always knew. He’s been a mainstay in our offense and turned himself into a Division I player.”
How much? Well, Laguerre said that Ward is getting looks from Stanford, Harvard and Dartmouth. So not only is Ward a fine ballplayer, he’s a great student getting looks from those prestigious schools.
“He’s aces,” Laguerre said. “He does everything right. He’s better now at handling criticism, so now, he’s a coach’s dream. I’m glad to be part of his maturation. He’s a solid kid, a team kid.”
Laguerre has known Ward since he was in diapers, so it must be a joy to watch Ward become a stud.
But the bottom line as to why the Marauders have been so dominant has been their pitching. Senior lefty Ryan O’Connor, headed to Fairfield in the fall, has been practically untouchable, posting a 5-0 record with a miniscule 1.19 ERA.
“O’Connor has been lights out,” Laguerre said. “His importance has been so huge. He’s set the tone for the rest of the pitching staff.”
So has senior right-hander Anthony Pacillo, headed to Seton Hall in the fall. Pacillo also has a 5-0 record and owns a 1.77 ERA.
“They’ve been our two aces,” Laguerre said.
Senior righty Ryan Finn has also done a fine job on the mound. Finn (3-0, 1.83 ERA) hurled a no-hitter against Memorial last week.
“Those three have been so good, I can’t even begin to describe how good,” Laguerre said.
So the Marauders head into the county tournament as the team to beat. The Marauders will face University Charter of Jersey City in the opening round of the tournament this weekend.
“I think we have a good shot,” Laguerre said. “The team has stayed hungry and they’re developing into a great team. The two losses we had [Bayonne and Canisius of Buffalo] were games that we had a lead in both games. But the team has worked hard and knows how to win in close games. I’ve never sensed panic once with this team. It’s a very competitive county tournament, but I like our chances.”
And if the Marauders emerge victorious, then Laguerre will gladly use the crutches to go collect the county title trophy.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.