It’s gotten to the point where Vinnie Johnson can actually plan his summer months around a trip to Minnesota.
For the third straight year, Johnson, the head coach of the Hoboken Shockers of the Major League Baseball RBI (Rebuilding Baseball in the Inner-City) program, will take a team to compete in the RBI World Series in Minneapolis.
It’s actually the fourth straight year that the Shockers will go to the RBI World Series, having gone in 2010 to Orlando. But this is the third straight summer that the tourney will be held in Minnesota.
“I just hope that the girls are living up to expectations,” Johnson said. “I like to keep putting this on my calendar.”
The Shockers punched their ticket to Minneapolis with an 8-2 victory over Harlem at the RBI Northeast Regional tournament on the campus of St. John’s University last Sunday.
The Shockers have a roster that features many of the young ladies who earned Hudson Reporter High School Softball All-Area in recent years, including two-time Reporter Pitcher of the Year Jessica Feria of North Bergen, who was the winning pitcher in the region championship game on Sunday.
Feria, headed to Mercy College in the fall, was the winning pitcher in the first game of the tournament and the final game as well.
Johnson had faith in all four of the members of his pitching staff.
“They all did a great job,” Johnson said.
Former Hoboken standout Jayla Vega, who was the 2012 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player, was also on the Shockers’ pitching staff, along with two-time All-Area honoree Eddielynn Figueroa of Ferris and promising newcomer Christina Mezey of St. Dominic Academy.
“Eddielynn played with us last year and Christina represents our future,” Johnson said. “We pretty much have a senior team, so next year, we’re going to be young. Christina will hold a key role in the future.”
The catcher is Shayla Figueroa, Eddielynn’s sister, who also played at Ferris.
“Shayla can play anywhere,” Johnson said. “Her bat is great. She got big hits when we needed it.”
Jovanique Meneses, formerly of Union City High School, is the team’s first baseman. Meneses made All-Area as a player at High Tech and later Union City.
Vega handled most of the duties at second base, but she was backed up by Victoria Moyeno of Hudson Catholic and Adriana Liverman of Union City.
The shortstop is Alize Sarmiento of North Bergen, who was predominantly a second baseman for the Bruins in the spring.
“Alize is our leadoff hitter,” Johnson said. “She gets us going. I felt she could help us more by playing shortstop.”
Johnson likes the fact that his team has great diversity.
“We can use so many different combinations,” Johnson said. “I’m fortunate to be able to move kids around and it doesn’t hurt us.”
Hoboken product Naomi Olacio, another two-time All-Area honoree, also sees time at shortstop.
“She also can play anywhere and she has to play lately, because her bat has been on fire,” Johnson said.
Another Hoboken product and All-Area honoree Kayla Morrissette is the third baseman.
North Bergen’s Nerylix Cerda, who was the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year in 2013, is the team’s left fielder. Cerda is the No. 2 hitter in the Shockers’ lineup behind Sarmiento, so the Shockers definitely have a North Bergen flavor at the top of the order.
The centerfielder is Sybil Lynch of Hoboken, who was the 2011-2012 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year.
Ashley Barron, who earned the Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year in 2009-2010, is a coach on the team, so former Athletes of the Year are well represented on the Shockers’ roster.
Jade Bracero, another former All-Area honoree and former Hoboken standout, is the right fielder.
It’s safe to say that Johnson has assembled an All-Star roster to head into the RBI World Series every year.
“We’re able to get a bunch of good kids from all over,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, when you put together an All-Star team, those girls don’t mix well. But these girls play together all the time and they’ve jelled well together. It’s a good mix.”
Johnson is assisted by Rick Rosero and April Rosero, along with Barron.
The Shockers will not leave for the RBI World Series in Minnesota until Aug. 8, so Johnson has to find creative ways to keep the team sharp and active.
“We’ll practice a lot and have a couple teams that will scrimmage us, just to stay busy,” Johnson said. “It’s a big thrill to be going back again. But we’re here to win this year. I am beginning to feel like the Minnesota Vikings, going to the Super Bowl and never winning. Getting there is one thing. We want to win this year. We’re playing teams that play softball all year round, so we have to be very good. We only get together for a month or so, but these are the results.
Added Johnson, “I’m really happy with the bunch of kids we have. They’ve really rallied together to win the region again while having a good time. It’s going to be a big thrill for all of them.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.