Better prepared this time for Koufax Series
Jersey City COBRA set to prove that team is more than host squad
For the first six years that Jersey City has been the host of the Sandy Koufax World Series, featuring the best 13 and 14-year-old baseball players in the nation, the host team has predominantly played the role of gracious host - and not much more.
Only once has the local team, either the Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow or the Jersey City COBRA, have advanced past action on Sunday. Four years ago, the Jersey City team finished fourth. That's been the best finish.
Last year, the Jersey City COBRA team went two and out. Two games, two losses, say sayonara.
A year ago, the team was undergoing roster changes and uncertain positioning right up to the World Series. The confusion showed a little on the field, as Jersey City was quickly eliminated.
Well, Jersey City Recreation and COBRA baseball officials want to make sure this time around that the local team is more than just the tournament's official greeter. They all want to make a solid showing of themselves, as the tournament is played throughout this weekend.
At press time, Jersey City COBRA, proud owner of a 27-2 record, was scheduled to play Friday night in the first round of the double-elimination tournament and hoped to make it through the second and third rounds of the nine-team tourney, which meant that they would see action on Monday, August 13.
According to head coach Kevin Wendolowski, the COBRA has its most competitive team since he's been involved with the Jersey City baseball program.
"It's the fourth year I've been involved with the Koufax World Series team and the first time as a head coach," Wendolowski said. "We didn't like that we were simply getting by as the host team, like we were backing into the tournament. After last year, we started preparing for this year's World Series, getting together three days a week, throughout the winter, working on hitting, pitching, defense, up at the Jersey City YMCA. They all have been working so hard for this."
Added Wendolowski, "I think we've been fine tuning all year to get ready for this. We didn't want to have a team that backed its way in."
So the Jersey City COBRA played many more regular season games to prepare for the World Series. They had the team in place for many of those games. And they went to the Koufax New Jersey State tournament with a mission in mind.
Sure enough, Jersey City COBRA defeated the eight-team field to capture the state championship. So much for backing in.
"We've been set for the last two months and we know what we have," Wendolowski said. "There is much more team speed than we've ever had. And we have good pitching. I just hope it continues. Hopefully, what we did in the state tournament will carry over to the World Series."
The COBRA will not be the lone Hudson County team in the tournament. By virtue of capturing the North Atlantic Regional title in Waterbury, Conn. last weekend, West New York has also qualified for the Koufax World Series.
The other teams include: the Dallas (Texas) Tigers; the Old National Mets of College Park, Georgia; the Concealed Security Dodgers of Farmington, Michigan; the Forrest Pallet Hurricanes of Rockford, Illinois; Washington Township of Bergen County; Rio Piedras Orioles of Puerto Rico; and an old favorite, the West Covina Dukes of California.
West Covina has participated in the World Series in Jersey City five times in the seven years of the tournament.
Wendolowski can call upon the services of 11 different youngsters who can pitch over the course of the weekend, two of whom played for the COBRA team in last year's World Series, namely Mike Brown (St. Peter's Prep) and Anthony Ferri (Seton Hall Prep).
Other pitchers include Alberto Medina (Hudson County Prep), Mike Pavlecka, Ed Nasti and Joe Zembryski (St. Peter's), as well as Manny Rodriguez, Tom McFadden, Lou Guzman, Jr. and Kris Gonzalez (all going to Hudson Catholic).
Just to play safe, Wendolowski drafted two players to help with the pitching, namely Mike Maldonado of Newark and Brian Hwang from Northern Valley.
"However, the rest of the team is all ours," Wendolowski said. "It makes it easier knowing the players and what they can do."
Zembryski is the team's regular first baseman. Wendolowski likes his quick bat. Gonzalez will play second base and shortstop, along with Danny Ramirez. The team has two catchers, Nick Criaris and Willie Santiago, who was an alternate on last year's World Series team.
In the outfield, Wendolowski will call upon Chris Lugo, veteran Brown and Kevin Guarini, who is only 13 years old. Other key players include first baseman Chris Bligh, utility player Jonathan Epps, as well as Rodriguez, affectionately known as "M-Rod," by his teammates, and Nasti.
Wendolowski has been assisted in the coaching by Willie Costigan, last year's head coach Sean McNally, the former Princeton standout, and Lou Guzman, Sr.
"I really believe we have the best team we've ever had in the World Series," Wendolowski said. "The chemistry is there and the talent is there. We just hope it can continue throughout the weekend."