Boyce counting on young staff, headed by veteran ace Fuda, to lead the way
A year after enjoying a dream baseball season that culminated in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV title and a berth in the overall Group IV title game, the Bruins of North Bergen struggled through an 11-12 campaign in 2002.
"I think I might have been guilty for having a hangover from 2001," said North Bergen head coach Brian Boyce. "I think we all wanted to get there again and it didn't happen for a variety of reasons."
Part of the reason was injuries to Boyce's top two hurlers from the prior year, namely Anabel Santiago, who missed the entire year with an arm injury, and Emil Fuda, who missed most of the season with a variety of injuries and illness.
"I found out that there are some things you can't control," Boyce said. "Injuries are a nature of the business. You can't rely on people too much. You can't count out injuries."
Boyce and the Bruins seem ready to rid themselves of last year's horrors, especially ace senior hurler Fuda, who has returned healthy from a horrific tumor scare that attacked his face and eye socket a year ago, not to mention knee surgery.
"It was really scary," Boyce said of Fuda, who has all the makings of being a top-flight high school pitcher. "He had one of the worst years any kid could ever have. But Emil's resilient and has bounced back well. He's a true gamer. Emil knows he's the ace of the staff. I believe that for us to be successful, Emil has to win seven or eight games. But he's more than capable of doing it. He threw extremely well in the pre-season. I think he's one of the best in the county, no question, but he needs support behind him."
Fuda fired a one-hitter against Marist to start the season, then had a big lead against Emerson last week, before the roof collapsed in an 8-5 loss.
Fuda has help on the mound, with junior righty Chris Mena as a solid No. 2 behind Fuda, and a trio of sophomores, righty Anthony Valdivia, who is already 2-0 in the early going, Alex Del Rio and left-hander Chris Reyes chipping in on the mound.
Reyes has shown a lot of promise.
"He moves in and out and changes speeds well," Boyce said of Reyes. "He pitched for the first time last year as a freshman. He has great makeup, has a lot of fun out there and I think he has a lot of potential."
Junior Franklin Reyes (no relation) is the Bruins' starting catcher, but can also pitch in a pinch as well.
"Franklin is a very versatile kid," Boyce said. "He can catch, play the infield, the outfield and pitch. You like having kids like that."
First base duties will be shared by Fuda and Mena when they're not pitching, as well as senior slugger Rob Mateo, who is batting .500 and has an amazing 15 RBI already in the early going.
Junior Anthony Fernandez is playing second base for the Bruins, with senior Jose Suncar manning shortstop. Suncar is a key to the Bruins' attack.
"He's very fast and has to get on base for us," Boyce said of Suncar, who batted .300 last year. "He's also a good fielder and is the glue to our infield."
Del Rio is the starter at third base. The multi-talented sophomore started the year as the Bruins' cleanup hitter, but has been moved around the lineup to find him a comfortable slot.
"He has a lot of potential," Boyce said of Del Rio.
Senior Rob Ruiz is the Bruins' starting left fielder, with juniors Ronald Zarza and Jake Castillo sharing centerfield duties and Chris Reyes seeing a lot of action in right. Valdivia will get some time at first base and designated hitter when not pitching and junior Jason Castillo also sees time off the bench for the Bruins.
The Bruins started out the season with a 5-2 record, but the two losses came in consecutive HCIAA Coviello games against Emerson and front-running St. Peter's Prep. It has put the Bruins in a tough predicament when it comes to qualifying for the league playoffs.
"Without question, Prep, Memorial and Bayonne are the elite of the league, along with Hudson Catholic," Boyce said. "It leaves the rest of us jockeying for playoff positions. We need to play better in the county."
The Bruins head for a week at Cocoa Expo in Cocoa Beach, Florida Sunday morning. They hope to get in four games while in the Sunshine State.
"But we can't even think about Florida without getting by Dickinson first," Boyce said. "Then, when we come back from Florida, we have Ferris, Lincoln and Hudson Catholic in three straight games. So we're going to know right away where we stand."
The Bruins raised $15,000 to make the trip to Florida, selling candy and T-shirts, organizing faculty/student basketball games and putting together an advertisement journal.
"The trip could really bring the team together," Boyce said. "They do everything together for a week, eat, sleep, drink baseball. It could make or break us. I think the kids will really enjoy it. We have to see how well we can do down there."
But the real fun will begin when the Bruins return.
"I think we can be extremely competitive," Boyce said. "I also think if we get into the playoffs, we will be a tough out."
With an ace like Fuda, the Bruins will hang around to the very end.