Being the defending Hudson County baseball champions isn’t always easy.
Just ask the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep, who enjoyed a 26-4 memorable season in 2013, capped by capturing the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Baseball Tournament title.
That year is a distant memory for head coach Pat Laguerre and his Marauders, evidenced by the season-opening 3-1 loss to Marist and its ace Matt Littrell last Tuesday night.
“That’s what gave Marist motivation to face us,” Laguerre said after the setback. “We were undisciplined and didn’t get it done. The new kids have to learn the expectations and have to play more disciplined. You have to have a special kind of fight to play Hudson County baseball. You have to bring a special kind of toughness.
Added Laguerre, “The target is always going to be on us and it should be. We should accept the challenge of being the defending county champs. We should understand that challenge.”
A day later, the Marauders, thanks to a brilliant two-hit pitching performance from junior Antonio Velardi, knocked off the state’s No. 2-ranked team, Bergen Catholic, 2-0.
So in the infant stages of a new baseball season, the Marauders have already experienced the lows and the highs.
The Marauders lost a ton of talent to graduation, including the 2013 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player Ryan O’Connor, who is now pitching at Fairfield University.
“We know we lost a lot to graduation, but that is just another of the challenges this team has to face,” Laguerre said. “We should relish that challenge.”
The Marauders lost most of its pitching staff from a year ago, with the exception of junior right-hander Dan Cooney, who won four games last year as a sophomore. Cooney pitched the season opener against Marist and handled himself well. He just lost to a better pitcher that day in Littrell, the Royal Knights’ ace who is headed to Monmouth in the fall.
“Cooney pitched in a lot of big games for us last year and got a lot of big outs,” Laguerre said. “He’s a good control guy, spots his pitches in and out. He has a good changeup and curveball. He throws a lot of strikes. He’s comfortable on the mound and I’m comfortable with him on the mound.”
Velardi definitely catapulted himself into the limelight with his brilliant effort against the Crusaders on Wednesday.
“He has a lot of potential and all the tools to be a very good player,” Laguerre said.
Other newcomers to the Marauders’ pitching staff include junior right-hander Joe Kopacz, junior right-hander Steven Kellner, senior left-hander Anthony Colegrove and promising sophomore righty Nick Cerbone, whom Laguerre said that he “expects big things from this year.”
Multi-talented Corey Caddle, the standout football player who is also an excellent baseball player, will also get a chance to pitch this season when he’s not roaming the outfield. Caddle is also a right-hander.
The Marauders’ pitching staff may be unproven at this point, with the exception of Cooney and now Velardi, but it is certainly deep. There aren’t many teams in the state that can rely upon nine quality pitchers.
“Our biggest question mark is what our pitching does,” said Laguerre, in his third season as the Marauders’ head coach and selected as Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year last year. “They have the ability and they have the talent. It’s now up to them getting experience.”
The starting catcher is junior Nick Camilleri, who is a transfer from St. Joseph (Montvale).
“He brings a lot of energy to behind the plate,” Laguerre said. “He’s a work in progress.”
Senior Vinnie Sita is the returning starter at first base. Sita is a steady force, especially with his glove.
Junior Mike Marino returns at second base, where he earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors a season ago. Marino is one of the sparkplugs to the Marauders’ lineup.
The shortstop is senior T.J. Ward, who has earned Hudson Reporter All-Area recognition the last two seasons and was the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year last year for being the Marauders’ top hitter, batting better than .400.
Ward recently gave a commitment to the University of Hartford after first signing with Temple, which has since dropped baseball.
Laguerre said that Ward understands his role with the Marauders this season.
“He knows that it’s his team and he understands how much he means to the team,” Laguerre said. “He’s been a very good leader, getting all his younger teammates in line. His teammates know what T.J. brings to the table. He had a great year for us last year, solidifying the shortstop position and was instrumental in helping Mike Marino play a good second base. You’re only as good as you are up the middle.”
Velardi is the team’s third baseman when he’s not on the mound.
The left fielder is junior Kyle Bowes, who also started last season as a sophomore.
“He had a good offensive year for us last year and he’s made strides defensively,” Laguerre said. “He’s just a very good offensive player.”
Caddle is the Marauders’ centerfielder. While he’s already getting major college looks for football, Caddle could very well be a better baseball player than a football player. His versatility reminds some of former Marauder standout and former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year Mike Brown, but Laguerre thinks Caddle is more like current New York Mets outfielder Eric Young, Jr.
“He’s our leadoff hitter,” Laguerre said. “He has such a great combination of speed and power. If he put in a little more time, he could become a really good baseball player. There’s thunder in his bat you don’t find. He can impact the game in a lot of ways.”
The right fielder is senior co-captain Mike Cirilo, who has emerged as the Marauders’ team leader.
“He’s the emotional leader,” Laguerre said. “He brings it every day with his consistent high energy. He also plays a great right field.”
Laguerre believes that the talented Cerbone will find his way into the lineup somehow, even perhaps as a designated hitter.
“His role will expand, because he can play multiple positions,” Laguerre said.
Nick Doren will also fill a lot of shoes as the Marauders’ resident utility man and defensive replacement.
So the Marauders have played two games, two high energy, intense games. They won one, lost one. It’s definitely a team to watch.
“I feel that they’re going to get it,” Laguerre said. “It’s all part of growing pains. It’s a little difficult to grasp, that you have to play disciplined and understand how the game is played in Hudson County. It’s different than anywhere else.”
That’s already been proven – and the season is just a few days old.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com
and follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.