John Bigler was a standout baseball player during his days at Hoboken High School, a slugging first baseman with impeccable defensive skills. Bigler was able to carry his baseball career on to Montclair State and played for the Red Hawks for three seasons.
It means that Bigler had the golden opportunity to play for legendary coaches like Buddy Matthews at Hoboken and Norm Schoenig at Montclair.
That’s some powerful duo of mentors to learn from.
“I idolized Coach Matthews growing up, since I was a little kid,” Bigler said. “Then I got the chance to play for him. He taught us the fundamentals of baseball. He was stern, but fair. He had no sense of favoritism and I loved that about him.
Added Bigler, “Coach Schoenig was a strict disciplinarian. I learned how to handle people better. He was a true professional who turned me into a man.”
Bigler aspired to become a coach like the men who taught him about the game.
“I always wanted to coach baseball,” Bigler said. “But then I had my daughter.”
Alexa Bigler is 12 years old now. She has a promising career as a softball player.
“When I had my daughter and saw how talented she was, it turned me into a softball coach,” Bigler said.
For the last five years, the 39-year-old Bigler was a respected club softball coach in Cliffside Park.
He was surprised a few months by a phone call from a friend who informed him that Mike Nieves had stepped down as the head coach at St. Dominic Academy.
“My friend told me that I should apply for the job,” Bigler said. “I was a little leery at first. I didn’t know if I could coach at the high school varsity level. But if I could work on fundamentals with girls who I know are getting a quality education at the school, then I had a shot.”
Bigler said he then got a chance to see one special person play.
“I got to lay eyes on Ariel [Concepcion],” Bigler said. “I then realized everything could possibly happen immediately with her pitching.”
Concepcion, the talented junior, struck out more than 240 batters last year as a sophomore.
“The team all accepted me right away,” Bigler said. “They realized that I had knowledge of the game. I like softball. I always liked the up-tempo part of the game. I was so impressed with the potential of the team, especially some of the newcomers. If we could put it together the right way, we had something special.”
The Blue Devils started off the season against defending Hudson County Tournament champion Kearny and came away with a 3-2 victory. In the first week of the season, the Blue Devils knocked off perennial Bergen County power Paramus Catholic.
But no one would have ever dreamed that the Blue Devils would be undefeated at 8-0 at this stage of the season.
“I didn’t see it coming at all,” Bigler said.
It helps having a dominating arm in the circle and Concepcion is certainly that.
“I did my homework and saw how good of a season she had last year,” Bigler said of the right-hander who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors a year ago. “I thought she could hold us together. We have a very young team with only three seniors. But Ariel is what separates us from the rest. She’s the gel that holds the team together. Her placement of the ball is remarkable. She can work the zone so well.”
Junior Brianna Hernandez, a transfer to SDA from Hudson Catholic, is the team’s catcher.
“I let her call the game,” Bigler said. “Very rarely do you come across someone with the intelligence and knowledge of the game that she has. She also runs like the wind.”
Senior Rochelle Avila has been a god-send to Bigler.
“She’s the best pure hitter I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Bigler said. “She’s hitting better than any coach could imagine.”
Avila is batting .714 in the early part of the season with one homer (over the fence, no less) against University Charter (a game she hit for the cycle) and 16 RBI. She also has seven triples.
Sophomore Julia Murphy is the starter at second base.
Senior Mary Kate Cannito, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree, returns at shortstop.
“Her leadership is an intangible that can’t be measured,” Bigler said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to replace that.”
Cannito delivered the game-winning hits in the wins over Kearny and Paramus Catholic.
Freshman Erin Murphy, Julia’s younger sister, is the starter at third base.
“I’m amazed how she’s been able to step up and hit varsity pitching right away,” said Bigler of the younger Murphy, who is hitting .552 thus far with 10 RBI. Murphy had three hits, three RBI and three runs scored in a win over St. Anthony last Monday and had a four-hit game against Dickinson.
Sophomore Cassandra Diaz is the left fielder, with sophomore Gabriella Swope (.556 with nine RBI) in center and Lauren Hernandez, the catcher’s sister, in right field. Lauren is also the team’s back-up pitcher and plays first base and shortstop when needed.
Freshman Serina Febbio has been the courtesy runner for Concepcion whenever Ariel reaches base and Febbio has stolen 14 bases as a courtesy runner.
“The kid can fly,” Bigler said of Febbio. “She’s a good base runner.”
Needless to say, Bigler is pleased he took the job at SDA. How can he not be? He hasn’t lost yet.
“It’s been my pleasure to be around these girls,” Bigler said. “You can see how much they want to win. I enjoy it. It’s been a blessing.”
The true test comes later this week, when the Blue Devils face off against Hudson Catholic…
Congrats to St. Anthony head baseball coach Ron Hayward, who earned the 200th win of his coaching career last week when the Friars defeated Hudson Catholic. 7-6. Hayward, who was also the head coach at Marist for nine seasons before moving to St. Anthony last year, guided Marist to two Hudson County Tournament championships (2012 and 2014) and won the NJSIAA Non-Public B state title in 2012.
Hayward, who has been battling kidney disease for more than a decade and has to withstand hours of dialysis daily, deserves every accolade he can receive. He now faces the crossroads of his career again after this season, with the imminent closing of St. Anthony in June…
We will feature the two new football coaches in Hudson County next week, namely Nick DeStefano in Weehawken and the legendary Keeon Walker taking over at his alma mater of Hoboken…
Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (6-2). 2. Bayonne (9-2). 3. Memorial (8-2). 4. St. Anthony (7-2). 5. Hudson Catholic (7-3)…
Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five: 1. St. Dominic Academy (8-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (6-2). 3. Ferris (6-3). 4. Hoboken (5-2). 5. Weehawken (6-2). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com.