It has to go down as the most impressive week one individual has enjoyed in the history of the Ferris High School softball program.
Senior pitcher Jaylene Sierra merely led the Bulldogs to their first-ever appearance in a Hudson County Softball Tournament game, then fired a no-hitter in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III state playoffs against Orange and had a day at the plate most kids simply dream of in the process.
For good measure, Sierra capped her dream week last Tuesday by signing a National Letter of Intent to attend NCAA Division I Coppin State outside Baltimore. Yes, a girl from Ferris is actually an NCAA Division I scholarship softball player.
Now, that’s what is called in the industry as having a week to remember.
She was scheduled to face North Bergen in the Hudson County Tournament finale Tuesday, but the game was postponed due to rain. It has rained more locally in the last three weeks than it did when Noah was forced to build the ark.
But to fathom all that Jaylene has enjoyed in the last seven days?
“It’s pretty scary,” Sierra said. “I never believed it was all possible. It’s unreal to believe I am where I am.”
“We’ve had a lot of talented kids over the years, but they were different types of talent,” Ferris head softball coach Mike Palughi said. “I always thought that Jay had a shot to be a D-I player, but she’s taken it to another level this year. She has really helped to change the face of the program. I knew we had to build the entire team around her.”
Sierra has been a four-year standout at Ferris, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors in her three previous campaigns prior to the 2018 season – and she’s a lock to make it four straight when the team is revealed next month.
But after her sophomore year, Sierra made it a quest to become more of a complete player.
“I struggled a lot that year,” Sierra said. “I don’t know what was wrong with my hitting that year.”
Sierra batted only .306 with 19 hits as a sophomore. She wanted to make sure she improved on that number.
“I worked on my hitting every day,” Sierra said. “I was hitting off a tee and then go to the batting cages. I was really worried about my hitting. I cared about my hitting just as much as I did my pitching. I wanted to be a better all-around player.”
It also helped that she had a coach at home. Her father, Ben “Popo” Sierra, is a long-time baseball and softball coach from downtown Jersey City.
“My father always gave me constructive criticism, so that helped,” Sierra said. “Both of my parents [mother Jacqueline] have been very supportive, but my Dad is always there when I needed him. He’s helped me a lot.”
So Sierra became determined to become better. With her father’s assistance, Sierra worked at becoming an all-around softball player, both pitching and hitting.
“She didn’t have a good sophomore year hitting and didn’t want it to happen again,” Palughi said. “So she worked very hard. She played a lot over the summer [for the New Jersey Tsunami]. Of course, we needed her to pitch well but she always took care of the pitching part.”
As the 2018 season got underway, Sierra was ready to take care of her share at the plate as well.
“I’m just seeing the ball so much better this year,” Sierra said. “I worked at it every day.”
The results are staggering.
Sierra is currently hitting an unfathomable .689 with 12 doubles, one homer and 33 RBI. She eclipsed the 100-hit mark for her career earlier this season, but with her 51 hits this season, she now has 138 career hits. She has also pitched to a 20-2 record thus far with 207 strikeouts. You have to look far and wide to find a Hudson County softball player to post those kinds of incredible statistics.
“She’s set some records this year that are probably going to be hard to break,” Palughi said.
Last week, Sierra had four hits, scored five runs and had four RBI in the win over Orange in the state playoffs. She also had two hits and drove in a run in the 5-2 win over Hudson Catholic Sunday in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.
On the mound, Sierra fired a five-hitter, striking out 13 in the county tourney quarterfinals against Secaucus, scattered five hits and fanned 10 in the 5-2 win over Hudson Catholic in the county tourney semifinals and fired a no-hitter against Orange, striking out eight to advance to the quarters of the state sectional.
For her efforts, Sierra has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
And there’s probably never been a more rewarding recipient of the honor than Sierra for all she did in just one week’s time.
“You just don’t see a talent like this every day,” Palughi said. “She gives us a shot to win every game. With her on the mound, we can compete with anyone.”
Sierra is not caught up in herself at all. She’s extremely humble and mild mannered.
“It’s rare, because sometimes, you get high school kids who become all full of themselves,” Palughi said. “Jay is not that way at all. She’s a great teammate who is always very encouraging to others. She doesn’t show her emotions much. She’s just a real good kid and teammate. She also doesn’t like the spotlight. She does her job and goes home.”
It’s perhaps the biggest trait she learned from her coach/father.
“Dad always taught me to be humble,” Sierra said. “That’s just the way I am.”
Sierra is looking forward to facing North Bergen, one of the teams to saddle her with a defeat this season.
“I’m ready to play today,” Sierra said of the postponements. “But I’ll be ready to play any day. We’re looking forward to gaining some revenge.”
The Bruins defeated the Bulldogs, 8-5, earlier this season.
Sierra said that she liked Coppin State after meeting with head coach Gino Olivieri earlier in the season.
“I went for a visit, saw the team play and liked the area very much,” Sierra said of the campus near Baltimore. “I liked the coach very much. He was down to earth and honest. He said he liked the way I played.”
What’s there not to like?
Sierra plans on majoring in criminal justice at Coppin with the idea of eventually becoming a police officer someday.
For now, there’s a county championship to focus on, a chance to leave Ferris with a little slice of history.
“Every year, that’s been the goal,” Palughi said. “After losing last year, it stuck with the girls and they came back in November and December ready to work. We’ve never been here before.”
But then again, before four springs ago, the Bulldogs never had a player like Jaylene Sierra. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.