Here’s a piece of local sports trivia that will probably last for a very long time: Who is the only coach to win Hudson County championships in consecutive years at different schools?
The answer? None other than Shawn Stacevicz, who won the Hudson County Tournament title last year with Hudson Catholic and completed the feat last Tuesday night when North Bergen defeated Ferris, 5-3, to capture the HCT crown at Washington Park Little League Field in Jersey City.
It’s a pretty remarkable answer to that trivia question because no one could have ever predicted such a feat to take place.
Even Stacevicz, who has only been a head coach in Hudson County for the last three years, was a little stunned by the enormity of the occasion.
“It’s not bad,” Stacevicz said. “It’s pretty good. It’s not me. It’s the kids. I’m happy about it. I’m happy for the kids.”
When you consider everything that North Bergen had to go through this year in Stacevicz’s first season as the head coach of the Bruins, then you’ll realize just how great of an achievement this is.
First, Stacevicz was leaving the defending county champ and heading to a program that was headed by the same guy, Tom Eagleson, for the last 34 years. Eagleson was around long enough to see children of his former players coming through and playing for him. Plain and simple, Eagleson was a Hudson County legend, a fixture, a Hall of Famer.
Then, Stacevicz’s new team had to endure the loss of the team’s standout pitcher, senior Lauren Cabrera, who was severely hurt in a freak accident during preseason workouts. Cabrera was inadvertently struck in the head with a bat, causing her to suffer a concussion.
There was also some unfamiliarity between Stacevicz and his players, so that led to some more adversity.
“It was kind of tough,” Stacevicz said of the early goings. “They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. It was nip and tuck for a while.”
All in all, there were some early season struggles. Stacevicz admitted to not knowing much about senior shortstop Arianna Diaz, who missed all of last season due to knee surgery.
“I didn’t know much about Diaz, because she didn’t play last year,” Stacevicz said. “I was pleasantly surprised after I got to see her play last summer.”
Fellow senior Cassandra Fernandez also turned out to be a major surprise for Stacevicz.
“What a great surprise she turned out to be,” Stacevicz said. “I taught her how to slap [hit]. She did a great job as our leadoff hitter. I wish I had that kid for two more years. She’s a good player and a tough kid.”
Cabrera eventually returned to action and pitched like the champion she is.
“She peaked at the right time,” Stacevicz said of Cabrera. “She got stronger as the games went on. That’s what she does.”
The Bruins also found a way to bounce back after relinquishing the lead. Going into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Bruins trailed the Bulldogs, 3-2. Ferris was just six outs away from winning the county title for the very first time.
But slugging first baseman Angelique Rivera, another player who lost considerable amounts of playing time in her career after having to undergo two intense knee surgeries, stroked a two-run double down the left field line to break a 3-3 tie and give the Bruins all the runs Cabrera would need.
Incredibly, Rivera entered the game with 98 career hits. She needed two in her final game in order to reach the 100-hit milestone. She ended with 99.
“I told her before her last at-bat that the 100 meant nothing now,” Stacevicz said. “She had it in her mind that she was close to the 100. I could see she was upset, but she had to focus on that at-bat.”
But Rivera obviously would trade the milestone for the county crown. North Bergen last won the Hudson County Tournament in 2015, when Rivera was a freshman. Now she has the two RBI as a testament to her comeback.
The same can be said for Lauren Cabrera and her recovery from a concussion. Not only was she the winning pitcher Tuesday night, but she also delivered the RBI double that tied the game and gave the Bruins hope.
In the top of the seventh inning, Ferris threatened but could not score. The final out was a grounder to shortstop Diaz, who fired across the infield to Rivera to seal the victory.
“When the ball was hit to Arianna, I knew it was over,” Stacevicz said. “She made the throw, the game was over and we won. I’m just so happy for the seniors. We have six seniors [Diaz, Lauren Cabrera, Imani Cabrera (no relation), Rivera, Fernandez and Caitlin Caraballo]. I’m just so happy for them. When they were down [by a 3-2 margin entering the fifth inning], I knew they were going to get the job done. I knew they had the ability to come back. They believed in themselves.”
And now, there’s the answer to a trivia question in North Bergen. Have to see what Stacevicz does for an encore next season…
Most of the baseball and softball teams from Hudson County have been eliminated from the NJSIAA state playoffs, except Hudson Catholic’s baseball team.
The Hawks have advanced to the NJSIAA Non-Public B North semifinals and were slated to face DePaul in the semifinals in Jersey City Friday afternoon after press time.
In the quarterfinals, Dylan Schmelty fired a no-hitter, striking out seven, and had two hits and two RBI in the Hawks’ 10-0 victory over Dwight-Englewood. We’ll have more about the Hawks in next week’s editions…
Four local baseball teams fell in their respective sectional semifinals. St. Peter’s Prep suffered a stunning loss to Don Bosco Prep in Non-Public A North; Bayonne pitcher Justin O’Connor fired a no-hitter against powerhouse Millburn, but the Bees still lost in heartbreaking fashion, 1-0; Hoboken’s fun run in North Jersey Section 2, Group I ended with a loss to New Providence and Secaucus lost to Dunellen…
Four local athletes won two events in their respective state sectional championships in track and field. Memorial’s Francis Martingale won both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV; North Bergen’s Giano Roberts won both the 100 and 200-meter dashes in the same sectional; Secaucus’ Adam Khriss won both the 110 and 400-meter hurdles in North Jersey Section 2, Group I and McNair Academic’s Fahd Nasser won both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs in that same sectional. Great achievements by all four athletes…
Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (23-5). 2. Bayonne (17-11). 3. Ferris (17-8-1). 4. Hudson Catholic (13-7). 5. Memorial (15-9)…
Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five: 1. North Bergen (18-6). 2. Ferris (19-4). 3. Hudson Catholic (15-9). 4. Hoboken (12-8). 5. St. Dominic Academy (14-8). – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.