If Shawn Stacevicz is going to make it three straight Hudson County Softball Tournament championships as a head coach this spring, he will have to do it with an almost entirely different North Bergen roster than the one the 2018 Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year won with a year ago.
Stacevicz, who won the 2017 county title with Hudson Catholic, then moved to North Bergen a year ago and won the county crown there in unprecedented fashion, lost a boat load of talented players to the pomp and circumstance of graduation last June.
The Bruins lost four members of the Hudson Reporter All-Area team, namely pitcher Lauren Cabrera, first baseman Angelique Rivera, outfielder Cassandra Fernandez and 2018 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player Arianna Diaz, the Bruins’ shortstop, to graduation.
Only senior outfielder Keyri Felix returns from last year’s All-Area squad.
That’s a tough road to hoe if you are Stacevicz, looking to be holding the county championship trophy for a third straight year.
“I think it’s very hard to do,” Stacevicz said. “We lost six seniors who played together since they were 10 years old. To lose them all together in one class isn’t easy. We have to rebuild and we have to do it with the kids that we have. We’re pulling kids up from the JV [junior varsity]. We have a couple of freshmen who have made the move up.”
Needless to say, Stacevicz is counting on Felix, who batted .454 last year.
“She’s our best player,” Stacevicz said of Felix. “She’s the backbone of this team.”
Freshman Amanda Pace, fresh off her great stint as a wrestler in the winter, is one of the forerunners to become the Bruins’ pitcher this spring.
“I think she’ll do well,” Stacevicz said of Pace. “She’s also a pretty good hitter. Nothing bothers her. She’s very mature for a freshman. She has that bulldog mentality that comes from wrestling, that ‘me against you’ mind frame.”
Sophomore Siarah Saavedra, who saw limited time last year with the varsity, and junior Jaden Foley, who was with the junior varsity last year, are pitchers who will get a chance to throw for the Bruins this spring.
“Saavedra is consistent and throws harder,” Stacevicz said. “Foley throws strikes and doesn’t make mistakes. They’ll both get their chances to pitch.”
The catcher is junior Amarillys Santiago, who returns from last year’s county champion.
“I’m expecting big things from her,” Stacevicz said. “She has the ability to hit the ball hard. She just needs to be a little more consistent.”
First base duties are being shared by senior Nichole Deacutis and sophomore Suemia Filian. Deacutis did not play at all last year and Filian was on the JV but was with the varsity by season’s end.
Senior Natalie DeSoto is the second baseman, while junior Kailyn Troya is the shortstop, stepping into the spot that Diaz owned.
“Troya started for us last year at second base,” Stacevicz said. “I’m expecting a big year from her this year.”
The third baseman is junior Jada Flores, another graduate of the Bruins’ JV program.
“She has a cannon for an arm,” Stacevicz said. “She needs to be a little more consistent at the plate.”
Freshman Nicole Franklin and senior Evelyn Morel are sharing duties in left field, with Felix moving from left field to center and junior Stephanie Valderrama sharing right field with sophomore Nathalie Mera.
Stacevicz thinks that Union City might be the team to beat, but for now, the Bruins remain the defending champs and the coach has the title of being a two-time defending county champ. It’s up to the rest of the county to topple the Bruins from their pedestal.
“I think everybody is in the same boat this year,” Stacevicz said of the rest of Hudson County. “I think we all lost a lot to graduation and we’re all in a rebuilding mode. But I think this team is coming along together. They have been practicing hard every day and doing what we ask of them. They’re a good group. They’re coachable and they want to be better. When we get to May, we may be a different team.”
The Bruins open the season against Dickinson and then face perennial state power Hanover Park. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com