The Hudson Catholic Regional High School baseball team should definitely be one of Hudson County’s premier squads again this season.
That much is guaranteed. The Hawks are perennially contending for both Hudson County Tournament and NJSIAA Non-Public B North championships.
But what isn’t a sure thing is the manner in which the Hawks will contend this spring.
Veteran head coach Alberto Vasquez, a product of the Hudson Catholic program himself, has enjoyed immense success since he took over the program, including an overall state championship four years ago.
Vasquez is hoping that a strong finish in 2018 can lead to a solid season in 2019.
“I think it was huge,” Vasquez said of a strong finish a year ago, when the Hawks won eight of their last 10 games. “I think it helps for motivation. I think they all remember what happened last year and want it to continue. They just need to be consistent. I think they’ve bought in and have been doing the same thing since July. They understand what needs to be done. They worked hard in the weight room and that goes a long way.”
The Hawks are fortunate to have two intense and fierce competitors returning, two Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees in junior pitcher/first baseman Jimmy Kemp and senior shortstop Tino Salgado.
Kemp was one of the area’s top two-way performers last season, winning five games on the mound with a stingy 0.89 earned run average and batting .440 at the plate.
Salgado earned Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors, batting an even .500 with 28 RBI. He has already signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall.
Together, Kemp and Salgado form the county’s premier 1-2 punch.
“Jimmy is good to go,” Vasquez said of Kemp. “He’s throwing a lot of strikes. He’s smart on the mound. We’re confident every time he takes the mound. He’s also a powerful hitter. He’s big, strong and hits and hits for power.”
Vasquez has the same feeling about Salgado.
“I never have any worries about him,” Vasquez said of Salgado. “It’s easy to coach him because he does everything so easily. He comes ready to play every day. He’s always focused. He’s very coachable. I told him that we had no worries about getting him a scholarship and it happened. Now, he can go out and have a great senior year.”
Sophomore right-hander Allen Sanchez moves into the Hawks’ rotation. He is also a player to watch.
“He throws a ton of strikes,” Vasquez said. “He commands the zone. He has some zip on the ball and has excellent mechanics. I expect him to be like a 1A starter for us.”
It means that Vasquez puts Sanchez almost on the same plateau as Kemp.
Junior right-hander Rafael Solano is another standout pitcher. He will serve as the team’s closer as well as the team’s No. 1 catcher.
Senior Kris Salinas is another fine hurler for the Hawks.
“We’ve put him in some tough situations and he’s handled it well,” Vasquez said. “He answers every time.”
Junior Isiah Olmo is a left-hander who will get his chance to be a solid starter.
“He’s crafty and smart,” Vasquez said. “He’s going to be a good one. He’s a tough competitor.”
Junior Ivan Gonzalez is a right-handed hurler.
“He has a good fastball, curveball and changeup,” Vasquez said. “He commands the zone.”
Senior Joshua Ortiz is another righty that Vasquez can call upon.
“He’s going to get outs,” Vasquez said.
Needless to say, Vasquez likes his pitching staff, especially since all six of the top hurlers have no problems throwing strikes.
“I tell my guys that I would rather them to get hit than to walk people,” Vasquez said. “I want teams to have to earn it.”
Solano is an excellent backstop, learning from the best, as Vasquez was a standout All-Area catcher with the Hawks and later Rutgers University and the New Jersey Jackals of independent baseball.
“He’s doing a great job back there,” Vasquez said of Solano. “He knows the game and has a strong arm.”
Kemp plays first base when he’s not pitching. When he’s on the hill, junior Ethan Lopez takes over at first.
Sanchez plays second base and when he pitches, Gonzalez takes over at second.
Salgado is the fixture at shortstop. Just pencil him in at the top of the Hawks’ lineup and leave him alone.
Salinas is the third baseman.
“He’s become more of a consistent hitter,” Vasquez said. “He’s swinging the bat better.”
Senior A.J. Perranod is the team’s resident jack-of-all-trades. Perranod, who had five RBI in the Hawks’ season-opening win over Lincoln, can play second base, third base, first base and slide behind the plate. Such versatility is hard to find.
“He hits the ball hard,” Vasquez said of Perranod. “He’s fast and can play every position well. I like having him around.”
Junior Isaiah Decias is the left fielder.
“He’s the fastest guy around,” Vasquez said. “He has next level speed. He can definitely play baseball at the next level, but he’s a great football player. He’s a smart kid who can run.”
Senior Dewayne Sims is the team’s centerfielder.
Senior Chris Jacobsen and junior Michael Santiago are sharing right field duties.
Needless to say, the Hawks are ready for a solid run at county and state titles.
“We’re ready to handle whatever comes,” Vasquez said.
The team has non-conference games against Pope John of Sparta and Hunterdon Central upcoming. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com