Traditionally, the Memorial High School baseball program has been one of the best teams in Hudson County. The Tigers have even reigned supreme in the state, having captured a fair share of NJSIAA Group IV state sectional titles and a few overall Group IV crowns. The Tigers have even been successful on the national level, having gathered the mythical national championship from USA Today in 1988.
A lot has transpired in those 30 years since the Tigers were the No. 1 team in the entire country.
But one thing remains constant: The Tigers are a team to contend with come baseball season.
The calendar might read 2019, but the Tigers will be one of the best teams in the area once again this season.
The Tigers were 17-7 last year and with any luck, with a pitch here and there, they could have been strong contenders to win the Hudson County Tournament title that they won in 2017. Instead, the county crown went to St. Peter’s Prep, but the Tigers were right there, like they always are.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been right there,” said veteran head coach Danny Marroquin, who guided the Tigers to the county title in 2017 and won two county crowns as a player for the Tigers during his playing days. “I hear that a lot of people aren’t counting on us this year. But I’m really encouraged by what I see. I think if we jell the way like we’re supposed to, I think we will have a good team. We have a solid team, an experienced team. We’re going to be in a fight every game.”
And since the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League decided to restructure the league and put all the larger, more powerful teams in the same division, it means that the Tigers will have to battle foes like Bayonne, Union City, North Bergen and defending county champ St. Peter’s Prep twice instead of just one showdown.
“There are no more gimmes,” Marroquin said. “We can’t afford to take a day off. We have to do the right things and play hard every day. I think we have an advantage on everyone else.”
That advantage is a lock-tight defensive unit, an aspect that carried the Tigers to the county title two years ago and escaped the Tigers last year, leading to the 17-7 record.
“The defense did kill us in some games,” Marroquin said. “We’re doing better with that this year. I’m not saying we’re there, but we’re better. I think it’s more of a mental aspect than anything else. I think we realize that we’re going to struggle sometimes, but we realize that it’s not so much the physical aspect as it is the mental part. I tell our guys to remain focused every single pitch. If I’m a player, I have to say to myself, ‘What am I going to do with the ball?’ Or better yet, ‘What do I do if the ball is hit to me?’ If you’re not thinking that way, if you’re not thinking about baseball, you’re bound to make an error. Those lapses cost us games last year.”
Marroquin said that it was tough to watch the Tigers play that way last year.
“It was frustrating,” Marroquin said. “Defense is very important to us. As a player who was a pitcher, I know how important defense is. I just want our players to do the right thing. They just need to think positive every game. If we do that correctly, we should be fine.”
The Tigers should be just fine every time senior right-hander Jeremiah Deanta takes the mound. Deanta earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last spring, winning five games.
“I kind of expect him to be better this year,” Marroquin said. “I expect him to perform like a top dog. He has all the pitches you need, fastball, curveball, cutter and change-up. He even throws a knuckleball from time to time. The key thing is that he throws strikes. He has it all. He can bring it.”
Sophomore righty Ernesto Polanco is also back from last season. Polanco is another fine power pitcher.
“He’s just a great all-around player,” Marroquin said of Polanco. “He throws the ball hard. He’s young, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Fellow sophomore Gabriel Abreu is another member of the Tigers’ pitching staff.
“He has some good off-speed pitches,” Marroquin said of the righty Abreu. “He has a good slider and curveball.”
Senior Miguel Reyes is yet another key hurler.
“We’re going to need him,” Marroquin said. “He’ll get a spot start here and there. When I need an out, I’ll turn to him. If I’m in a jam, I’ll throw him out there.”
Junior righty Randy Sanchez is another pitcher who will serve as the Tigers’ closer.
Junior Ricardo Tuero is the Tigers’ starting catcher.
Junior Tomas Martinez is the Memorial first baseman who has started since he joined the program.
“He has a little pop in his bat,” Marroquin said of Martinez. “He’s going to play a key role.”
Polanco is the team’s leadoff hitter and second baseman. He hit close to .400 last season as a freshman.
“He does it all,” Marroquin said of Polanco. “He gets on base and steals bases. He can take the extra base. He hits for power. He really has the full arsenal.”
When Deanta is not the premier pitcher in the county, he’s playing shortstop and serving as the Tigers’ No. 3 hitter in the lineup.
“He can handle the bat as well,” Marroquin said.
Deanta has already signed on with Mt. San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, California.
Abreu and senior Diony Hernandez share the third base duties.
Sanchez is in left field with sophomore Edison Gonzalez. Edison’s twin brother Anderson is the centerfielder.
“The twins are really fast and have good arms,” Marroquin said. “They’re still learning the game. But we’re counting on them a lot.”
Senior Justin Espinal is the right fielder. Espinal hit close to .400 last season with five home runs. He will be the Tigers’ cleanup hitter this spring.
“He has a lot of pop in his bat,” Marroquin said of Espinal.
The Tigers face a tough early season schedule, facing Hudson Catholic, Northern Valley-Demarest, Ferris, North Bergen and Bayonne in the first two weeks of the season.
“We’re going to find outn how good we are early on,” Marroquin said.
The Tigers will be very good. They always are.