In 2018, the Union City High School softball team won all of six games, but Jim Fontanilla, the head coach of the Soaring Eagles, knew that he had a better team than that.
“Going into last year, we had a positive feeling,” said Fontanilla, who was an assistant coach with the program for six years before getting the head coaching responsibilities last season. “We really thought that we could be pretty good. We knew it was a very young team.”
Well, that young team took its lumps last year.
So Fontanilla was poised and prepared to reverse the curse in 2019.
“Coming into this season, we knew that we were going to be much better,” Fontanilla said. “We had all nine starters back. We were able to keep everyone together over the summer. Our biggest strength was going to be our experience.”
So the Soaring Eagles started the 2019 season like gangbusters, winning five of their first seven games.
“We felt pretty comfortable,” Fontanilla said. “We knew we had some good expectations coming into this year. We felt that maybe we could make a run in the county tournament.”
But after jumping out to the strong 5-2 start, the Soaring Eagles have soared in the wrong direction, dropping five of their last seven to fall to an even 7-7 overall. They still own the No. 3 seed in the Hudson County Tournament, but they are not scheduled to play another county game until May 13 against either the No. 6 seed, Secaucus, 11th-seeded Kearny or the No. 14 seed, Lincoln.
The Soaring Eagles have not been fortunate enough to qualify for the NJSIAA Group IV state sectional tournament in five years, so Fontanilla is hoping upon hope to get into the state playoffs this season.
“I purposely scheduled 10 scrimmage games before the season against perennial state playoff teams like Passaic County Tech, Mount Olive and Clifton,” Fontanilla said. “We scheduled good teams in the scrimmages because we wanted to see where we stood up against those teams and whether we were able to compete against them. I thought maybe we had something special.”
When the season began for real and the games finally counted, Fontanilla saw what he hoped for when he scheduled those tough teams in scrimmages that didn’t jeopardize the real win-loss record. He saw that his team could hit the ball. The Soaring Eagles defeated Memorial, 25-13, in the first game of the season. That’s not a volleyball score or perhaps football. It’s a softball score. Not pretty, but hey, it’s a win.
“Once we started hitting the ball against Memorial and we won the first game, I said, ‘This is what I imagined,’” Fontanilla said. “We had a good preseason and we didn’t stop. It just continued on to the next game.”
The second game was against defending Hudson County Tournament champion North Bergen. The Soaring Eagles came away with another improbable win, this one a 9-8 barnburner.
“It was emotional for the kids, because in the past, they never even had a chance against North Bergen,” Fontanilla said. “The kids were very happy.”
There were other wins that didn’t resemble close-to-the-vest softball games, like a 28-9 win over North Arlington, a 19-18 win over Ferris, a 16-14 victory over Dickinson and a 16-12 victory over Hudson Catholic. Each win wasn’t exactly of the highlight film variety, but the Soaring Eagles had wins, more than they accumulated for all of 2018.
Leading the way for the Soaring Eagles is junior catcher Ailains Corporan, who is enjoying a season to last a lifetime. At press time, Corporan is batting an unbelievable .732 with 41 hits, eight of which are doubles, four triples, three home runs and 25 runs batted in.
Corporan is arguably the best defensive catcher Hudson County has ever seen.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches say to be that she’s the best catcher they had seen in a long time,” Fontanilla said. “She’s the complete athlete. She hits the ball hard and plays great defense. She’s also on the honor roll. She’s able to handle the role of being the leader on this team. The team was turning to her last year to be the leader and she was a sophomore. She’s the voice of the team. She’s just a tremendous leader.”
When you’re hitting .732, you can do anything you want.
The pitcher is junior Briana Diaz, the younger sister of Alain, the quarterback on the Union City football team.
“She’s a great kid,” Fontanilla said. “She’s very coachable. Coming into last year, we didn’t have it in mind that she would be a pitcher. But she’s taken to the role and done well.”
Freshman Natalie Rosales is the first baseman. Rosales is also a member of the Union City girls’ basketball team. Sophomore Alondra Cepeda is the second baseman. She’s the team’s cleanup hitter and has done well there.
Sophomore Analise Garcia is the Union City shortstop.
“She’s just a tremendous kid,” Fontanilla said. “She’s a great fielder who is still trying to get used to the speed of the varsity game. But she has great potential at the position.”
Sophomore Kimberly Pena is the third baseman.
“She reminds me of [Nolan] Arenado,” Fontanilla said, giving Pena some very high praise. “She has a strong arm and a great glove, who is always ready.”
Senior Marian Medina is in left field, with junior Joyce Peguero in centerfield and sophomore Edely Vasquez in right. Senior Georleny DeLeon is the team’s designated player who sometimes sees time at first base. Senior Stephanie Herrera is a reserve shortstop and senior Keyla Alicea is a reserve outfielder. Senior Dienny Mota is a first-year softball player who transferred to Union City from the Dominican Republic.
“The kids are great,” Fontanilla said. “We’re winning now. They know they can compete.”
Just been an up and down campaign…
Former St. Peter’s Prep standout running back Jonathan Hilliman, who played first at Boston College and finished his collegiate career with Rutgers, has signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants and attended the team’s rookie training camp…
Freshman Morgan Tomilson of Weehawken is taking the world by storm, collecting nine hits and nine RBI last week. She recorded two hits and three RBI in two games against North Arlington and Wallington. Keep an eye on Tomilson…
Hudson Reporter H.S. Baseball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (14-1). 2. St. Peter’s Prep (11-5). 3. Hoboken (11-0). 4. Hudson Catholic (8-4). 5. North Bergen (9-4)…
Hudson Reporter H.S. Softball Top Five: 1, McNair Academic (13-1). 2. Bayonne (12-4). 3. Snyder (10-3). 4. Hoboken (10-4). 5. Ferris (10-4).– Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com