When Jim Fontanilla took over the head softball coaching position at Union City High School two years ago, he heard rumblings about a freshman player among the Soaring Eagles.
“I was coaching the JV when the rumors started about this one girl,” Fontanilla said. “I didn’t know anything about her. She was coming from the middle school.”
The girl’s name was Ailanis Corporan. And she was not going to see a moment of time with the junior varsity. She was varsity through and through from the outset.
“All I knew is that the team needed a catcher at the time, so she made the varsity,” Fontanilla said.
However, Corporan had never played catcher in her life.
“I was a shortstop when I started my freshman year,” Corporan said. “But the starting catcher got hurt and they needed someone to catch. I never played there before, but I said I would give it a try. And I found out that I really liked it. I knew it was a position for me.”
As it eventually would turn out, Corporan would develop into the best catcher Hudson County has perhaps ever seen. Even with never having played the position before her freshman year, Corporan has displayed talents behind the plate like she’s the second coming of Johnny Bench and Benito Santiago all rolled into one.
“I guess it all came natural to me,” Corporan said. “I never even practiced catching. I guess I just took the skills I had from shortstop and put it toward catching.”
“I think she’s just an athlete who can do anything,” Fontanilla said. “She seriously could do it all. If I asked her to pitch, she’d go out there and try. She’s just one of those players who doesn’t come around often. You don’t get these kinds of players every day. We’re very fortunate to have her. We’re counting our blessings.”
Corporan, a junior, is in the middle of an unbelievable season. At press time, she leads the entire state in total hits with 48. She’s scored 39 runs, driven in 26 runs, collected 10 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Oh yes, she’s batting .696. That’s no misprint.
This year, she had four hits and four RBI against North Arlington, four hits and six RBI against Ferris, five hits in one game against Memorial and had four hits and three RBI against Hudson Catholic. She’s delivered at least one hit in every single game the Soaring Eagles have played, all 18 of them.
Recently, Corporan collected the 100th hit of her high school career. Her career total now stands at 105. The school record is held by Alanis Garcia, who had 110, so obviously that record is in severe jeopardy – and could be snapped by the end of this season.
For her efforts, Corporan has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Recently, Fontanilla had to make a change and put Corporan back at shortstop, even though she’s incredibly brilliant at blocking balls and displaying the cannon of an arm.
“We had too many things going wrong, so I had to move her to shortstop,” Fontanilla explained. “She’s our best athlete and it was what was good for the team. She just plays anywhere.”
Corporan was a little hurt at first.
“It bothered me a little,” Corporan said. “I think there’s a better chance for me to go to a [NCAA] Division 1 school as a catcher. And I want to play catcher in college. But honestly, I also want to help the team win. If he [Fontanilla] thinks that playing shortstop is where I need to be, then that’s fine. So we’ll go with it.”
Corporan, who also plays summer club softball for the New Jersey Intensity, a top-flight travel team based out of Toms River that participates in talent showcases in Florida, Georgia and California.
“I’ll get noticed more there,” Corporan said. “The colleges get a better chance to watch me play.”
Corporan was asked about the incredible improvement she has enjoyed in her junior campaign. As a freshman and a sophomore, she had 29 and 28 hits respectively. Now she’s leading the entire state.
“It’s crazy,” Corporan said. “I’m proud of myself. I have improved a lot. I played a lot of softball to get ready for this year.”
So the standout catcher is back at shortstop. For now. Chances are, she’ll be behind the plate when she begins her senior year in 2020. She’s that good.
“I’m glad to have her for another year,” Fontanilla said. “The whole team comes back, so we’ll be in good position. I can already see it and feel it.”
Thanks to the hottest bat Hudson County has seen in ages.
“I’ll be ready,” Corporan said. “I can be even better than I was this year.”
That idea is downright frightening. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com