After his team lost in the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Baseball Tournament finals to St. Peter’s Prep last year, Bayonne High School head coach Dave Hoffman cautioned his team on the bus on the way back to school.
“I told them to never put ourselves in that kind of position ever again,” Hoffman said. “I wanted them to get to the top of the mountain.”
But after relinquishing a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, the Bees watched as St. Peter’s talented shortstop Kyle Hess raced around the bases with an inside the park homer in the top of the seventh to take a 3-2 lead.
It seemed enough to send the Bees to defeat.
But the state’s No. 3 team, a squad with only two losses all season, wasn’t about to lie down and give the county crown once again to the Marauders.
“We never give up,” Hoffman said.
Down to their final strike twice in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bees rallied to score two runs and capture a 4-3 victory over the defending champion Marauders.
The Bees (23-2) got a clutch single up the middle from Starlyn Arias to secure the win, enabling Bayonne to win its first Hudson County tourney title since 2010.
“Give them credit,” Hoffman said. “They kept believing in each other. Starlyn came through with a great hit.”
Newcomers come through
Incredibly, two of the key Bees in the rally, Arias and Edgar Martinez, were not with the Bees last season. But Martinez has been a huge addition, leading the team in runs scored, second to veteran Shane Paradine with 34 hits this season.
“It’s an incredible story,” Hoffman said of the contribution of the two newcomers. “We embraced both of them, and they bought into what we do. They’re both mentally tough. It was meant for Starlyn to come through.”
The Bees turned to ace Justin O’Connor to pitch the county title game, and the junior right-hander did not disappoint. He allowed just four hits and struck out nine in six-plus innings. He has pitched like the premier hurler in the county all season.
But O’Connor made just one costly mistake, allowing Hess to take a curveball deep to right field in the top of the seventh inning that rolled all the way to the fence for a home run.
For all intents and purposes, the way Prep pitcher Jack Kramer was pitching, the game looked over.
“Stephen Spielberg couldn’t have drawn this up better. It’s really a Hollywood ending.” — Dave Hoffman
But not for these Bees. Not this time.
“We have the toughest guys,” Hoffman said. “There was tremendous pressure on them, with 1,000 or so people watching. But they just kept fighting. We knew what we had to do. We weren’t two nervous. We picked the right time to come through.”
The rally made a winner of Brian Baranok, who pitched just one-third of an inning to earn the victory in relief of the brilliant O’Connor.
“Stephen Spielberg couldn’t have drawn this up better,” Hoffman said. “It’s really a Hollywood ending.”
The Bees now begin their quest for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group IV state sectional championship. They are the No. 1 seed in the section.
But there’s nothing like winning a county title.
“We’re going to really enjoy this,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t be happier for this group of seniors, who really deserve this. I’m happy for our kids, our school, and our town. It’s a great win for all of us.”