While the 2019 high school baseball season ended for most a few weeks ago, it was extended for a few fortunate players who were selected to participate in the New Jersey Quad-County Underclassmen All-Star Game last week at Kean University in Union.
Twenty of Hudson County’s finest returning performers were selected to participate in the All-Star Games that pitted the Hudson County All-Stars against the Essex County All-Stars, followed by teams from Middlesex County and Union County.
In the end, the Hudson County squad dominated the team from Essex by a final score of 13-2, marking the second straight year that Hudson County was victorious.
Ten members of last week’s Hudson Reporter All-Area team were members of the Hudson County All-Star squad at Kean, quite an impressive array of talent.
Jimmy Kemp, the Hudson Catholic slugger who was selected as the Hudson Reporter Co-Player of the Year, was pleased to be a part of the All-Star squad. Kemp will spend the summer playing for the prestigious Wladyka Baseball, headed by Jersey City native Joe Wladyka.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Kemp, who had a hit and an RBI in the game. “To be selected as one of the top players in Hudson County was a thrill. I got to play in the game with some of my friends.”
Kemp played youth baseball in Bayonne with All-Star teammates and fellow Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees Justin O’Connor and Brian Baranok of Bayonne High.
“I knew about 10 or so guys on the team,” Kemp said. “I got to know the others during the week of practice and the game. This was a great experience for me. Everyone connected well and we all wanted to win.”
Kemp was surprised by the lopsided outcome.
“I really thought there was going to be more of a competition,” Kemp said. “We did what we wanted to do as Hudson County boys.”
Kemp was asked if there was a difference playing with guys that he battled with for most of the regular high school season.
“It was a little weird at first,” said Kemp, who is expected to be one of the top college recruits in the county next season. “But at the end of the day, we all had fun together.”
Kemp said that he played hard with the idea of college scouts in the stands at Kean.
“I always have to take every game seriously,” Kemp said. “I have to treat it like there are a million scouts there watching. You never know who’s there.”
Kemp was gearing up to travel with Wladyka Baseball to Georgia this week and Boston in two weeks.
“There will be a lot of scouts there,” Kemp said. “There will be a lot of people watching. I have to be at my best. This was definitely a cool experience.”
Yugal Pattni, the talented Hoboken left-handed pitcher who also earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last week, was also excited to be selected to the All-Star team.
“I was really proud of myself,” Pattni said. “I was a little bit nervous, but I settled down. I really didn’t think I had a chance to make the All-Stars, because I wasn’t going to play baseball this season.”
Before the season began, disaster struck the Pattni family, when a four-alarm fire destroyed the family home, leaving the family with nothing at all.
“We lost everything,” Pattni said. “It’s been a real tough couple of months. I thought I was going to have to get a job to help my family.”
Pattni said that he was sleeping at 5 a.m. when the fire broke out.
“The firefighters [in Jersey City] had to break down the door of my bedroom to get me out,” Pattni said. “I was very lucky.”
Eventually, the Pattni family recovered enough in a new home so Pattni could play for the Redwings this spring and enjoy one of the more memorable Hoboken seasons in a long time, as the Redwings posted an 19-2 record.
“I was fortunate enough to do something that I love doing,” Pattni said. “I’m glad my family made the decision to allow me to play. It was definitely an honor to play on the All-Stars and play the game I grew up playing.”
Pattni pitched one inning in the game and allowed just one hit and no runs.
“It was a great opportunity for me and I made the most of it,” Pattni said.
Fellow Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree Denny Furcal of Ferris, only a freshman, was also happy to be on the All-Stars. Furcal had a 4-0 record with a stingy 0.87 earned run average this season for the Bulldogs. He obviously has a very bright future.
“As a freshman, it means a lot to me to be with the other guys on the team,” Furcal said. “It proved to me that all my hard work paid off. I guess I played up to the expectations that everyone had for me. I could never believe that I would have the kind of season I had as a freshman. I proved to people that I could do it. With hard work, you can achieve anything.”
Furcal also pitched one inning in the game and struck out one batter.
“This was a great experience for me,” Furcal said. “I played not only with the best players in Hudson County, but the whole state of New Jersey.”
Furcal was asked if he could do more next year.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Furcal said. “I have to become a better player.”
Furcal will spend the summer playing for the Pershing Field RBI team.
“Most of the kids here I’ve known for a while,” Furcal said. “I thought we had great team chemistry. It was really a great time.”
Gabriel Abreu of Memorial also pitched a scoreless inning for the winners.
“It was a great experience.” Abreu said. “I was able to represent Memorial and Hudson County at the same time. We had a great team. I wore my Memorial hat with pride.”
It was an emotionally rugged year for the Tigers, who had to handle the controversy of an unfortunate hazing incident, with several of the players receiving suspensions because of it.
“It was tough on the team,” Abreu said. “We weren’t the same team. We didn’t have the same energy. We finished the season and pulled through, but it wasn’t what we expected. Before the season, we thought we had a great team with everyone hitting and great arms. We had everything. We will be back next year. We’ll have a young team coming up. I think we have something left. We just have to keep our heads up and keep working.”
Kyle Hoog of St. Peter’s Prep was another Hudson County All-Star. Hoog wanted to get back on the field after the Marauders lost to Bayonne in the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament finale last month.
“After losing the county tournament, it was so devastating for us,” Hoog said. “I didn’t want to end the season that way.”
Hoog had two hits and stole two bases in the All-Star win.
“It was a real fun way to end the season,” Hoog said. “I got to play with guys like Andy Antonio [of Ferris], who I used to play with in Little League. I also played against Jimmy Kemp in Little League. Now we were all finally on the same team and that felt good.”
Hoog said that he can build on his All-Star experience.
“I just have to keep on working hard and keep getting my name out there more,” Hoog said.
Other Hudson County All-Stars included two players named Rafeal Solano, one from Dickinson and the other from Hudson Catholic. Also on the team were Robert Estrada and Jafari Williams of Ferris, Tomas Martinez and Ernesto Polanco of Memorial, Kevin Villarez, Aaron LaRusso and Justin DeMoya of Union City, Miguel Fresse of University Charter, Joe Vuolo of St. Peter’s Prep, Julian Gonzalez and Robert Geisler of Bayonne and David Duran of Kearny. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com