SCOREBOARD

Jersey City’s Joza wows at Home Run Derby regional; Heads to Little League World Series to compete for national title

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Jaylene Joza displays the powerful swing that enabled her to qualify for the T-Mobile Home Run Derby championships at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
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Jersey City teenager Jaylene Joza is headed to the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. to compete in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby championships.
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Jaylene Joza displays the powerful swing that enabled her to qualify for the T-Mobile Home Run Derby championships at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
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Jersey City teenager Jaylene Joza is headed to the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. to compete in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby championships.

When Jaylene Joza was just eight years old, she played on a softball team in the Washington Park Little League.

Young Jaylene had mixed emotions about the sport.

“When I first started, I liked it a lot,” Joza said. “I played T-ball and liked hitting the ball. But then, when I was about eight, I didn’t want to play anymore. I didn’t play. I was always on the bench. I wasn’t any good. I was always with older girls, like 13 years old. They didn’t want an 8-year-old on the team. I just didn’t feel like I was good enough. I didn’t like the vibe I got from the others.”

So Joza walked away from softball.

“My Dad [Erick] tried to get me to play, but I didn’t want to go,” said Joza, who will enter the eighth grade Middle School #4 next month. “He tried to get me to come to practice, but I wasn’t interested.”

“I was in her ear 24/7,” Erick Joza said. “I gave her all these options and all I heard was, ‘I’m not playing.’ I went about it on an everyday basis.”

Jaylene didn’t want any part of it.

“It got pretty annoying,” Jaylene Joza said. “I was upset. I didn’t want to play. I didn’t think I was good enough to play. Even when I got up to bat, I just stood there.”

“It took a while for her to start swinging the bat,” Erick Joza said.

Joza stayed away from softball for a full year. But then Erick Joza was given the opportunity to form his own team in the Washington Park Little League softball.

“I got to help pick the uniforms,” Jaylene Joza said. “I was able to have my best friend [Chelsea Soto] on the team. I was even able to pick the name of the team. I started listening to my Dad.”

Jaylene decided that the new team should be called the Blue Angels.

“She knew that I had love of military aircrafts,” Erick Joza said. “So she came up with Blue Angels and we stuck with it. We were an expansion team, so I was able to pick four players right away. Jaylene was family protected, so she was on my team right away.”

Erick Joza taught his daughter how to properly pitch softball.

“Something just clicked in her,” Erick Joza said. “I think the love was there.”

“I started to get better,” Jaylene Joza said. “I started hitting the ball. I liked pitching and became a pretty good pitcher. I felt like I was a very important part of the team.”

Erick Joza was a little reluctant putting his daughter on the mound.

“I didn’t want her out there pitching, but she did well and became our primary pitcher,” Erick Joza said. “As a 10-year-old, she started hitting the ball more and getting on base. She kept improving every year. There was a vast improvement every year.”

This year, T-Mobile sponsored a Home Run Derby contest at a bunch of Little League sites throughout the nation and Washington Park Little League was one of the locations. Jaylene Joza decided to enter the Derby.

The winner of the Washington Park competition would go to the East Regional that was held at SunTrust Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves.

And the winner of the East Regional would then go on to compete in the Home Run Derby championships on the field during the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. later this month.

This was a golden opportunity for Jaylene Joza to show how much she’s improved.

“She was putting the ball on the bat very well,” Erick Joza said. “I thought she had a shot. She went into the competition very confident. She went out knowing what she had to do.”

The girls had to hit the softball past cones that were set up 170 feet past home plate. In the first competition at Washington Park, Joza hit five, earning an all-expenses trip to Atlanta.

“The hotel was really nice,” Joza said. “They gave us everything. I was pretty excited. I wasn’t expected to go there. It had a view of the stadium. Being on the field was crazy. I’m on a major league field and I’m playing. At first, I was nervous. I went down into the batting cages under the stadium to practice. I saw the other girls there and I thought that I maybe had a chance of beating them.”

Joza did. On Sunday, July 14, Joza hit six homers in the opening round and then hit four in the finals to win the East Regional title and earn the right to compete at the Little League World Series, which will be televised by ESPN, Aug. 17 and 18.

The championship round will be held prior to the Pittsburgh Pirates-Chicago Cubs game in Williamsport on Aug. 18.

“I’m very excited to be going,” Joza said. “I’m also kind of nervous. I wanted to see my new competition, which will be coming from the West Region, but I don’t know anything about those girls.”

So last week, Joza was hard at work, taking batting practice at Washington Park. The cones were set up and her father had a bucket of softballs to pitch to his daughter. Swing after swing, Jaylene Joza, the girl who didn’t want to play softball any more, was powering the ball with authority all over the Washington Park turf.

There’s no question, Jaylene is more than legit. When she decides what high school she will attend later this year, she’s going to make some coach very happy, because she is obviously very talented and will certainly play right away. Take this to the bank. This is not the last time you will see Jaylene Joza’s name in these pages. She’s a star on the rise.

Her name is already being plastered all over the Internet.

“I searched my name on Google,” Joza said. “And a bunch of things came up. They were talking about all the finalists. I was interviewed in Atlanta.”

See, Jaylene Joza is already a media sensation.

Now 13 years old, Joza plays travel softball for a team called the New Jersey Chaos. She hopes to create a lot of chaos on the main Little League field in Williamsport in a couple of weeks.

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com. You can also follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.