The last time the North Bergen High School softball team played a full season, they managed to win 10 games with an injury-riddled roster.
The year before that, in 2018, the Bruins won the Hudson County Tournament championship in head coach Shawn Stacevicz’s first year in North Bergen, a year after Stacevicz led Hudson Catholic to the county crown.
It’s hard for Stacevicz to predict where the Bruins will fall in this season that just started last week, with the Bruins winning two of their first three games. It’s hard to predict for two reasons. One, because no one really knows what the opposition has with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping the entire 2020 season out.
And two, because no one really knows how talented this group of Bruin bashers really is. That includes the coach.
“I’m just very happy we’re having a season,” said Stacevicz, now in his fourth season – well, in theory only his third – with the Bruins after spending two at Hudson Catholic. “I’m thrilled. I feel bad for the seniors we had last year. They didn’t get a chance to compete.”
But Stacevicz likes the team he has, a team that has considerable experience, despite the fact that 2020 was totally wiped away.
“We have a good group of kids who want to learn,” Stacevicz said. “My infield is all new to me. They’re all like freshmen to me. I consider them freshmen because they never played before. Wins, losses, they don’t matter to me with this team. I’m just glad to have a team that wants to compete and play well. They come to compete every day. At the end of the day, we’ll see where we are. But I like these kids a whole lot.”
One of the big returning players is senior Siarah Saavedra, who will inherit the role of being the team’s starting pitcher. The tall Saavedra has come a long way from when she began with the Bruins, having a tough time finding the strike zone. That’s no longer the case.
“She really worked hard to get better,” Stacevicz said. “She went for pitching lessons and hitting lessons. She really wanted to improve and it’s shown.”
So much so that Saavedra is the pitcher and the state wrestling champion Amanda Pace, who was the team’s top hurler in 2019, is now the third baseman.
“While Siarah is going a good job pitching, Amanda will be the third baseman,” Stacevicz said. “We’re a better team that way. It works out well that way. Siarah is hitting her spots now and she’s being consistent. She’s so much improved, but she put the work in to become a better pitcher.”
Saavedra was brilliant in the Bruins’ 4-0 win over Hawthorne last week, striking out 12 and allowing just one hit.
With pitching performances like that, Pace will remain at third.
“That’s the plan right now,” Stacevicz said. “Amanda is more important to us at third.”
The catcher is junior Gabriela Forese, who was the team’s starter at designated hitter two years ago. Like the way Saavedra was diligent with her improvement as a hurler, Forese has been the same behind the dish.
“She’s worked very hard at becoming a better catcher,” Stacevicz said. “She plays softball all year round and it shows. She takes hitting lessons and has worked with her defensive play. When she’s hitting well, the ball just jumps off the bat. I think she’s going to hit a few out this year. I really think so. She has tremendous power.”
Senior Suemia Filian is the starter at first base. Filian is a big target at first and catches everything in sight.
“She can also swing the bat,” Stacevicz said. “She gets up there and hits the ball hard. She can really pick it at first and the infielders like throwing to her.”
Filian had three RBI in the Bruins’ 11-9 win over Union City to start the season last week.
Freshman Sylvia Csada is the second baseman. Stacevicz has been impressed with Csada’s approach to the game and does not play like a rookie.
“She’s been a big surprise for me,” Stacevicz said. “I didn’t know much about her, but she can play. She covers a lot of ground out there. She’s like a lunch pail worker. She just grabs her pail and heads to work. She also swings the bat well.”
Sophomore Adrianna Troya is the Bruins’ shortstop.
“She’s going to be a stud,” Stacevicz said. “She’s been a lot of fun to watch. If she puts her mind to it, she is going to play at the next level.”
Pace, the junior, is looking more and more like a third baseman for good now. She had a late start to the softball season, but she had a reason to be tardy, as she earned the state wrestling championship a little more than a week ago.
“We knew how good she could be,” Stacevicz said. “She can play the position well and she hits the ball.”
Caitlyn Fernandez begins the season on the injured list with a hairline fracture of her ankle. But when she recovers, she might want to supplant Pace at third.
“She has a cannon for an arm,” Stacevicz said,
Senior Nathalie Mera is the starter in left field.
“She’s a team kid,” Stacevicz said of Mera, who was the starter in right field two seasons ago. “She moved her from right field to left field.”
Junior Nicole Franklin is the starting centerfielder after playing left field for two seasons. She is also the team’s No. 2 hitter.
“She runs the bases well,” Stacevicz said. “She’s doing well in the No. 2 slot.”
Senior Michelle Franklin, Nicole’s older sister, was on the county championship team three years ago.
“She’s a very good hitter,” Stacevicz said. “I think she’s going to have a good year.”
Sophomore Danielle Liriano is a versatile player who can either serve as the team’s designated hitter, designated player or utility player.
“She’s been another surprise to me,” Stacevicz said. “She just keeps getting better.”
So should the Bruins be an improvement this season. This team is better than a 10-win group like they were in 2019. Count on the Bruins to contend with the top teams for the Hudson County Tournament title this season. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com