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SOARING EAGLES SLUGGERS – The Union City High School softball team is counting on its senior leadership to carry the freight the rest of the way. From left are Eliza Aguila, Leslie Zapata, Yailene Ferreras, head coach Jim Fontanilla, Alondra Cepeda, Analise Garcia and Edely Vasquez

The Union City High School softball team suffered a huge loss last year when former Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Ailainis Corporan graduated without having a chance to play her senior season for the Soaring Eagles.

Corporan earned Player of the Year status as a junior in 2019, when she was the slugging catcher and then shortstop for the Soaring Eagles, batting .696 with three homers, 10 doubles, four triples, 39 hits and 26 RBI. She was a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree and was on her way to carving her name into the Union City record books forever.

But the pandemic wiped 2020 away, leaving Corporan out in the cold without having a chance to seal her fate in Soaring Eagles annals.

“She was on pace to break the school record for hits,” said veteran Union City softball coach Jim Fontanilla. “She was just five hits shy of the record.”

The record, set by former Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree Alanis Garcia, stands at 110 hits. Corporan finished her career with 105. She might have surpassed Garcia’s mark in the first two games of 2020.

“It really hurt that she didn’t get the record,” Fontanilla said.

Corporan was able to secure a scholarship to Mount St. Mary’s College in Newburgh, N.Y., but with a senior season like her junior year, she might have had the chance to go to a bigger school. No one will ever know.

“We lost a lot to the pandemic,” Fontanilla said. “What happened last year was horrible, especially for our seniors. They worked hard to have a good senior year. We had a good group coming back. You never know what could have happened. I definitely thought we were going to be competitive. All the pieces fit last year.”

But Fontanilla was counting on a good senior class in 2021 that were sophomores in 2019.

“The seniors have been outstanding,” Fontanilla said. “They knew what it took to compete on the varsity level.”

Fontanilla also had a crop of newcomers to the varsity program.

“It’s like we never skipped a beat,” Fontanilla said.

The Soaring Eagles started the season strong, winning five of their first six games, and their record now stands at 6-4 after a hard-earned victory over defending Hudson County Tournament champion Secaucus (at least the last time there was a tournament in 2019).

“I knew our newcomers were talented and had what it takes to be good varsity players,” Fontanilla said. “I could see that from the very first practice.”

Fontanilla knows the reason for the Soaring Eagles’ slump after a great 5-1 start.

“We cannot have leadoff walks and follow it up with an error or two,” Fontanilla said. “You can’t win that way. I think when I look at the other teams in the county, we’re where we’re supposed to be.”

The Soaring Eagles are counting on a pair of young pitchers in sophomore Jailyn Suarez and freshman Kimberly Rodriguez.

“We’ve been using both pitchers,” Fontanilla said. “Kimberly throws harder and pounds the zone. Jailyn is crafty and hits her spots with an arsenal of pitches. It’s a good 1-2 combination that we can do so many things with. I have a lot of hope and confidence in both of them.”

The catchers are juniors Sheyla Betancourt and Natalia Alvarez, who came to the Soaring Eagles this year after Marist shut its doors forever last June.

“Both will flip flop between catcher and first base,” Fontanilla said. “They interchange.”

The second baseman is one of the best in Hudson County. Senior Alondra Cepeda is having a splendid senior season, batting .583 with a team-high 23 RBI. In one game, Cepeda had five hits, scoring five runs, driving in six and hitting for the cycle. Cepeda had two triples and three RBI in the win over Secaucus last Friday.

“She hits the ball all over the field,” Fontanilla said. “She’s the most experienced player we have. She helps the younger kids out and sets the example for everyone else to follow. She’s already to go with learning and then teaching. It’s a great thing to have.”

Senior Analise Garcia is the team’s shortstop who shares time with Rodriguez, depending upon who is pitching that day.

“She’s a hard-working player who is always talking and communicating with Alondra,” Fontanilla said.

The third baseman is junior Natalie Rosales, who is also a fine basketball player.

“She’s a very athletic player who we really could use anywhere on the field,” Fontanilla said. “We put her at third base, because that’s where we need her. She’s always looking to get better no matter where we put her.”

The left fielder is senior Edely Vasquez, who Fontanilla developed into a slap hitter to take advantage of her speed.

“She’s very fast and we’re using that strength,” Fontanilla said. “She worked hard in the offseason to perfect the slap. She covers a lot of ground in the outfield.”

The centerfielder is junior Fran Polanco, who is batting .525 with 20 RBI.

“She’s a first-year starter for us,” Fontanilla said. “She’s worked tremendously hard to get better. She’s able to track down balls in center.”

The right fielder is senior Yailene Ferreras, who had the game of a lifetime earlier in the season, collecting five hits, including two homers, and seven RBI. She also scored five times in that game.

“I’m very surprised and proud of her success,” Fontanilla said. “She had a great offseason getting ready. She has the inner drive to get better and wants to be very good.”

Senior Leslie Zapata gets time at third base, senior Eliza Aguila is a reserve outfielder and junior Jackelyn Marizan is a utility player.

“We just have to be more consistent defensively,” Fontanilla said. “One of our goals is to reach the county championship game. I have no doubt we can do it. We can hold our own in the circle with our pitchers. They all work hard and have each other’s backs. That’s the type of team we have.”

The Soaring Eagles are right in the mix for a county playoff spot, somewhere behind front running Hudson Catholic and close competitor Bayonne…

Speaking of Hudson Catholic, the Hawks are on an incredible streak inside the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League. Not only have the Hawks won nine straight inside the HCIAL, but all nine have come in games where the Hawks have scored 10 or more runs. That’s almost unfathomable. They’re going to be tough to knock off come county tournament time that begins May 22…

How about this for a reversal of fortune? Last week, we wrote about Union City native Steven Gonzalez going to Indianapolis and a new professional football league called The Spring League which began play last week.

Well, Gonzalez lasted all of one week with the TSL. He signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills and was headed to Buffalo to participate in the Bills’ rookie camp this weekend. He will more than likely head to training camp with the Bills in August…

Speaking of the NFL, we wrote about Frank Darby of Jersey City getting taken in the recent NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons and mentioned some of the other Hudson County products to get selected in then NFL Draft in recent years.

Well an avid reader pointed out that somehow Evan Rodriguez of North Bergen was overlooked in that article. Rodriguez, the former Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year, was taken by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Good catch by the reader Geovanni Molina for pointing that out and apologies to Rodriguez for the oversight. Rodriguez knows how much this corner is in his corner…

Speaking of corners, North Bergen native Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez, the undefeated super lightweight boxer, will return to the ring June 12 in the Virgins Hotel in Las Vegas to face Jose Pedraza, a boxer with a 28-3 professional record in a bout that will be televised nationally on ESPN. We have been following Rodriguez’s boxing career since he was eight years old and incredibly he’s now a 26-year-old father of two. Boy, time sure flies. Rodriguez is now in the Top Rank stables of promoter Bob Arum

Congrats to Union City’s Mike Martinez who earned Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference honors this season playing the outfield for Felician University…

Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1-Ferris (12-3). 2-Bayonne (9-5). 3-Hudson Catholic (10-4). 4-St. Peter’s Prep (10-8). 5-Union City (8-5)…

Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five:  1-Hudson Catholic (12-2). 2-Bayonne (10-3). 3-North Bergen (8-6). 4-St. Dominic Academy (7-4). 5-Union City (6-4). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com

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