Without question, without a shadow of a doubt, it was definitely the most important week in the history of the Weehawken High School softball program.
Sure, the Lady Indians have enjoyed big wins over the years and had substantial performances from some influential players.
But as the 2021 season heads towards the homestretch, the Indians have hit perfect stride. They have won four straight games to improve to 8-3 overall.
Among the four straight wins are two very impressive victories, namely a 1-0 win over Immaculate Conception of Lodi, ranked No. 13 in the state at the time of the win, and an 8-3 over neighboring rival North Bergen.
The Weehawken coaching staff knows a lot about winning, that’s for sure.
Head coach Raquel Roder was a phenomenal pitcher and hitter for some very good Hoboken teams from 2006 through 2009. During that era. Roder was selected to the Hudson Reporter All-Area Softball Team three times. That alone should tell you how talented of a player Roder was.
Roder’s assistant is Jack Montanile, who was earning Hudson Reporter All-Area Baseball honors right around the same time that Roder was doing damage in softball for the Redwings. Montanile was a two-time honoree playing for Hudson Catholic in 2008 and 2009.
So the Indians are in good hands with Roder and Montanile running the ship.
Before facing Immaculate Conception, Roder had some doubts.
“Immaculate Conception always had excellent teams in the past,” Roder said. “And every time we played them, it was a learning experience.”
If that’s what Roder calls getting their tails kicked in, then so be it. But the Indians lost by scores of 18-0 and 15-0. Yes, learning experiences indeed.
When the 2021 season began, lo and behold, who did Weehawken have as its first opponent? None other than Immaculate Conception.
“We opened up against them and we lost, 7-0,” Roder said. “We did all the things we were supposed to do. We did the things we could control.”
Senior pitcher Tyler Saunders fared pretty well against Immaculate Conception, striking out eight in that game.
“She [Roder] said if we played like we practiced, we could put up a good fight against anyone,” Saunders said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Zionna Loftin is the team’s veteran. Loftin earned Hudson Reporter All-Area Softball Team honors in 2019.
“She’s a three-year varsity player,” Roder said of her centerfielder Loftin. “She’s extremely athletic and extremely fast. She’s our leadoff hitter and gets on base a lot. She just takes control of games. She also has a tremendous arm in the outfield. She just takes control of games. She’s a natural leader and she’s always very positive. She’s a joy to be around.”
Loftin was the one who was preaching to the rest of the Indians’ roster that they could actually beat Immaculate Conception last week.
“The last time we played them, we didn’t hit,” Loftin said. “I knew we could beat them if we played a clean game. That’s the most important thing. And that’s what happened.”
It also helped that freshman sensation Savanna McHale did the pitching. McHale was brilliant, firing a two-hit shutout, striking out 13. McHale gave everyone a glimpse into the future.
“She really doesn’t look like a freshman when she’s in the [pitching] circle,” Roder said. “She looks like an athlete.”
Roder said that McHale reminds her of another pitcher from Hoboken when that certain pitcher was a freshman.
“Yes, she reminds me of myself,” Roder said. “She knows what to do out there.”
The catcher is junior Morgan Tomlinson, who was an outfielder before the season began.
“We had no one to catch,” Roder said. “Morgan volunteered. She knows the game well. I knew she would be solid behind the plate. She’s aggressive and tough.”
The first baseman is senior Arlene Reynoso.
“She never played varsity before this season,” Roder said. “She thought a little about not playing this season and now she’s stepped into huge role.”
Natalie Cancio is the team’s senior second baseman.
“She’s a good defensive player,” Roder said. “She knows how to handle things out the re.”
The shortstop duties are handled by either Saunders or McHale, depending upon who is pitching.
Senior Rachel Moran is the Indians’ third baseman.
“She played JV [junior varsity] for three years and got her chance this year,” Roder said. “At the last minute, she came out and from the first day of practice, she pleasantly surprised us.”
Senior Carina Cruz is the starting left fielder.
“It’s her first year of playing varsity,” Roder said. “She’s developed into a great offensive player.”
Loftin is in centerfield, doing her thing and senior Faith Rivera is in right field. Senior Yasmine Hammdi is a reserve outfielder.
And yes, if you’re counting or keeping score of the players, you would be correct if you got to 10. That’s it. The Indians have 10 varsity players.
“The fact that we beat Immaculate Conception with 10 players is huge,” Roder said. “Jack and I say every day to them that anything can happen if you make the routine plays and do the things we can control. Going into the game, I felt that we should do better this time against them [meaning Immaculate Conception].”
Then, you throw in a win over North Bergen and you have the makings of the most historic week in Weehawken softball history. It’s a comment that will certainly awaken a lot of people, but when you consider the victories against state-ranked powerhouses with a limited roster, it’s beyond huge. It’s almost magical. Let’s see if the magic can continue through the postseason.
Wait, there’s something to add there. The Indians’ chances for a postseason will lie within the NJSIAA state playoffs, of which the Indians will be a high seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group I.
But the Hudson County Tournament? Sorry, it’s a no go. For some reason, the Hudson County Tournament will not include Weehawken, Harrison and Secaucus this year. At last check, those three municipalities and schools still reside in Hudson County. The last census says so.
I was told the ridiculous reason for excluding those three schools from both the boys’ baseball and the girls’ softball tourneys is that the schools didn’t participate in the Hudson County Tournament basketball tourneys in February. What one has to do with the other is a mystery here. Basketball is basketball and baseball is baseball.
So once again, the tourney is basically a Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League tournament and not a true county tourney.
About 10 years ago or so, the old school format of excluding the schools that played outside the fences of the county, namely the old Bergen County Scholastic League and now the North Jersey Athletic Conference, was tossed aside when the Super Football Conference was formed.
So for seven years, Secaucus, Harrison and Weehawken were welcomed into the Hudson County Tournament. Until now. Need a culprit? Let’s just blame the coronavirus. COVID-19 has ruined everything for the last 15 months. Why not include the Hudson County Baseball and Softball tournaments?
When the local schools were making plans about playing sports during the pre-vaccination and new strain of the coronavirus, every meeting included Weehawken, Secaucus and Harrison. Now, they’re out.
Now ain’t that a kick in the head? Weehawken would have loved to play in the tourney, especially the way the Indians are playing these days. What’s that motto, “Anything can happen?” Sorry, nothing happens if you can’t play.
“We are very upset that there is no county tournament for us,” Roder said. “I think we might have had a shot.”
In any case, the girls from Weehawken have a bright future ahead of them. Saunders has a 3.8 grade point average and is headed to Drew University in the fall to study biology and pre-veterinarian classes to eventually become a vet down the road. Saunders will also play softball at Drew.
Loftin also has a 3.8 GPA and is headed to the prestigious pre-med program at New York University in the fall. She wants to study oncology while at NYU.
“Honestly, this is all so surprising to me,” Saunders said. “I honestly didn’t expect this. It’s incredible just to be on the field.”
“I really didn’t think we’d have a season,” Loftin said. “Just being out there and playing means everything.”
The winning part doesn’t exactly hurt.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest St. Peter’s Prep head baseball coach Pat Laguerre. Laguerre has a fascinating background from his days as a basketball player at Jacksonville University to becoming a respected baseball coach. Check it out.