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Thanks to heroics of Cruz, Hudson Catholic right in the mix for county crown; Hoboken AD England heads to the Hills; top fives

The Hudson Catholic baseball team is moving along well, evidenced by the pending No. 1 seed in the upcoming NJSIAA Parochial B North tournament and a berth in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League semifinals this week. Front row, from left are Miles Thybulle, Joseph Carrion and Luis Rivera. Back row, from left, are Andy Antonio, head coach Alberto Vasquez, Alan Sanchez and Jayden Diaz

Hudson Catholic head baseball coach Alberto Vasquez didn’t know what to make of his team in the early going. After all, the Hawks’ program had to survive missing the entire 2020 season due to COVID-19, so Vasquez was pretty much in the dark on players who never played varsity baseball prior to this year.

“I knew that we had some young talent,” Vasquez said. “But the maturity wasn’t there. These kids just had to play differently. Varsity baseball is different. Looking at them, I thought they were a bunch of little kids, looking at their size. They are smaller than most. But their baseball IQ is at a higher level. I think that has helped a lot. They have a chance to compete every game.”

The Hawks have been one of the biggest surprises in the 2021 season, having a 13-6 record overall and have advanced to the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament (should be called the HCIAL Tourney with the exclusion of the teams that play outside of the league) against upstart North Bergen. St. Peter’s Prep and Ferris face off in the other semifinal.

While he is somewhat surprised with his team’s performance, Vasquez, a former Hudson Catholic standout player and catcher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, isn’t settling for the team’s current mark.

“We could be a little bit better,” Vasquez said. “We need some consistency. We need to learn how to beat the better teams consistently. We can’t just show up and play. That doesn’t work. We need to come out and be aggressive every time we play.”

Leading the way among the Hawks’ pitching staff is senior right-hander Alan Sanchez.

“He has such great leadership,” Vasquez said of Sanchez. “He takes control on the mound. He keeps the team in the bigger games. He knows what it takes game in and game out.”

Junior right-hander Randee Cruz has emerged as the team’s go-to guy in the clutch. Cruz provided the winning hit in the eighth inning to defeat Union City in the first round of the HCIAL tourney last week. Cruz also started that game as a pitcher and surrendered just two unearned runs in seven innings, gaining a no-decision.

“He’s a control pitcher,” Vasquez said of Cruz. He’s one of the smaller guys we have. He’s about 5-foot-5 and weighs 130 pounds. But he gives you everything he has every game. He knows how to compete.”

Senior Andy Antonio, the team’s standout shortstop who transferred to Hudson Catholic last year – and never had the chance to play for the Hawks – has been the team’s closer in tight games.

“He brings it,” Vasquez said of Antonio, “He’s a bright kid who knows how to pitch.”

Junior righty Jacob Herrera is another like Antonio.

“He’s the same type of pitcher,” Vasquez said. “He’s a competitor. He mixes his three pitches and throws them for strikes.”

Vasquez has a trio of sophomore right-handers who are still on the rise, but getting some varsity experience now. Isaac Young, Jonathon Salinas and Elvin Almonte are all sophomores who are working their way into the Hawks’ current plans.

The team’s starting catcher is also a sophomore in Tyler Giordano, who never stepped onto a varsity baseball field before this season.

“He’s handling our pitching staff great,” Vasquez said. “He also handles the bat pretty well. He’s our No. 2 hitter.”

Giordano is learning a lot having Vasquez as a coach, because Vasquez was once like Giordano – a Hudson Catholic sophomore catcher thrust into a starting role right away.

“I think he can improve,” Vasquez said of Giordano, who currently leads the Hawks in RBI with 15.

The first base duties are being shared by senior Joseph Carrion and junior Michael Laviola.

“They are sharing the time, but one usually plays first base and the other is the DH,” Vasquez said. “They both swing the bat well.”

Sophomore Jason Rosado is the Hawks’ second baseman.

“He’s my little ball of fire,” Vasquez said. “He handles the bat well. He has a great glove. He is quick and good on the basepaths. He’s a good line drive hitter.”

Antonio is the starting shortstop, a position he played when he was named to the Hudson Reporter All-Area Baseball Team when he was at Ferris in 2018.

“He is an excellent fielder and he’s hitting close to .500,” Vasquez said of Antonio, who is actually hitting .415 with a team-high three homers and a team-high in runs scored with 20. “We want him to play at the highest level. He never played for me before, so it’s a new experience for him. But he has the most experience on the team.”

Junior Justin Matamoros is the third baseman.

“He is a good fielder with a good bat,” Vasquez said. “He is still learning the game, but he’s always willing to learn. He is getting better.”

Sophomore Jayden Pagan is the left fielder.

“He has good instincts,” Vasquez said. “He has a plus arm in left.”

It’s a combination of do-everything Cruz and Salinas in centerfield. It’s apparent that Cruz gives new meaning to versatility.

“I’m telling you, the kid can play anywhere,” Vasquez said of Cruz.

The impressive Young is the right fielder, but Herrera has seen time in right as well.
Needless to say, it’s been an impressive run. It would be even better if they can knock off North Bergen, the way the Bruins disposed of top-seeded Bayonne in the first round last Saturday.

The Hawks are also sitting pretty in terms of the NJSIAA Parochial B North state playoff sectional. The Hawks are currently the bracket’s top seed.

“These kids have been willing to adapt to me,” Vasquez said. “They’re all willing to work and that’s all I can ask for.”

Vasquez can legitimately ask for two more victories this week. That’s not too much to ask for…

Derek England, who has spent the last seven years as the athletic director at Hoboken High School, has elected to take a similar position at Watchung Hills High School, which is closer to his home. England did a good job handling all the different sports offered at Hoboken.

Derek is someone who I’ve known since he was a little boy and it is great to see him mature into a fine young man with strong opinions. I wish him well in his new job. It should be interesting to see who gets that position as the new athletic director. I know there are some excellent candidates within the district and I know of others with Hoboken ties outside of the district that would love to get a chance at that job.

Well, here’s one for the new AD: Change the nickname back to its proper state. The name is Red Wings, two words. And it has been until England took over and changed it. Well, the proper name is Red Wings, not Redwings. The challenge has been issued to the new AD. Change it back…

Former Lincoln High School standout linebacker Alex Lozano, who spent four years playing major college football at Delaware State, has decided to spend his last year of eligibility at Portland State in Oregon. Lozano already has his degree from Delaware State, but had another year of eligibility remaining, so he decided to head to the opposite coast and play at Portland State, in God’s country, also known as Rose City. Lozano may be thinking about a possible professional career that could only be enhanced with a great year in Portland…

Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1. Ferris (14-4). 2. Hudson Catholic (13-6). 3. St. Peter’s Prep (13-8). 4. Bayonne (11-9). 5. Union City (9-7)…

Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (17-2). 2. Bayonne (13-6). 3. Union City (9-6). 4. Weehawken (8-3). 5. North Bergen (11-8). – Jim Hague

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

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