The year was 1952. Russian president Vladimir Putin and actor Liam Neeson were born. King George VI of England dies, elevating his daughter, the next Queen Elizabeth II, to The Crown. Dwight David Eisenhower was elected as the 34th President of the United States. And Ferris High School’s baseball team won the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association championship.
It had been a long 69 years since Ferris last sat atop the county standings, nearly seven full decades of close calls and what wases.
“I like to give the kids a history lesson,” said Ferris head baseball coach Josh Beteta, himself an alumnus of the school. “I told the kids that none of their parents were born the last time Ferris won.”
So last Thursday night, before the Bulldogs faced Hudson Catholic for the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League championship at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium, Beteta reminded his players of the significance of the contest.
“I told them that they had a chance to do something special, something historic,” Beteta said. “We thought that it was never done before. Then we were told it was 69 years.”
“It had been so long since we won,” junior pitcher/first baseman Denny Furcal said. “All the past games, the times we came close and didn’t win, didn’t matter now. We felt like this was our game. We had to play until the last out.”
So Furcal issued a message to his teammates, once they climbed aboard the bus to take them to Caven Point, Furcal had something to say.
“We’re taking it home tonight,” Furcal said he yelled to his teammates. “We are going to play until the last out.”
The Bulldogs headed into the home seventh inning, trailing, 2-1, but then Jacob Ruiz delivered a run-scoring single that tied the game at 2-2.
Then, Hudson Catholic responded with two runs in the top of the eighth inning to go ahead, 4-2.
“I told them that this was not over,” Beteta said. “I said, ‘We’ve come too far to have this happen.’ I said, ‘You guys have been great every game, so go out and do something special.’”
With that, the Bulldogs came through.
“They responded in a big way,” Beteta said.
They sure did, scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth inning, with clutch sophomore DeAngelo Ponce driving in the game-winning run, to secure a 5-4 win and to indeed give Ferris (16-4) its first county championship since 1952.
“It was insane,” Beteta said. “It’s like a dream come true. Here I am in the place I always wanted to be in, the place where my heart is and we win the county title. It really is a dream come true. We have a special group of players.”
Furcal pitched the first five innings but was doing so on a very sprained knee.
“It’s still a little hurting,” Furcal said. “But anything I could do to help us win.”
“His knee swelled up to the size of a grapefruit, but he said he was going out there,” Beteta said. “So all day we iced it and put cream on it to get him ready for the game. They’re all such a great group of kids. They had so many injuries this year and never once complained.”
Beteta was once the head coach at CREATE Charter in Jersey City, then went to become the head coach at Marist. Both schools didn’t appreciate Beteta’s coaching and he wasn’t retained. Then he manages to take an assistant coach’s position at Ferris, his alma mater. The former head coach, legendary Hall of Fame coach Mike Hogan and when Hogan stepped away from the position, Beteta was ready to take over. He brought his younger brother, Cedric, along as an assistant coach, along with Marco Mejia, Jonathan Rodriguez and irony of ironies Robert “Hammer” Doughty, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area pitcher/infielder at Hudson Catholic.
Beteta thanked current Ferris athletic director Mike Burgess for leading Mejia along the road of life.
“He believed in my vision for the program,” Beteta said. “Thank God he gave me the opportunity to be the head coach. He’s been so supportive.”
Beteta credited his coaching staff.
“My baby brother, no one puts in more time,” Beteta said of Cedric. “He did all the strength work. Marco is like the elder statesman of the group. Jonathan did an awesome job with the infielders. And Hammer? I convinced him. I sold him on what I dreamed of doing. I told him we had the ability to be county champs.”
That they are – for the first time since Ike was President. Imagine that?
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com