Here’s an absolute certainty right now, as the HCIAA softball playoffs get ready to begin this week.
No one, but no one, is taking County Prep lightly anymore. The Hurricanes have blown through the entire county with such ferocity that they are no longer just the surprise story of the season. They are definitely the real deal. Take a peek at this week’s Hudson Reporter Top Five ranking. It’s no misprint that County Prep sits atop the list. They are No. 1 for a reason.
The Hurricanes sent out a message of legitimacy Monday when they defeated North Bergen, last week’s No. 1 team, 3-0. It marked the first time ever that County Prep defeated North Bergen – perhaps in any sport.
“We have gone up to North Bergen a few times and played some good games, but never got the win,” said County Prep’s first-year head coach Tim O’Donnell, who was an assistant with the program before taking over this season. “I know it was a big game, especially for some of our girls who are from north Hudson.”
It was big game because it solidified everything that the remarkable Hurricanes, now 17-1, have done this season, having defeated both of its HCIAA Seglio Division rivals, Hoboken and High Tech, twice during the regular season and defeating other Hudson County powers like Secaucus and Bayonne.
But the win over North Bergen made it all very real. It’s not a fluke anymore. It can’t be.
“Did I think we had a chance to compete for a county championship? Yes,” O’Donnell said. “Did I think we would be 17-1 at this point? No, I can’t say I envisioned this. I don’t think anyone did.”
In fact, the only loss the Hurricanes have endured this season has been to Holy Angels of Bergen County, losing 3-2, in eight innings, when the international tiebreaking rule was instituted in the eighth inning instead of the regular 10th inning.
County Prep, a Group II program, now sits atop of all the other programs in the county. It’s a remarkable run and you don’t have to look far to find the major reason why it’s taking place.
Senior pitcher Danielle Gaffey is in the middle of a magical year, one for the record books and memory banks. It may go down as one of the best seasons a Hudson County softball player has ever enjoyed.
After throwing a three-hit shutout against North Bergen, striking out 15, and then backing it up with a two-hitter against Bayonne, fanning 15 again, Gaffey has 213 strikeouts in just 110 innings pitched. She’s allowed just two earned runs all season, giving her a microscopic, gaudy and downright unfathomable earned run average of 0.13.
It’s a number that has never been seen in Hudson County.
Gaffey has surrendered only 24 hits all season.
Sure, there will be the skeptics that say that Gaffey toils in the smaller HCIAA Seglio Division, but let’s be real. Hoboken and High Tech have excellent programs with a bunch of powerful hitters. Gaffey shut both teams down twice. And North Bergen entered its game Monday with six hitters batting .450 or better and four over .600. Gaffey allowed just three hits.
“I thought she had the chance to be this good, but I don’t know if she believed it,” O’Donnell said. “She has a different level of confidence now. She’s having a year to remember and maybe it’s a dream year. Maybe the softball gods are smiling upon her.”
Maybe? Just maybe? No, this is beyond a dream year. This is an all-time best type of year.
“But Danielle will be the first one to tell you that it’s not all about her,” O’Donnell said. “It’s how the team plays well together. But Danielle is the best pitcher in the county and she’s proving it.”
She certainly is.
Senior shortstop Danielle Delfino has also been a major reason why the Hurricanes have been so dominant. And when was the last time that one team’s two best players were both named Danielle?
“I stressed to the two Danielles before the season that it had to be fun for them,” O’Donnell said. “They’re having fun.”
Sure, it’s safe to say beating all the major powers and winning 17 of 18 would constitute fun.
O’Donnell credited the work of all of his seniors, namely second baseman Stacy Teran, first baseman Sara Coleman, right fielder Jordan Potter and utility player Maya Scarborough.
However, make no bones about it. The reason why the Hurricanes are Hudson County’s best softball team right now is Danielle Gaffey.
In years past, her name has been misspelled hundreds of times, including in these pages. In fact, when she made All-Area as a freshman, her name appeared as “Danielle GAFFNEY.”
You can be rest assured that the “n” has been removed permanently. In fact, that’s name that gets etched permanently in the record books.
The Hurricanes will enter this week’s HCIAA Seglio playoffs as the top seed and the favorite to end the reign of Hoboken and High Tech in that division.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” O’Donnell said. “We still have some games to play.”
For a first-year head coach, O’Donnell has all the clichés down pat already.
The HCIAA Coviello playoffs could see North Bergen facing a surging St. Dominic Academy team in the finals next weekend.