SCOREBOARD Local baseball season ends with three losses

Weehawken, Union City and Marist all lose in sectional finals

The NJSIAA state baseball tournament is an unyielding soul. There are only a handful of teams that can end their season in victory. The rest have to head into the summer months off a loss.
For three local teams, the loss came in a championship game.
Union City fell to Randolph last Friday on the rooftop called Roosevelt Stadium. It was for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship. It would have been the first-ever state baseball title for Union City, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Weehawken lost to Ridgefield, also last Friday, in the North Jersey Section 2, Group I title game. It also would have been the first state crown for Weehawken, but it didn’t happen.
A few days later, Marist lost to Holy Spirit of Absecon in the Non-Public B South championship, ending an era, led by a famed alumnus, that saw the program reach the absolute pinnacle, winning two Hudson County championships and an overall Non-Public B crown.
Three teams with championship hopes and dreams, all coming up short in the end.
But all three teams have something to be proud of, something to hang their collective hats on. They were the last teams standing in the county. They each won three NJSIAA state playoff games, just needing that last one to taste a title.
Union City head coach Chipper Benway said that there were mixed emotions for the Soaring Eagles after the setback.
“We had an up-and-down season,” Benway said. “When I look back now in retrospect, I was thinking is it better to be 16-5 and lose or just put something together at the end and making a run? Either way, it’s hard to take.”
The Soaring Eagles ended the year with a 15-13 record, but reached a state sectional final and played that game on their home turf. That doesn’t happen very often, especially when you enter the state tourney as a No. 8 seed.
“We played good baseball at the end of the season and I’m happy with that,” Benway said. “It was a great experience for the school, for the community, for the kids and the program. There was excitement at our place with a lot of fans. I thanked the seniors for their efforts, but I know that we’re going to be back.”
Benway knows what it takes to get to these big games, having played in a host of championship games when he was a standout infielder at Hoboken High School in 1990 and now as a coach.
“We got to this point [the state sectional title game] in 2011 [having lost to Morris Knolls],” Benway said. “It didn’t work out then. I think the program has grown leaps and bounds since then. It’s tough to get to these games, but I know with the kids we have, we will be back.”
Incredibly, almost unbelievably, the Soaring Eagles managed to reach a state sectional title without a single hitter in their lineup batting better than .300. That’s too hard to believe on any level, especially the high school level.
“With the young kids we have, they had a chance to experience what this was like, playing in a home game for a state championship,” Benway said. “I know it’s something they’ll never forget.”
The Soaring Eagles have a lot of hope for the future, with talented pitchers like Sandro Martinez, who started the game Friday, but had to leave early after developing a cut on his right index finger, Giancarlos Arredondo and Neil Alzamora all returning. The future is definitely bright. This is a program that will definitely get another shot at a state crown very soon.
Weehawken head coach Anthony Stratton knows that his team came so close to toppling the top seed in the North 2, Group I bracket. The game was tied going into the sixth inning, when Ridgefield scratched out a run to take a 3-2 lead. The Indians then got the potential tying run to second base in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t drive that run across the plate. Weehawken was so very close.
“The first part of it is that it really hurts,” Stratton said. “It’s the same feeling we had when we lost to [St. Peter’s] Prep in the county final [in 2013]. No one thought we had a chance against Prep and no one thought we had a chance against Ridgefield, but we were right there. We won 21 games, so that was a big accomplishment.
Added Stratton, “But this hurts so much. We had everything going the way we wanted in that last inning. What more could you ask for? The way I read about Ridgefield, I thought we were going in to play the Yankees.”
Stratton has been the head coach at Weehawken for the last 13 years. The Indians reached the title game for the third time with Stratton as the head coach. Eventually, the elusive title will have to come.
“As far as a team goes, this was the best team I ever had,” said Stratton, who was named the NJIC-Meadowlands Division Coach of the Year. “They were just a bunch of hard working kids who did everything together. No one heard of them before the season, but they made names for themselves.”
One of those names is junior Brian Rodriguez, who emerged as one of the best all-around players in the county. Rodriguez batted .540 with six homers this season and was also an outstanding pitcher. The Indians have Leury De La Cruz and Donato Cieri coming back next season. Stratton will have this bunch ready for action next spring.
For Marist, the picture is much different. Head coach Ron Hayward is leaving, heading over to St. Anthony to coach and serve as athletic director. The loss to Holy Spirit ended a spectacular nine-year run for Hayward at his alma mater.
There was thought that perhaps a championship would be a fitting way for Hayward to depart, but it didn’t happen that way.
“I’m really disappointed about the way things have turned out,” Hayward said. “I tried to motivate them by saying this was a last chance to get a ring. It was a little more fun, a little more everything. I’m okay with it now. They all deserved a chance to get a ring.”
Hayward was able to get Marist a state title in 2012, the school’s first in baseball since 1991, but the Royal Knights couldn’t recapture that glory one final time.
“It hurts a little,” Hayward said. “I have a little bit of mixed feelings right now, but it’s time to move on.”
Who knows where Marist goes for a new baseball coach and athletic director? As for returning players, slugging first baseman Jesse Matos returns _ but could he follow his head coach to St. Anthony?
“I’m encouraging the returning players to stay,” said Hayward, knowing that a transfer would cost players like Matos the first month of their senior year due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rules.
So the overall future of Marist baseball remains hazy, knowing that Hayward won’t be there.
Three teams, three chances at state glory, three setbacks _ that’s the way the state tournament can be sometimes. It was a cruel and excruciating way for the local high school baseball season to end.

Jim Hague can be reached at
You can also read Jim’s blog at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group