Ever since Hoboken Recreation started a Major League Baseball Rebuilding Baseball in the Inner-City (RBI) program, the organization’s softball team has been a major national power.
This year is no exception, as the Hoboken RBI All-Stars have once again captured the Eastern Regional championship and have jetted off to Dallas-Fort Worth for the RBI World Series.
It marks the sixth straight year that Hoboken has sent its All-Star squad to the RBI World Series, under the guidance and influence of Vinnie Johnson, now also the head coach at Hoboken High School.
“The key was getting these girls together early and letting them play together,” Johnson said before the team headed to Texas Tuesday morning. “We’ve expanded to more of the community now. Our program has allowed us to choose kids from outside Hoboken. RBI allows it as well. As long as the girls play eight games in our regular league, they’re eligible.”
There has been one constant through all the Hoboken teams that headed to the RBI World Series — and that’s Johnson.
Johnson has masterfully created a roster of Hudson County’s best — and hopefully this team has enough juice to make a huge run at the RBI World Series crown.
“We know what it’s like to get to Texas,” Johnson said. “But now, we want to win it.”
Hoboken won the Eastern Regional title last week in Rhode Island to earn the berth in the World Series once again.
“We have 10 girls who return from last year’s team,” Johnson said. “We had to pick up six girls, but we knew we had a talented team coming back.”
Leading the returnees is pitcher Christina Mezey, the former St. Dominic Academy ace who was the two-time Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year.
“She’s my ace,” Johnson said. “She has pitched very well this summer.”
In the Eastern Regional championship game against Harlem, Mezey fired a no-hitter, striking out 12.
“It helps having an ace like her,” Johnson said. “In these tournaments, it’s all about pitching. If you have good pitching, you have a good chance to be pretty good.”
The Hoboken RBI team also has Ferris ace pitcher Victoria Vogt, a former Hudson Reporter All-Area performer, and Hoboken’s Natalie Viton, who just completed her successful freshman year with Johnson and the Red Wings.
Naomi Olacio, who made the Hudson Reporter All-Area team four times while playing infield for Hoboken High, has been converted to catcher for this summer’s run to Dallas.
“She’s done a fine job for us behind the plate,” Johnson said.
Alizea Henriquez, Johnson’s catcher with the Red Wings, is also with the Hoboken RBI, giving Olacio a spell from time to time. Henriquez also was selected to the Hudson Reporter All-Area team last spring.
When Olacio steps from behind the plate, she has also been playing first base.
“She even plays a little shortstop,” Johnson said of the versatile Olacio.
Jillian Ward, who just finished her fine freshman year at Hudson Catholic, is the team’s second baseman. It’s Ward’s first year with the Hoboken RBI. Ward also earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last spring.
“When you lose girls, you try to replace them with quality players,” Johnson said. “That’s why Jillian is on this team. She fits right in.”
The shortstop is another Hudson Catholic standout in Dayanara Flores. Hoboken graduate Kayla Morrissette, a former four-time Hudson Reporter All-Area performer who now plays for William Paterson University, is the third baseman.
Jaeda Henriquez, Alizea’s twin sister, is the Hoboken left fielder. Monica Cordova, who used to play for Hudson Catholic, is the centerfielder.
“She’s more of a volleyball player now,” Johnson said. “But we’re glad to have her.”
The right fielder is another Hudson Catholic product in Kristin Cunning, who just graduated after a highly successful four-year career. Cunning is a Hoboken native who grew up playing softball with the Hoboken Recreation program.
“She plays anywhere,” Johnson said of Cunning. “She’s very versatile. She can play anywhere in the outfield, third base, first base. She doesn’t care.”
Another Hudson Catholic product Elizabeth Moyano is an infielder. Gabriella Contey, the St. Dominic Academy standout catcher, has been in the lineup as a designated hitter as well as a catcher who obviously has camaraderie with Mezey.
The team also features versatile Daniella Echevestre of Kearny and Ondai McDonald of Newark.
“Talent-wise, we have some girls who are scrappy and battle for everything,” Johnson said. “I think this is the team that has the best chance to do well in the World Series. There’s just something about this team. There’s a special bond with them. They’re not as talented as some other teams I’ve had, but I really believe that this is the team that’s going to win. I just feel it with the chemistry we have.”
Johnson should know. He’s been to the RBI World Series enough times. Now, this is the trip that he feels will bring home a national championship…
EXTRA INNINGS focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area, from Little League action through travel leagues.
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