Memorial’s return to greatness

For many years, Memorial High School in West New York produced some of the fastest long distance runners in the state and featured the most feared baseball program around.
Locally and even in the state of New Jersey, the Memorial baseball program, under the tutelage of the late Tony Ferrainolo, was as good as it got.
The Tigers won 11 Hudson County championships, three NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV titles and one overall Group IV championship, the one in 1988 that sealed the mythical national championship that year – a feat that no Hudson County baseball team has come close to duplicating since.
When Ferrainolo stepped down after the 2011 season, he had 754 career victories, the most ever in New Jersey high school baseball. It’s a mark that has since been topped by Jersey City native Ken Frank of Toms River South, but there’s no question that Ferrainolo left his mark as a legend in his native West New York.
Ferrainolo died in October of 2011 and the program was turned over to one of Ferrainolo’s top products, Danny Marroquin, who pitched for some of Ferrainolo’s best teams in the 1990s and served as Ferrainolo’s assistant.
Since Marroquin has been the head coach, he’s had one goal in mind – to restore the Tigers to their place of prominence.
“Coach Ferrainolo established us as a state power,” Marroquin said. “He left a legacy of greatness. I have to be the one to bring it back. I’ve been trying my best to do it.”
As the 2016 season begins, Marroquin just may have the team to bring Memorial back to its proper place of prominence.
The Tigers are loaded and loom as the team to beat in Hudson County this season.
“It’s a great feeling,” Marroquin said. “When I played, I knew the kind of respect that Memorial baseball always had. It feels good to have that respect again. It’s good to have Memorial as a state power once again.”
The Tigers won 16 games last year and if the baseball gods have it, that number will increase in droves this season.
Part of the reason why the Tigers’ chances have been enhanced tremendously is the arrival of Justin Willis to Memorial.
The West New York native played his first two seasons at St. Joseph’s in Metuchen, but decided to transfer back home to Memorial last summer after posting a 7-1 record with an 0.70 earned run average, the top numbers for any sophomore in the state. Willis earned Second Team All-State honors at St. Joseph, but didn’t like the commute and decided to come home.
“It was heaven’s gift,” Marroquin said of Willis’ transfer. “I felt it was like a repayment for losing Steven Acosta [to Tommy John surgery last year, missing the whole season]. Getting Justin makes up for what we lost last year.”
Acosta is still recuperating from the surgery and may miss the entire season as a redshirt at Stony Brook, which advanced to the NCAA College World Series last year.
Willis is even better than what Acosta was for the Tigers.
“It’s a whole other level,” Marroquin said. “Justin does so many things for us. When he walked in the door, I had a smile from ear to ear. He makes our program so much better.”
Willis is only a junior, but he’s already given his verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. He has already participated with the United States National Team on younger levels.
While Willis heads the pitching staff, he’s not the lone wolf on the mound. The Tigers are loaded.
“We’re not just Justin Willis,” Marroquin said. “He motivates the other pitchers and makes them take it to another level.”
Senior right-hander Chris Rey was the Tigers’ top hurler last year and was selected to Hudson Reporter All-Area team, winning six games.
“If we didn’t have Willis, Chris could have been the man,” Marroquin said. “He can do the job. I think we have a pretty 1-2 pitching combination with Justin and Chris.”
Senior lefty Kevin Mojica is another quality pitcher who would be the ace on a lot of other teams in the county, but has to settle on being the Tigers’ No. 3 hurler. Mojica won four games last year, but pitched in a lot of hard luck. Mojica did give a clutch performance in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals against North Bergen.
“He’s been pitching varsity since he’s a freshman,” Marroquin said. “He has a lot of talent.”
Sophomores Joshua Casado and Daury Genao are also members of the county’s best pitching staff. Casado and Genao are two players to watch.
“I expect big things from both of them,” Marroquin said. “I have all the confidence in the world in them.”
The catcher is senior Albert Munoz. Munoz batted better than .450 last year.
“He sees the ball great and he has a great arm,” Marroquin said. “He’s also a very good hitter, which helps.”
The first baseman is senior Mario Palos, part of the Tigers’ tantalizing twin combo. Palos was the Tigers’ premier power source last season and was a member of the Hudson Reporter All-Area team.
Junior Lazaro Lopez is the starter at second base, where he played last year.
“He’s scrappy,” Marroquin said. “He’s a coach’s player. He does everything I ask him to do. He’s also one of the top guys in our lineup.”
Genao is the shortstop and Casado is the third baseman when they’re not pitching.
“They are the future of our program,” Marroquin said.
Giovanni Palos, the twin brother of Mario who also earned Hudson Reporter All-Area last spring, returns to his spot in left field. Palos hit .441 and had 30 RBI last year.
“He will be batting third or fourth for us this year,” Marroquin said. “I may bat the brothers together.”
Senior Chris Fernandez, another returning starter, is the Tigers’ centerfielder. Fernandez can run after anything hit in the air. He has that much range.
Right field duties are shared by juniors Michael Hernandez and Noel Rodriguez, with junior Joey Rosato doing utility work as a third baseman, first baseman and designated hitter.
The Tigers open their season this weekend against Gloucester Catholic, then face Kearny and Bayonne before traveling to Louisville and getting three games in the Bluegrass State next weekend.
“We’re more than ready,” Marroquin said.
For someone who has had to handle the scrutiny of replacing a legend like Ferrainolo and hearing the grumbling about possibly losing his job, Marroquin deserves the opportunity to coach a powerhouse. For all intents and purposes, it looks like he indeed has that – a major force to be reckoned with.

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

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