The Harrison High School softball program and in fact, its entire athletic community, was shaken with the news earlier this year that head coach Carmine Ronga had to resign for medical reasons.
Ronga, who had established himself as one of the top softball coaches in northern New Jersey during his illustrious stint at Hoboken High School, had just started to see the fruits of his hard work begin to flower after his two seasons with the Blue Tide.
Now, Ronga’s illness forced him to step aside and forced athletic director Kim McDonough Huaranga to look elsewhere for a replacement.
Sourika Sinprasith was a veteran coach at Lincoln High School in Jersey City and a teacher at Jersey City Middle School No. 4. After serving as an assistant at Lincoln, Sinprasith stepped in as an interim head coach last spring with the Lady Lions and guided the team to an 11-8 record and the school’s second berth in the Central Jersey Group II state playoffs.
But after his excellent work as the fill-in coach, Sinprasith was not retained for the 2017 season. It forced him to look around for another position elsewhere.
At almost the same time, Sinprasith learned of Coach Ronga’s illness.
“I didn’t think it was a bad idea to put in for it,” Sinprasith said. “I was aware of Coach Ronga’s illness. I met him a couple of times and knew that his programs were always well coached.”
Sinprasith met with Huaranga, talked about the future of the Blue Tide program _ and then he was offered the job.
It didn’t take long for Sinprasith to accept the job, then to have the girls accept him as their new leader.
“They were a good group of girls,” Sinprasith said. “They work hard and that’s all a coach could ask for. I just want to teach softball the right way, both on and off the field.”
Sinprasith just wanted the opportunity to be a head coach of his own program.
“I just wanted to go and coach softball,” Sinprasith said. “It’s something I love to do.”
A Jersey City native, Sinprasith attended Lincoln High School and was schooled there by some excellent coaches like Roy Berry and Artie Williams.
“They sent me down the right path,” Sinprasith said. “They taught me how to do things the right way.”
And that’s what Sinprasith wants to instill in his new team.
“They are the hardest working group of girls I’ve ever had,” Sinprasith said. “They accepted me right away and proved that they were willing to work. I just wanted to pick up where Coach Ronga left off.”
It sure looks as if the Blue Tide is ready to do that after a 17-2 season opening victory over METS Charter of Jersey City on Opening Day Saturday. With the inclement weather covering the area over the weekend, it pays off that Harrison High School now has an artificial turf surface.
“We started off the season well,” Sinprasith said. “We put it all together and it showed.”
And it also helped that Coach Ronga was in attendance despite his illness.
“We wanted the girls to play the game for Coach Ronga,” Sinprasith said. “I told him that.”
It was amazing that Ronga was able to stay in the damp and cold weather for as long as he did.
Leading the returnees is sophomore left-handed pitcher Jenna Vieira, who started off the season in grand fashion by firing a no-hitter, striking out seven.
“She may be young and inexperienced,” Sinprasith said. “But she’s seeing a pitching coach on the side who is giving her tips. She’s mentally and physically ready to deal with the pressure. She’s willing to accept anything.”
Junior Kiera Lucas is Vieira’s catcher. Lucas started off the season with two RBI on Opening Day.
“She’s one of our captains,” Sinprasith said. “She’s the team leader who goes out and steps up. She’s a role model for the rest of the team. She never complains about anything.”
Two young ladies are sharing time at first base. Sophomore Joselyn Gutierrez and freshman Jordalis Lirandzo are both solid players and are capable of doing the job.
The same can be said for the responsibilities at second base for the Blue Tide in junior Mabel Jimenez and freshman Kayla Lucas, the daughter of former New York Jets quarterback Ray Lucas.
Senior Betsaida Gutierrez is the team’s starter at shortstop, where she’s been for the previous three seasons. There is no relation between Betsaida and first baseman Joselyn.
Betsaida Gutierrez gives the Blue Tide some stability up the middle.
“She is one of the fastest girls I’ve ever coached,” Sinprasith said. “We’re going to be aggressive with her running the bases.”
Junior Angelique Estremera is the third baseman. Estremera started off the season in fine fashion, collecting three hits, including two home runs, and five RBI in the win over METS Charter.
Sophomore Desiree Rodriguez is in left field, with sophomore Layla Barakat in centerfield and junior Anabel Castillo in right.
If you notice, Sinprasith has inherited a very young roster, as only Betsaida Gutierrez is a senior. The rest of the team will return next spring as well.
The Blue Tide will continue the 2017 season against Bergen Charter and Ridgefield this week. They are already off to an impressive start.
“I’m very excited with what I see,” Sinprasith said. “It was a great start to start the program. The girls have passion. They want to learn. They’re a great group of girls. They’re young and energetic. They come every day willing to work. I’m happy with everything so far. I’m excited about the future of this program. It looks very positive.”
The Blue Tide will be part of the Autism Awareness Challenge at Weehawken later this month.
The Harrison High School softball team will count heavily this season on new coach Sourika Sinprasith (center), sophomore pitcher Jenna Vieira (left) and junior third baseman Angelique Estremera (right), who hit two homers and had five RBI in the Blue Tide’s season-opening win against METS Charter on Saturday. Photo by Jim Hague