By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Observer
At 28 years old, Jairo Mendez is not far removed from his playing days, when he was an excellent pitcher, first at Kearny High School and later on, Montclair State.
But Mendez feels he’s ready for the challenge of being a high school baseball head coach. Thus the reason why he took over the Harrison High School program this season, after Sean Dolaghan stepped down for family obligations.
Mendez, who had been an assistant coach with the Blue Tide for the past four years with Dolaghan, had an inkling that the program would be his toward the end of last season.
“He told me that he was going to step down because of his family,” Mendez said. “Sean recommended me for the job and spoke highly of me. I think that helped put me in a good spot. I felt like I was ready. The challenge is always exciting.”
Mendez said that he didn’t get that much grief from his closest friends in Kearny, taking over as head coach at the neighboring rival school.
“Maybe I heard things when I first started, but not now,” Mendez said. “In fact, my friends were all congratulating me and wishing me luck more than anything.”
Mendez was asked about the transition, going from assistant coach to head coach.
“It really has been pretty easy,” Mendez said. “My assistant coaches (Jimmy Morais, Charles Comprelli, Paul Herbster, Jose Morillo, Alex Delgado and Joe Wroblewski) have all helped me out a lot. It’s been okay. I’m not there to make friends. I’m there to teach them about baseball and teach them life skills. It’s almost like being the boss of a company.”
The Blue Tide has enjoyed a good start to Mendez’s first season as head coach, winning five of their first seven games.
Leading the way is senior right-handed pitcher Tommy Dolaghan, the former coach’s nephew, who has done everything and anything leading the Blue Tide.
Dolaghan has won his first two decisions, including a 10-2 win over Dickinson of Jersey City last weekend. Dolaghan allowed only one earned run, striking out eight and surrendering just five hits. He also had two hits and two RBI in the win.
“He has the most experience of anyone on our staff,” Mendez said of the former Observer Athlete of the Week. “He’s been battling since Day One. He throws all of his pitches for strikes and mixes up his pitches well. He changes speed well and hits his spots.”
Senior Sebastian Sanchez is another top returning hurler. The right-hander has a lot of confidence in his pitches.
“He’s not overpowering but he keeps it low and gets a lot of support from his teammates,” Mendez said of Sanchez.
Sophomore Markise Valentin is another solid pitcher.
“He comes from all different angles,” Mendez said. “He comes from the side, over the top, anywhere. And he has a lot of movement on his pitches.”
Junior Josh Williams is the team’s lone left-handed pitcher.
“He reminds me of Cliff Lee,” Mendez said of Williams, referring to the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace. “He challenges hitters and changes speeds. He has very good location and he’s going to be a good one.”
Senior Moises Roque is another solid pitcher, as well as seniors Kishan Patel and football star Adam Huseinovic.
“I think Adam is going to be a key pitcher for us,” Mendez said. “He has the ability to shut the door.”
Look for Huseinovic to be the Blue Tide’s closer this season.
The catcher is junior Miguel Zorrilla, who is an excellent defensive backstop.
“He is handling the pitchers well,” Mendez said. “He works hard and is a student of the game.”
Seniors Ricky DeSilveira and Danny Gerris are sharing the first base duties. Gerris is a transfer from St. Peter’s Prep.
“Ricky is very good defensively,” Mendez said. “Danny hits the ball well and hits it all over the field.”
Valentin is the returning starter at second base. When Valentine is on the mound, junior Jordan Villalta steps in.
Valentin was clutch Saturday against Dickinson, delivering two RBI.
Dolaghan and Roque share duties at shortstop, alternating depending upon who is pitching. Roque had three hits and three runs scored against Dickinson.
Third base duties belong to Sanchez. When Sanchez is on the mound, sophomore Craig Ruff takes the mound.
Left field responsibilities fall on the shoulders of Williams and when the lefty is pitching, then senior Brian Carr is out there.
Huseinovic is a fixture in centerfield. He might be known as a football player, but Mendez likes what Huseinovic brings to the diamond.
“He’s a good all-around baseball player,” Mendez said. “He has good power and could be our cleanup hitter.”
Huseinovic had two RBI in the win over Dickinson.
The right field duties are being shared by senior J.P. Ferriero and Patel and sophomore Felix Calderon.
The Blue Tide survived a tough early season schedule in fine fashion. The 5-2 record comes as no surprise.
“I’m very excited about this team,” Mendez said. “It’s a pleasure to be with the kids. I know we will be competitive.”
The Blue Tide, under the guidance of Mendez, has already proven the coach’s prediction to be true.