A little over a year ago, Sydney Pace was already playing basketball on an injured knee, when she suffered a total ligament tear (ACL) that led to reconstructive surgery.
The injury meant that the talented Kearny High School three-sport standout would have to miss the entire softball season, the sport she loved the most.
“I was really disappointed,” Pace said. “It was one of the worst moments of my life. When it first happened, I was a little unsure about it. I thought there was a chance that I could come back.”
But not when ACL surgery was necessary. It meant a recovery period of eight months to a full year.
Pace was fully aware of what reconstructive surgery meant, considering her two older sisters, Stefanee and Samantha, as well as her father Rocco, all had the procedure done.
“Between us, we’ve had about 10 knee surgeries,” Sydney Pace said.
But losing the youngest of the Pace sisters was a major blow to the Kearny softball team.
“I would say I was more upset than anything,” Kearny head coach Jimmy Pickel said. “I’m not the type of coach who says ‘Woe is me.’ We just had to move on. Did it hurt us? Of course.”
Sydney Pace had a tough time sitting on the sidelines.
“It was horrible sitting out all that time,” Pace said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
So Pace worked hard on returning to the field she loved the most, namely softball.
“Softball is my favorite, by far,” Pace said. “I’m the different Pace.”
You see, her two older sisters went on to play soccer at the NCAA Division I level, Stefanee, the All-American at Kearny, went on to play at Rutgers. Samantha played at Marist College.
“I was definitely looking forward to coming back to play softball again,” Pace said.
When the time came for Pace to give the injured knee a try she was more than ready.
“I went to play club softball and I came back pretty strong,” Pace said. “I was back to my old speed.”
Pace did play soccer for the Kardinals in the fall and basketball in the winter, but anticipated being back on the softball field. She worked hard at pitching as well as hitting.
“We put her at shortstop,” Pickel said. “She also secured another spot in the circle. We have four girls who can pitch, so having Sydney back gave us a lot of security there. It worked out excellently.”
Pace moved into a pitching staff that included All-Hudson County honoree Caralynne Rivera, Jane Amadeo and Giovanna Scrimo.
“We have stretches where we play every day,” Pickel said. “So having the added depth helps.”
Pace returned as a fixture at shortstop and came back with a flourish, especially in the last week.
First, Pace had two hits, including a homer in the eighth inning to defeat Clifton, 8-7. What made Pace’s homer significant is that the blast cleared the fences in Clifton, a rare feat.
She then duplicated that feat last Wednesday, when Pace blasted a grand slam over the fence in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat previously unbeaten North Bergen, the defending county champs, also by an 8-7 margin.
Both wins against Clifton and North Bergen were come-from-behind thrillers.
Pace was also the winning pitcher in the game against North Bergen, the third time this season that Pace won a game on the mound. She previously had defeated Belleville and Hoboken.
In the past week, Pace also had two hits, including a triple, and two RBI in a win over Union City and had a hit and RBI in a win over Passaic Valley.
Pace now has three homers and 10 RBI for the season.
For her efforts, Pace has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week, joining her sisters in gaining the honor in the past. There have never been three members of the same family to earn Athlete of the Week honors before this week.
Pickel knows that Pace has the ability to be a clutch hitter.
“She has that type of style, a flair for the dramatic,” Pickel said. “You expect her to do things like that. You just hope she has more in her.”
Pace said that the blast against Clifton was the first one she ever cleared the fence with.
“It was the first one over the fence in my whole life,” Pace said. “I wasn’t having a particularly good game, so I was totally shocked when that happened. It was completely awesome then to do it again. I’m still in a little bit of a state of shock over that one (North Bergen). We have a little bit of a rivalry with them, so it was pretty awesome to hit that home run.”
Pace said that she always felt a little bit of pressure following in the footsteps of her talented older sisters, who are now part of a tandem coaching varsity soccer at Secaucus as well as youth girls’ soccer with the Kearny Thistle program.
“I used to think I had to be as good as Stef and Sam,” Pace said. “There’s a little bit of pressure, with one being an All-American and the other playing Division I. But now I can make a name for myself because softball is my favorite. I just go out with my Dad and hit the ball. It prepares me for anything.”
Pace said that she has especially worked on her pitching.
“I know I’ve gotten a lot better since my freshman year,” said Pace, currently a junior.
“She doesn’t show any emotion in the circle,” Pickel said. “She just does her thing. She’s so great to have around with her offense, defense, pitching, her knowledge of the game, everything. She’s just a tremendous help.”
All in all, it’s been a great week or so for the youngest of the talented Pace sisters.
“It’s been very amazing,” Pace said. “It’s been very rewarding. I always thought I could come back stronger. I kept telling myself it was going to happen. Now, it’s happened and that’s totally awesome.”
“A lot of people didn’t realize she was coming back,” Pickel said. “But they know now.”
That’s for sure.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”