Kardinals capture Hudson County Softball Tourney title


It was early February when Kearny High School head softball coach Jimmy Pickel had a team meeting and the veteran coach walked out of the get-together feeling pretty good about his team’s chances this spring.

“After that first meeting, I just had a feeling that this was going to be a special year,” Pickel said. “We had a lot of girls coming back. They didn’t want to hear about losing to North Bergen (last year in the Hudson County Tournament final). They were looking to the future and talking about the future now. I liked that. I was really surprised with that.”

So it was now mid May and Pickel’s Kardinals were on the verge of living up to his prophecy from three months ago. They won their Hudson County Tournament semifinal game against Hudson Catholic _ a team that only beat the Kards by a 16-4 score just last week _ and were headed to face Hoboken in the title game.

All season long, Pickel had a good dilemma of having four pitchers to choose from.

But when it came time for the title game, Pickel had only one pitcher in mind _ junior Sydney Pace.

“I didn’t want to pitch Syd three times in one week,” Pickel said. “But all of our pitchers were fresh and ready. I liked it that teams didn’t know who they were going to face. I’m sure that Hoboken wasn’t sure who they were going to see. But I was going with Sydney. Right from when we were on the bus, she looked at me and that look said, ‘I’m ready.’ So that’s when I knew.”

Pace, who beat Hudson Catholic in the semifinals, said that she had no idea she was pitching.

“I didn’t know until he (Pickel) gave me the ball when we got to the field (the Gerrity complex owned by New Jersey City University on Route 440),” Pace said. “He did kind of look at me when we were on the bus coming to the game, but he didn’t say anything. I was relieved it was me. I wanted the ball.”

Pace, who missed all of last season while rehabbing after knee surgery, pitched a four-hitter, leading Kearny to a 7-1 victory over Hoboken to win their second Hudson County Tournament title in the last three years.

“It really is awesome,” Pace said. “It was way worth it to miss last year. It made me feel like I did something good for the team. That’s the amazing thing for me.”

The Kardinals (19-3) gave Pace all the runs she would need in the first three innings, scoring one run in the first, two in the second and one in the third.

“That really helped me to get more relaxed on the mound,” Pace said. “I could then concentrate on making my pitches. My rise ball was working and made them pop the ball up a lot. It made things easier for us defensively. It really helped me breathe for a second.”

Pickel knew that the Kards were in good shape after they scored the first run.

“Once that first run scored, I could sense it,” Pickel said. “I knew it was going to be a good day for us.”

Senior Caralynne Rivera, who hit a homer and pitched the Kardinals to the Hudson County Tournament title in 2014, had two hits and three RBI to lead the way this time as well.

Junior catcher Tatiana Fermaint, who originally hailed from Hoboken, but moved to Kearny, delivered an RBI triple in the third inning that helped sealed the deal. Fermaint also threw out two runners trying to steal bases.

Pace said that she really wanted to win for the seniors on the squad, 10 in all.

“We have a lot of seniors on the team and I wanted to help give them something as a going away thing,” Pace said.

The Kardinals had only four hits, but they made their hits count in securing the win with Pace in the circle.

Pickel gave credit to assistant coach Caroline Karp, who worked with all four pitchers all season.

“She did an outstanding job with the girls,” Pickel said. “She’s the pitching coach and the team psychologist. She did it all.”

The Kardinals now move on to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs, where they will face Bloomfield in the first round.

“I guess it’s a relief getting the second one,” said Pickel, who has taken the Kards to the finals a handful of times only to fall short. “I always felt like we were on the outside looking in. I always wondered if it’s ever going to happen. Actually now, I expect to be there. People know who we are. We’re not a surprise anymore. I like the fact that they keep coming after us.”

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”