The St. Mary’s (Rutherford) High School baseball team concluded an excellent season last week when the Gaels traveled to Toms River for the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship game, only to fall to Holy Cross of Absecon by a 2-0 margin.
But that setback didn’t diminish anything achieved by head coach Dennis Hulse and his Gaels, who posted a 21-9 record over the season, including a 15-1 record inside the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division, a mark that enabled St. Mary’s to capture the league title.
“We always have the expectations to get to a state final, but we hadn’t been there in about seven or eight years,” said Hulse, the Kearny native and resident who is an alumnus of St. Mary’s and has been the head coach of the Gaels for the last six seasons.
“We always expect to be there,” Hulse said. “Maybe having the underdog role this season helped us relax and get to the championship game.”
The Gaels did manage to defeat Morristown-Beard to advance to Toms River. Morristown-Beard was the top seed in the Non-Public B North and won the Morris County Tournament championship this year for the first time ever.
“When the season began, I didn’t think we had the makings of a team that could do it,” Hulse said. “I had a lot of doubt in our pitching staff. I didn’t think we were deep enough in pitching. But the kids all came through and we rode our ace (Chris Quijano) and our closer (Gregory Cuevas) all the way to Toms River.”
Two of the main cogs for the Gaels were juniors from Nutley who had sensational seasons in outfielder/pitcher Greg Dahl and shortstop Joey Castellanos.
“They were by far the two hardest working kids we had,” Hulse said. “Greg was a former third baseman who was a so-so outfielder, but we put him out there. It was like night and day. He went from being our No. 8 hitter last year to our No. 3 hitter this year.”
Dahl batted .405 and earned First Team All-NJIC Meadowlands honors.
“He never played the outfield before and now it’s become his spot,” Hulse said. “He grew to like playing left field. He was also our No. 3 pitcher.”
Dahl pitched to a 2-2 record along with his .400-plus batting average. It was quite the season for the junior.
It was nothing compared to the year that Castellanos enjoyed.
Castellanos was named to First Team All-Bergen County, the first time a Gael had been selected in a long time. He was also selected to the First Team All-State by NJ.com.
Castellanos managed to lead the entire state in hits with 56 and RBI with 43, a remarkable total because Castellanos batted leadoff for the second half of the season.
“He was the leader of the team,” Hulse said. “He played shortstop from the first game of the season and didn’t miss a single inning. He played every inning at short. To have that many RBI from a leadoff hitter is amazing.”
Hulse said that he didn’t know much about either player before they enrolled at St. Mary’s.
“Most times, I know kids from the seventh and eighth grade,” Hulse said. “But with Greg and Joey, I didn’t even know they were coming to St. Mary’s. I don’t even know why they chose St. Mary’s, but I’m glad they did. They were both great finds for us and they both come back next year. I’m glad that we’re able to go out and find kids based on our good reputation.”
Hulse, who is now 35 years old, was a standout Little League player in Kearny who went to St. Mary’s and had a brilliant career, earning All-Parochial honors his senior year. He then went to Felician College and became an NCAA Division II All-American there before beginning his coaching career where he played high school ball.
“It’s awesome,” said Hulse, who became a full-time teacher at the school this year. “When I graduated from college, I didn’t even think about going anywhere else. I’m glad that I have an athletic director (Matt Stone of North Arlington) and an administration that supports us.”
So much so that the Gaels have already received approval to begin the 2017 season at the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“They all make my job that much easier,” Hulse said.
So does having two extremely talented players from Nutley like Dahl and Castellanos.
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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.”