Kearny softball: Looking to repeat — Kardinals reach Hudson County tourney finals once again

When the high school softball season began in early April, the Kearny High School softball team was in a little bit of a pickle _ much to the chagrin of head coach Jimmy Pickel.

“We had a lot of changeover in players,” Pickel said. “We moved everyone around. We really didn’t get a chance to see what we had or who should be playing where because the weather was so brutal. We didn’t get a chance to practice outside. We had very few scrimmages and it showed.”
In the season opener, the Kardinals made an uncharacteristic six errors and lost 3-2 to St. Dominic Academy of Jersey City. It was hardly what was expected of the defending Hudson County Tournament champions.

“I thought the defense would be alright, but after that first game, we worked on our defense a lot,” Pickel said. “With the pitchers we had, I knew we could compete. But right after that first game, I knew we needed to do something.”

So Pickel moved senior Jane Amadeo to shortstop from the outfield and took speedster Gianna Hoch and put her in centerfield.

“Jane can play so many positions,” Pickel said of Amadeo, who has had stints at right field, first base, third base and pitcher during her career. “Now, she’s playing with so little pressure on her. She’s a lot more relaxed and it shows.”

Pickel is also pleased with Hoch’s performance.

“She’s done an outstanding job,” Pickel said. “She’s hitting in the leadoff spot and doing such a great job there.”

The Kardinals were able to turn things around in a heartbeat and started to play up to expectations, despite the massive turnover in the roster. Pickel scheduled some of the state’s top teams for independent games.

“I think that paid off as the season went on,” Pickel said. “We got better as the season went on.”
Sure enough, the Kardinals have won six in a row and 11 of their last 12 games to improve to 18-6 on the season. They lost only one game inside the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League and stand atop the league standings.

The Kardinals defeated East Orange, 15-2, last week in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tournament with Sydney Pace leading the way, delivering three hits and five RBI. Amadeo was on the mound, scattering six hits and striking out six to earn her third victory of the season and improve to 11-1 during her fine career as a Kardinal hurler.

A day later, the Kards knocked off Hoboken, 4-2, in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals. The Kards are now scheduled to face Hudson Catholic in the title game. At press time, it’s unknown where and when that county tourney title game will be played.

It was originally scheduled for Tuesday night in Weehawken. But Monday’s rain might have thrown the entire state tournament into a mess. If the Kards’ next state game against Passaic Tech was rained out _ as expected _ after press time Monday, then the county title game would have to be postponed to keep the state tournament moving.

So the Kearny-Hudson Catholic game could be pushed all the way to Saturday, considering the state playoffs take precedence _ and Kearny has its senior prom slated for Thursday.

“I don’t know who will be pitching,” Pickel said. “I’d rather have Sydney pitching, but we’ll have everyone ready.”

Giovanna Scrimo is also a capable hurler for the Kards with her 5-3 record. But Pace is the defending HCIAL Pitcher of the Year. She limited Hoboken to just five hits in the county semifinal win and struck out eight to earn the win against the sizzling-hot Redwings, who entered the semifinal game on a six-game win streak.

In the win over Hoboken, Emilee Marshall was the clutch performer, belting a bases-loaded double in the first inning to give Pace all the runs she would need. Marshall, a junior outfielder, has driven in six runs with five hits in the past week. She drove in three and scored the fourth in a four-run first inning for the Kards.

“She was a JV (junior varsity) player last year,” Pickel said of Marshall. “She really worked hard to get better. She did a lot of work on her own. She’s always trying to better herself and she’s gotten much better.”

Whenever the Kards face Hudson Catholic, it will be a rematch of one of the wildest games of the season. Back on April 10, the Kardinals trailed the Hawks, 9-3, entering the final inning. But they exploded for an ungodly 13 runs in the top of the seventh to take a 16-9 victory. Pace and Tatianna Fermaint each drove in four runs in that win.

“I’ve never seen anything like it on any level,” Pickel said. “I don’t think I’d want to see it again. I think this one is going to be a tight game, a close game. They know what we’re all about.”

The Kardinals will be shooting for their second straight Hudson County Tournament title and the third in the last four years.

Pickel was asked if his team is becoming more of an imposing figure throughout the county.

“I think some of the other teams might look at us that way, but I don’t want our girls thinking that way,” Pickel said. “But if we can consistently play the way we have been, then no one can take us.”

Pickel said that his team is playing confidently as well.

“I feel very confident about our chances,” Pickel said. “When we play, we should do well. But we have to wait and see. We don’t bring up what’s happened in the past. We just know this game will be totally different.”

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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.”