Blue Tide softball: No question, improvement on tap

Chris Innis is entering his third season as the head softball coach at Harrison High School and there’s little doubt that he’s already forgotten about Year Two.

The Blue Tide posted a 2-16 record last year – so it’s safe to say that Innis has turned the page on last year and focused on the new campaign.

“The seniors we have were freshmen during my first year here,” Innis said. “I think it’s important to have some sort of consistency in Harrison. I am fortunate to work with guys like Jairo (Mendez in baseball) and Nick (Landy in volleyball), who have been around for a while and have been consistent leaders. Both of those guys are easy to work with. I think it’s important for this team to understand my philosophy and understand what is expected of them. This group of seniors didn’t win that much last year and want to go out as winners.”

Innis said that he took some time to learn from neighboring coaches.

“I picked (Belleville head coach) Chris Cantarella’s brain,” Innis said. “He was really so gracious to give me some drills to use. I’m hoping to build on that. He was very open and friendly.”

The Blue Tide spent much of last season struggling with their hitting. It’s something that has been a focus throughout offseason preparations.

“It’s something we’ve stressed,” Innis said.

The Blue Tide will have great strength up the middle with junior second baseman Haley O’Donnell and senior Kayla Lucas. Together, the long-time friends form one of the best double play combinations in the NJIC.

“Our infield is the strongest one we’ve had,” Innis said. “We’re strong up the middle. We’re hoping our strong infield will help us make a statement.”

O’Donnell, the younger sister of 2016-2017 Observer Male Athlete of the Year Mike O’Donnell, proved to be an excellent second sacker last season.

“We’re expecting big things from her this year,” Innis said. “I think she has a little more pop in her bat.”

Lucas, the daughter of former Harrison standout athlete, Rutgers and New York Jets quarterback Ray Lucas, has enjoyed an excellent athletic career at Harrison.

“She’s been the starting shortstop for four years,” Innis said. “She just took over the infield and offered her leadership. She talks to everyone on every pitch. She moves well at short. She plays smoothly. And the ball just jumps off her bat. She’s starting to drive the ball into gaps. She takes the best approach at the plate.”

The Blue Tide will also have Brianna Guinn returning at third base. Guinn started last season as the catcher, but Innis moved her to third halfway through the season last year.

“She’s basically a true outfielder, but we’ve moved her around,” Innis said. “She did a great job for us last year at third base. She swings a consistent bat.”

Sophomore Emily Leiras will fit in somewhere.

“She came up to the varsity in the middle of the season,” Innis said of Leiras. “She has some pop in her bat. She likes to extend her arms a lot and hit the ball hard. We have to find her a spot somewhere. Her athletic ability gives her an advantage.”

The Blue Tide’s pitching staff will consist of senior Angela Arca, a right-hander who was basically a junior varsity hurler last year, and sophomore Jocelyn Oquendo. Innis realizes that the Blue Tide will need more than one pitcher this season, if and when play resumes due to the coronavirus outbreak, especially since a shortened season will mean in more games over a shorter period of time.

“We absolutely need more than one pitcher,” Innis said. “The two have been working with each other to work on their pitching.”

The catcher is promising freshman Janiyah Gutierrez.

“She’s very athletic,” Innis said. “She has a tremendous arm. She moves around well behind the plate. She moves well to get in front and block the ball.”

Innis is familiar with Gutierrez because her older sister Josalyn was on the team last year and has since graduated.

The first base duties are being shared by senior Ally Huseinovic and junior Denisse Gonzalez. Huseinovic is the younger sister of 2017-2018 Observer Male Athlete of the Year Dustin Huseinovic, currently playing football at Pace University.

“Ally is very athletic and catches the ball well,” Innis said. “She swings the bat well. Denisse is a very consistent hitter, a contact hitter.”
Senior Jenna Williams is the team’s left fielder.

“She came out for softball for the first time last year,” Innis said of Williams. “She had two hits in her debut for us. She can hit with power.

The centerfielder is senior Nicole Terreros.

“She was up and down between the varsity and junior varsity,” Innis said. “Her ability to field kept her with the varsity. She has tremendous speed and can catch the ball.”

The right field duties are shared between seniors Isabel Lopez and Letisha Villalta. Lopez has the better bat, Villalta the better glove.

“They’re both extremely hard workers,” Innis said.

Innis will also call on sophomore first baseman Mya Soto and senior outfielder Yara Sindi.

“Mya can catch the ball and she’s very fast,” Innis said. “Yara is a contact hitter, who bats from the left side.”

Which means one thing: Innis is trying to turn Sindi into a conventional slap hitter, in order to take advantage of Sindi’s speed.

If the Blue Tide improves this season, then Harrison will need to take better control of the ball out on the field. They committed an average of six errors per game last year – and winning teams don’t make that many miscues.

“It’s all about fundamentals,” Innis said. “We can’t give the opponent extra outs. But we have a good sense of family with this team. They want to play together, so that helps. They’re only going to get better if they have each other’s backs.”

The camaraderie that the Blue Tide enjoys will lead to more victories, even with a shorter schedule, this time around.




Harrison junior second baseman Haley O’Donnell. Photo by Jim Hague

Harrison senior third baseman Brianna Guinn. Photo by Jim Hague

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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.”