Kardinals look to Serrano to lead the way

For all intents and purposes, the 2020 high school baseball season was supposed to be the breakout campaign for the Kardinals of Kearny High School.

Everything was in place – good pitching, timely hitting, perfect defense. It was going to be the year of the Kardinal, that after a few years of struggling, Kearny was poised to make a comeback.

Then, the unthinkable took place. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic swallowed the world and eliminated all high school athletics for the spring 2020 season.

“It was very heartbreaking,” said Kearny head baseball coach Dave Smart. “We had a solid guy at every position. It was especially heartbreaking for the seniors, who didn’t get the chance to play their senior year of high school.”

Now, a year later, and the talk, the thought of a Kearny contender have dissipated.

“We have a very young team,” Smart said. “It’s back to basics. We have a very hard working young team with a lot of sophomores. In some respect, they’re almost freshmen, because they didn’t play last year. It’s just tough all around any way you look at it. But these kids are hard working and they’re hungry.”

One of the hungriest of the Kardinals is senior ace pitcher/shortstop Chris Serrano, who was a starter during his freshman and sophomore seasons and brings that experience and enthusiasm to the Kearny diamonds this spring, before he heads off to play at Rowan University in the fall.

“Chris is everything,” Smart said. “He’s the backbone of this team. The kids all look up to him. He’s almost like having a player/coach. He grabs the younger players and works with them. He will stop what he’s doing every day to work with a couple of kids, rolling grounders with them. He’s really like the fourth coach on the staff. He knows what to expect from us and what I expect from him. He looks around and sees what we have and offers advice. His experience is everything to us.”

Another key returnee is senior first baseman/pitcher Jack Cullen, who has undergone a lot over his career, including the untimely passing of his father last year. Cullen will be the mainstay at first base and will be an excellent complement to Serrano and the Kardinal pitching staff.

“Jack is a big presence on the hill,” Smart said. “He throws hard and gets people out.”

The other key senior is catcher Connor MacConchie, who was also a starter two years ago and returns for his final season.

“Although Connor is very athletic and solid at other positions, I think he’s one of the better catchers we’ve ever produced,” Smart said. “He has a strong arm and fields his position extremely well.”

The Kardinals have another talented catcher who will have to wait his turn. Freshman Victor Hanson is waiting in the wings, but with MacConchie behind the dish, Hanson will observe and learn.

“Connor has taken Victor under his wing,” Smart said. “The two are working well together.”

Another talented hurler is junior right-hander Ryan Gil. The tall, lanky Gil, who made his mark during the basketball season, is developing into a fine pitcher and shortstop when Serrano is pitching.

“Ryan is really getting used to his body,” Smart said. “He has the size and the makeup to be a good pitcher. We’re working on his mechanics, but he’s going to be on the hill a lot for us this year.”

Another pitcher is freshman left-hander William McChesney¸ who has a lot of potential.

“We’re going to have to throw him in there and see how he does right away,” Smart said. “He’s going to get his shot.”

The first base duties are currently being shared by Cullen and McChesney.

The second base role is being handled by junior Sharif Wilkinson.

“He really can play anywhere,” Smart said. “I really can put him at all nine positions, but he’s a second baseman for us.”

Shortstop will be shared by Serrano and Gil. Don’t let Gil’s 6-foot-5 frame fool you as a middle infielder.

“He’s pretty athletic and can field it well,” Smart said of Gil at short.

Junior John Hernandez will be the Kards’ third baseman.

“He’s a first-year varsity player,” Smart said. “He has a good bat. He swings the bat very well and has some power.”

Sophomore Joseph Rocco, the wrestler, has joined the baseball program and will be in left field.

“He runs pretty well out there,” Smart said.

Another promising sophomore is Bryan Diaz, who will be in centerfield.

“I think he needs to put on a little size and strength,” Smart said of Diaz. “But he’s going to be our leadoff hitter. He can run very well and he can go and get the ball in center. He’s the hardest working kid we have in the outfield.”

The promising freshman Hanson will be in the regular lineup and will play right field for now.

“I’m pretty impressed with the way he has handled himself,” Smart said of Hanson. “He just shows up to play every day.”

The schedule makers were not particularly kind to the Kardinals. They open the season at Bayonne next Monday, then play at home against St. Peter’s Prep on Wednesday. Those two teams played for the Hudson County Tournament championship in 2019 and look to be among the teams to beat in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League this spring.

“We know we have a very young team,” Smart said. “But we’re going to be able to do a lot.”
That’s whenever the ball is in talented Serrano’s right hand. The kid is one of the best players in Kearny history and deserves his final moment in the sun. If Serrano performs like expected, then he can help to keep the Kardinals in contention.




The Kearny High School baseball team will lean predominately on their three seniors. From left are Chris Serrano, Connor MacConchie, head coach Dave Smart and Jack Cullen. 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.”