After a trying regular season that included a 1-13 record in the HCIAL American Division, it would have been easy for Kearny’s baseball team to be focused more on the upcoming summer than the Hudson County Tournament.
Instead, the Kardinals are playing their best baseball of the season.
On Thursday, Kearny, seeded 11th, snapped an eight-game losing streak when it defeated Snyder, 8-1, in the first round. Two days later, Kearny had perhaps its finest performance of the spring when it went to West New York and upset sixth-seeded Memorial, 5-4, in the second round.
With the win, Kearny advances to the quarterfinals for just the second time since 2018. On Tuesday, the Kardinals will look to pull off their second consecutive comeback when it faces a Ferris team that has made the final each of the past two years.
“I think these boys have a new life,” head coach Dave Smart said. “They want to play, they want to be there, I think they’re starting to get that confidence and believe in themselves. That’s something we haven’t had in a while.”
Another thing the Kardinals hadn’t enjoyed for most of the spring was a healthy William McChesney. The junior battled a bone bruise on his wrist for most of April before sitting out two weeks in hopes of healing the injury.
Since returning on May 8, McChesney has returned to being the player he and Kearny anticipated. McChesney had arguably the best pitching performance of his career on Saturday when he tossed 4 2/3 no-hit innings against Memorial with seven strikeouts and six walks. He also went 3-for-4 with a run, RBI, triple and double against Snyder.
“He came out, he was effective and I really think he can be a heck of a pitcher if he stays focused and stays within himself,” said Smart. “He can really get the job done.
“I think now not having that pain and uncomfortable feeling in his wrist is starting to show. We knew something was up with the way he was swinging in the beginning of the year. He takes a lot of pride in the way he swings the bat and we knew something was off. Now that it’s healed, we see the difference in him.”
Senior Bryan Diaz was the offensive star on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with three RBI and two stolen bases for Kearny, which built up a 5-0 lead with three runs in the top of the third inning, followed by an additional in the fourth and fifth.
Sophomore Jonah Menendez, who took over at first base following injuries to McChesney and others, scored two runs in the victory and Trayton Witt added a run and a RBI.
Kearny’s unlikely to qualify for next week’s state tournament, but the past few days have affirmed Smart’s belief that they’re better than the 4-17 record indicates.
“We’re a lot better than our record shows. We had a couple of rough games where one inning, two innings, a couple of timely at-bats went against us,” said Smart. “I think the guys right now, and we’re pretty senior dominated, realize that this is it for them. They’re coming out to play, they’re working hard and it’s fun to watch and be around.”
Kearny wasn’t the only local team to play its best baseball in the Hudson County Tournament. Harrison, which was seeded 16th, erupted for a stunning 25 runs to defeat University Charter in the play-in round and earn its first victory over the season this past Wednesday. A day later, the Blue Tide’s offense, which had been previously averaging two runs per game, had another big day, scoring 14 in a heartbreaking, 15-14 loss in eight innings at Dickinson.
Lyndhurst earned the 24th and final spot in this year’s Bergen County Tournament and while the Golden Bears run ended with 10-1 first round loss to Bergenfield, the experience should prove beneficial heading into the state tournament.
In the Bergen County Invitational, North Arlington got a no-hitter from Robert Carselda in the Vikings’ 3-0 victory over Fair Lawn this past Wednesday. Carselda, a junior, struck out two and walked four, while also helping his own cause at the plate with two RBI. North Arlington fell to Demarest, 8-2, in the semifinals on Saturday.
In softball, Kearny, the No. 5 seed, kicked off its Hudson County Tournament run with an emphatic 19-1 victory over McNair in the second round, setting up a third matchup with fourth-seeded Hudson Catholic on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
Harrison, the 15th seed, delivered a first round upset when it went to West New York and upset 15th-seeded Memorial, 7-3. Janiyah Gutierrez continued her stellar senior season by going 3-fo4 with a RBI and three stolen bases. Gutierrez has quietly been one of the area’s premier batters, hitting .489 with four home runs, 28 RBI and 21 stolen bases.
Harrison’s tournament run ended on Saturday with a 15-6 loss to a 16-3 St. Dominic squad.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)