Tuesday, June 27, 2017
By Richie 'Ballgame' Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
Male Athlete of the Season:
Aljo Sujak, Tenafly Baseball
Tenafly baseball had a resurgence this past spring as it qualified for both the Bergen County and North 1, Group 3 state tournament. Neither would have been possible if not for the efforts of the multi-talented Sujak. Whether at the plate or on the mound, the southpaw was a threat that every opposing team had to gameplan around.
The senior got the Tigers off to a good start with a season-opening win against Teaneck. He homered and drove in three runs to back his own cause by pitching a two-hit shutout in a 5-0 win. Sujak followed that up with a three-hitter and 13 strikeouts in a win over Leonia.
With opposing teams trying to pitch around him, Sujak, at best, might get one good pitch per at-bat. That did not bother him one bit. He solidified himself as the top homerun threat in Bergen County after going 3-for-3 with a homer in a loss to eventual section champion Pascack Valley. Later in the season he went 4-for-4 and clubbed two homers to go with a career-high eight RBIs in a win against Cliffside Park.
Sujak was no slouch on the mound either. He consistently kept hitters off-balance and was able to put them away with two strikes. The 6-foot-2 Sujak had at least seven strikeouts in 7 of his 9 starts. His most impressive outing actually was the last time he wore a Tenafly uniform. Against Indian Hills in the first round of the North 1, Group 3 state tournament, Sujak allowed just two hits and one walk in a dominant performance. He struckout 10 batters and did not allow a run before having to be lifted due to the pitch count rule after 7 2/3 innings in a game that the Tigers lost, 1-0, in nine innings. Sujak also had two of his team’s three hits in the game.
On the season, the William and Mary commit batted .485 with a state-leading 11 homeruns and 30 RBIs. He went 5-3 on the hill with a 2.00 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 56 innings pitched.
Andrew Robbins, Ramapo Lacrosse
Robbins was the offensive lynchpin in Ramapo’s deepest county and state tournament runs in school history. The 5-foot-9 senior used his speed and the quick release on his shot to become North Jersey’s most dangerous man with the ball on his stick.
He had back-to-back five-goal, two-assist efforts against Northern Valley/Demarest and Pascack Valley on the Green Raiders’ way to the Bergen County final where they eventually lost to Ridgewood.
Robbins was even more determined after that loss to make sure that Ramapo ended its season as a championship team. Facing an early three-goal deficit on the road against defending North 2, Group 2 champ Chatham, Robbins scored on a wraparound goal to get the Green Raiders back on track. They stayed on it through the rest of the game as Robbins scored three goals and had an assist to help Ramapo to a 10-8 win and its first section title in 11 years.
He was not done nor was Ramapo even things look bleak. Facing Rumson-Fair Haven in the Group 2 state championship game, there was another three-goal deficit to overcome. Only this time it wasn not in the first quarter, but with just 2:26 left to play in the game. Robbins once again sparked the comeback with a goal as Ramapo eventually tied the game and won in overtime.
Robbins ended the season with 67 goals and 22 assists and 162 goals for his career. He will continue playing next spring at Lafayette.
Chris Gerard, Bergen Catholic Baseball
Jason Mezhibovsky, Northern Valley/Demarest Track
Spencer Shih, Northern Highlands Golf
Joey Castellanos, St. Mary’s (Rutherford) Baseball
Greg Coleman, Northern Highlands Lacrosse
Chikaya Soto, Cresskill Tennis
Dan Raglievich, Dumont Baseball
Quin Peene, Ridgewood Lacrosse
Daniel Nuzhny, Dwight-Englewood Tennis
Andrew Eng, Ridgewood Baseball
Billy Joyce, Fair Lawn Volleyball
Nick Cantone, St. Joseph Regional Baseball
Female Athlete of the Season:
Julie Rodriguez, Northern Valley/Old Tappan Softball
Players like Julie Rodriguez just do not come along very often, if at all for mostprograms, even in tradition-rich Bergen County. The superstar who is a great teammate, a big-game pitcher, and one of the most talented hitters ever to play in the county all rolled into one athlete.
Rodriguez’s keen eye allowed her to take any pitch in any zone and drive it to all fields. Every single team attempted to pitch around her (she was issued a state-high 28 intentional walks this season) but she still managed to have a staggering .644 batting average with 47 hits, seven homers, and 27 RBIs. She also stole 12 bases in as many attempts.
More than anything, though, the fiercely-competitive Rodriguez wanted the only thing that eluded her during her illustrious career at Northern Valley/Old Tappan: a championship celebration.
In the first round of the North 1 Group 3 state tournament, Rodriguez showed she was also a bulldog in the circle by twirling a three-hit shutout against Montville. After surviving a scare against Sparta, Rodriguez was at her best when her team needed it. She doubled and scored twice along while tossing a five-hit shutout in an upset over top-seeded West Essex, the No. 7 ranked team in New Jersey, to reach the section final.
After falling behind by three against West Milford, Rodriguez kickstarted the offense with a two-out, solo homer in the third inning. After the Golden Knights pulled ahead, West Milford loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Rodriguez slammed the door shut and got the final two outs as Old Tappan won its first section title in 36 years.
Rodriguez, who went 21-6 in the circle with a 1.77 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 177 innings pitched, has rewritten the Golden Knights’ record book. She had a career .631 batting average, 166 hits, 43 doubles, 21 triples, 15 homers, and 83 RBIs along with 90 runs scored, which is second all-time at Old Tappan. She will continue to play next year at national power UCLA.
Victoria Sebastian, Ramsey
Sebastian felt the frustration of having softball taken away from her during her freshman season. After an early-season injury cost her the remainder of her innaugural season, her plan was to rehab hard and get herself ready for her sophomore year. She came back faster and stronger than ever before. As both the No. 1 pitcher and the big bat in the middle of the lineup, Sebastian welcomed the pressure and surpassed lofty expectations by being one of the state’s best two-way threats this past spring.
It did not take long to show her coaches and teammates that the injury was well in the rear-view mirror. The power, speed, and pitching combination was something few players other than the aforementioned Rodriguez could match. Ramsey absolutely dominated teams this spring and Sebastian was the biggest reason behind it. The jury was still out though on both Sebastian and Ramsey as a whole heading into the Bergen County Tournament. That was quickly dismissed as Sebastian allowed just two runs in four games to put Ramsey into the Bergen County final against Immaculate Conception.
Facing adversity for the first time all season after a touch of wildness in the first two innings, Sebastian made up for it with just one swing of the bat. She stroked a three-run homer to tie the game at 4 and finished 4-for-4 at the plate to lift Ramsey its first county title since 1994.
That momentum spilled right over into the North 1, Group 2 tournament with Sebastian proving to be a force. She tossed a three-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Vernon in the semifinals. Then in the final, she jacked a two-run homer in the fifth inning to put Ramsey ahead in a game they eventually won 5-4 in extra innings.
Sebastian finished the season with 60 hits, 17 doubles, nine homers and 38 RBI while going 27-1 in the circle.
Danielle Van Calcar, Ramapo Lacrosse
Hannah Cermack, Ridgewood Lacrosse
Amanda Ayala, DePaul Softball
Olivia Sprofera, IHA Softball
Ryan Henry, Ramsey Softball
Jenna Rogers, Rutherford Track
Reese Guevarra, IHA Softball
Chelsea Trattner, Ridgewood Lacrosse
Jen Sweeney, Tenafly Softball
Hailey Ricciardi, Ridgewood Lacrosse
Lexi Del Gizzo, Tenafly Track
Gabby Fredette, Immaculate Conception Softball
Michaela McMahon, Saddle River Day Lacrosse
McKenzie Bishop, Ramsey Softball
Jackie Wolak, Saddle River Day Lacrosse
Kelly Sim, Holy Angels Golf
Mackenzie McGrath, Demarest Softball
Julia Bradbury, Northern Highlands Lacrosse
Sarah Stocker, Indian Hills Softball
Boys Team of the Season :
With senior leadership in every phase of the game Ramapo expected to have a solid season. Sitting at 7-4 heading into the Bergen County Tournament, it was exactly that. But after a loss to Ridgewood in the BCT title game the Green Raiders banded together and refused to let their season without hoisting a trophy. For that to happen, everybody had to know their role and play it well.
Tough defensive performances led by defenseman Jack Scordato and goalie Johnny Caponi fueled wins over Montville and Sparta to set up a rematch with Chatham in the Group 2 North title game.
After watching Chatham celebrate in 2016 the Green Riders turned the tables. It was a total team effort as Ramapo won 10-8 to finally lift the trophy as section champs, the program’s first since 2006.
Ramapo then mounted a huge comeback down three goals with less than two minutes to play against Rumson-Fair Haven in the Group 2 state final. Andrew Robbins and Mike Graff scored eight seconds apart to cut the lead to one. Then with 19 seconds left, Matt Karsian wrapped around the net to tie the game and send it into overtime. In overtime Ryan Sisti hit a cutting Jack Griffin at the back post for the game-winning goal that finished off a wild 12-11 win and sent Ramapo to the Tournament of Champions, where it won its first-round game against Madison before falling in the semifinals to eventual T of C champ Delbarton.
Head coach Joe Iwanski has always challenged his players to see where they stand against the best teams in the state. Even with a younger squad that included just one senior this year, Iwanski knew that he not only had to put his team to the test but also do some tinkering with his lineup until he found the right fit.
The final lineup did not materialize until late in the year but there was still plenty of success along the way. Even without ace first-singles player Daniel Nuzhny who had elected to play in a USTA Tournament that same weekend, the Bulldogs ripped through the other four flights. Led by senior third-singles player Nikhil Kokra’s shutout in the title match Dwight-Englewood repeated as champions at the Bergen County Tournament for Groups 1-2.
They went undefeated in league play to win a Bergen County record 21st consecutive league title. Although the Bulldogs’ season came to a close with a tough 3-2 loss to another state power Newark Academy in the Non-Public North B title, there is plenty of reason for their heads to be held high. Their only two losses came to a state champ and the eventual Tournament of Champions winner Montgomery. With six of seven starters coming back next year, the future looks just as bright as this year was for Dwight-Englewood.
Fair Lawn Volleyball
Bergen Catholic Baseball
Bergen Catholic Golf
Northern Valley/Demarest Track
Northern Valley/Old Tappan Golf
Girls’ Team of the Season:
BERGEN COUNTY CHAMPS
Hitting, pitching, running the bases, and solid defense. If a team possesses all four of those traits up and down a lineup, it is going to be a great season. Ramsey had all of those components along with the intangibles needed to be not just a successful team but also one that even other good teams in the area simply could not touch.
After three quality wins over River Dell, Mahwah, and Demarest to open the season, the Rams hit their stride and went on a legendary tear over the next 14 games. The Rams simply tore the cover off the ball and were never threatened in any of those contests. So much so that they outscored their opponents over that stretch by, get this, 144-8.
That earned them the top seed in the Bergen County Tournament and the Rams made sure that seed held true. Victoria Sebastian was a bulldog in the circle and a nightmare for opposing pitchers at the plate. As exceptional of an athlete as she is, she was just one of a lineup full of players who could swing the bat.
Her battery mate Ryan Henry provided some big pop and protection behind Sebastian in the lineup. McKenzie Bishop was part of the 2015 state championship team as a sophomore second baseman. This year gave the team both leadership at shortstop and someone who could hit line-drives to all fields to drive runners home.
The Rams ripped through the county tournament before finally facing adversity with an early 4-1 deficit against Immaculate Conception in the championship game. Sebastian delivered a three-run homer to tie the game and Gabby Marchisin gave Ramsey the lead for good with a two-run single en route to scoring 12 unanswered runs for the program’s first Bergen County title since 1994 on the way to a 29-1 record.
Immaculate Heart Academy has made its name for quite some time now starting and finishing seasons strong. This season was a bit different though. The Blue Eagles were fortunate to have four-year all-state starters like UCONN-bound centerfielder Reese Guevarra and lefty pitcher Olivia Sprofera, who will play at Providence next year, along with several impact freshmen, led by Ryleigh White.
But after back-to-back 2-1 losses to Montgomery and Johnson Regional early in the season, it was a question of whether IHA could find a way to make a run when it counted. That point was hammered home further after its second loss to Fair Lawn in an eight-day span knocked them out of the Bergen County Tournament. IHA’s chances did not look good for the state tournament either in a Non-Public North A bracket that was deeper than it has been in years past.
Lesson learned, never count out the Blue Eagles. Sprofera outdueled Mount St. Dominic standout Kelsey Oh in the section final, 1-0, to set up a rematch for the state title against Donovan Catholic. Georgetown-bound third baseman Reagan Jones and Kylie Carr each collected two hits to help IHA repeat as state champs.
However, there was a new wrinkle thrown in this year with the inception of the Tournament of Champions. Facing Cedar Grove and another of the state’s best pitchers in Mia Faieta, Sprofera proved to be up to the challenge. The Blue Eagles scored three first-inning runs on just one hit and Sprofera did the rest with a three-hit shutout to reach the first-ever T of C final against fellow Bergen County foe Immaculate Conception.
Down to its last at-bat, IHA caught a break and made the most of it. The speedy Guevarra raced home on a passed ball in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game. Then in extra innings Mia Recenello doubled and came around to score on a single from senior Caroline Ventor as IHA won a crazy 5-4 game to finish the season as the last team left standing in New Jersey.
Immaculate Conception Softball
Saddle River Day Lacrosse
Fair Lawn Softball
Northern Highlands Lacrosse
Hasbrouck Heights Track
West Milford Softball