North Jersey baseball fans will have to look hard to find the name of a Ridgefield player on the All-Bergen County list. All the way down to third team, in fact.
They also won’t find any Royals among the North Jersey leaders in most categories, particularly on offense. This simply wasn’t a big numbers team.
And yet the Royals won 20 games to finish atop the NJIC Liberty Division. They won the North 1, Group 1 title, their second sectional title in three seasons, and were the only public school team in North Jersey to reach a state final.
That’s why Ridgefield is The Record Baseball Team of the Year.
“A lot of people talk about their big bats and things like that,” said Ridgefield coach Joe Gambardella, whose team finished ranked No. 4 in The Record Top 25. “But we always preach about team.
“We don’t have a guy. We have a guy one day and another guy another day. That’s who we are.”
Gambardella’s team prided itself on its ability to do all the little things right. The Royals had as good a one-two pitching punch as can be found at the Group 1 level in juniors Eamon Catherina (their lone All-Bergen selection) and Chris Martucci. They also got some great work, particularly in the postseason, from reliever Gavin Salazar.
Ridgefield had a team ERA under 3.00, and allowed just three runs in the first three games of the state tournament. But what this team did best was turn scratching and clawing for runs into an art form.
“You know what a big inning was for us?” Gambardella said. “A leadoff walk, a bunt that gets thrown away and maybe another bunt.
“We don’t [hit back-to-back] doubles or hit three-run homers. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have someone who hits seven or eight home runs, but we did what we had to do.”
The Royals had their signature moment in the North 1, Group 1 title game, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat Cedar Grove without hitting the ball out of the infield. The Royals were never flashy, but they knew how to get the job done.
Gambardella also played a strong out-of-league schedule, mixing in some bigger schools to challenge his crew. The Royals might be one of the best kept baseball secrets in North Jersey, because this graduating senior class won 73 games in four years.
“What we have is a bunch of guys who bought into the program,” said Gambardella. “We pride ourselves on playing the game the right way.”