By Jim Hague
When Mike Voza took over the head coaching reins of the Lyndhurst Post 139 Senior American Legion baseball team last year, he wanted to be able to uphold the rich tradition of the Post 139 program.
After all, it was only four years ago that Lyndhurst Post 139 won the New Jersey State Tournament, bringing the Post its first overall state title since 1968. But every year, team general manager and coordinator Jerry Sparta has assembled a competitive roster and expects Post 139 to do well come District and State tournament time.
Voza well knew the demands of the head coaching role.
“I played for Post 139 in 1986,” Voza said. “We finished third in the District that year. In 1988 and 1989, I was an assistant coach. I’ve been a member of the Legion for practically my entire life. I have a tremendous amount of pride being asked to coach this team and to be associated with this team. I wanted to make sure that we had a successful season.”
Well, it appears as if Lyndhurst Post 139 is living up to expectations.
The team is headed to the overall state championships that were scheduled to begin Tuesday at Mercer County Park in West Windsor. Lyndhurst was paired to face Haddon Heights in the opening round of the state tourney.
Post 139 defeated Livingston and Union to advance to the District 1 championship round at Gardner Field in Denville. In the title game, Lyndhurst defeated Mount Morris of Morris County, 4-2, to win the District 1 crown.
“I’m very pleased,” Voza said. “If someone would have told me on Memorial Day that we would be playing for a District championship, I’d sign on the dotted line for that. What else can you ask for? We have a group of kids who play well together, who work hard and who are confident.”
Voza was asked for the reason why his team has done so well in postseason play.
“Pitching, pitching and more pitching,” Voza said. “In four tournament games, we gave up a total of five runs. We went out and targeted pitchers. We wanted to get pitchers on the roster. We went after pitchers at the expense of perhaps getting a heavy hitting outfielder. We wanted pitching.”
That strategy has worked to perfection, because Lyndhurst Post 139 has been brilliant thus far. Kevin Rehbein got things going with a three-hit shutout against Little Ferry in the Bergen County tournament, then Ryan Kelly and Bobby Miskura have followed suit in the District 1 tourney.
Kelly went six innings in the team’s win over Livingston, with Elvis Soriano finishing up to get the save. Miskura has been a workhorse, going the distance in an 8-2 win over Union, walking none and striking out nine.
“We knew all along that he was a talented pitcher,” Voza said. “He’s also a valuable defender when he’s playing shortstop. I didn’t have to worry about him. I knew what I had.”
Post 139 suffered a significant loss recently when former Harrison High School standout hurler Anthony Ferriero had to curtail his activity with the team because of his collegiate commitments to FDU-Florham, where Ferriero will attend and play baseball.
“He has not pitched a lot for us lately because he’s been on the FDU-Florham campus,” Voza said.
Another valuable pitcher for Lyndhurst has been Max Herrmann, who got the ball for the team’s District 1 title game Sunday against Mt. Morris and led the team to victory.
In the bottom of the first inning, Jimmy Fitzpatrick got hit with a pitch, then Miskura battled through a 15-pitch at-bat to hit a two-run homer, giving Lyndhurst the lead. Fitzpatrick, who became a huge factor for Post 139, serving as the team’s leadoff hitter, had a sacrifice fly for an RBI in the next inning, giving Herrmann all the runs he would need, going the distance.
“Fitzpatrick has been tremendous for us,” Voza said of the recent Lyndhurst High grad. “He’s been our spark plug since we made him the leadoff hitter.”
Rehbein has been a godsend as both a pitcher and infielder. The recent Lyndhurst High School grad, headed to Rutgers- Newark in the fall, has been a clutch performer, delivering two-run singles in both wins against Livingston and Union.
“As a pitcher, he throws free and easy,” Voza said of Rehbein. “He throws strikes. I always knew he had the talent to pitch. But he’s been hitting the ball very well, delivering in the clutch.”
Voza, who is assisted by Jay Huggins and Jeff Puzo, said that he’s enjoyed coaching this group.
“They make for a nice atmosphere,” Voza said. “The other coaches suggest changes and I make them on their suggestions. They recently suggested a change in the batting order and it worked out well.”
Voza can’t say more about the team.
“They are tremendous kids,” Voza said. “They show up every day. They are extremely coachable. When the game is over, they can’t wait to play another game. We’ve made a nice run and we expect to keep it going this week.”