By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Veteran Nutley High School baseball coach Bob Harbison knows when he has a competitive team and when he’s in for a long season.
After last year’s 15-12 campaign that featured a run to the Greater Newark Tournament finals and a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs, Harbison knows that the Maroon Raiders will be solid once again this spring.
“We have a good number of kids back,” Harbison said. “I like the makeup of this team. If the pitchers can throw strikes and we’re able to score a few runs, I think we can be okay. I just want to win now and I think we can. I’m not trying to put too much emphasis on early games. I want us to be better at the end of the season.”
One of the reasons Harbison is optimistic about the 2013 season is the return of senior right-handed pitcher Joe Feraco, who won five games last season and pitched a lot of key games.
“He’s definitely a little better this year,” Harbison said. “He’s a groundball pitcher who puts the ball in play. He holds runners on very well. Bottom line, he gets outs and that’s what we need.”
Junior Mike Meechem will be another of the Maroon Raiders’ hurlers.
“He throws hard,” said Harbison of Meechem, who got his feet wet last year as a sophomore with a few appearances. “We just have to get his control down a little for him to be consistently effective.”
Junior Kyle Cresci is a right-hander who also saw a little time on the mound for the Maroon Raiders last year.
“He has a good fastball and breaking ball,” Harbison said of Cresci. Juniors Nick Liaci and sophomores Sean Rodriguez and Pete DeCilla, a transfer from Paramus Catholic, will also get time on the mound. Liaci and Rodriguez are also left-handed, giving Harbison three lefties to call on.
“It’s a good thing to have left-handers on your staff,” Harbison said.
Handling that deep staff is returning starter Austin Kunz, who has been behind the plate for the Maroon Raiders since he arrived at the school. The junior Kunz is a top talent who keeps improving.
“He’s a good defensive catcher with a strong arm,” Harbison said. “His reputation keeps runners at bay.”
Senior Al Petracco moves up from the junior varsity to take over the reins at first base.
DeCilla will be the team’s second baseman.
“I like him,” Harbison said. “He’s going to be our No. 2 hitter and does all the things you want. He’s a good baseball kid.”
Anthony Rossi, who started last year at second base, moves over to shortstop. Rossi will be the Raiders’ No. 3 hitter in the lineup.
Senior Luke Kelly, the former Nutley Little League star, is the team’s third baseman. Kelly, who was the designated hitter last year, is the cleanup hitter. Harbison expects big things from Kelly.
“He started a few games for us as a sophomore and played last year,” Harbison said. “He can swing the bat and he now has experience.”
Junior Nico Mercandante is the team’s starting left fielder, where he played last year.
Liaci, one of the toughest competitors around, is the Maroon Raiders’ leadoff hitter and centerfielder.
Freshman Anthony Condito is the starter in right field. Harbison is not concerned with starting a freshman with the varsity, especially one as talented as Condito.
“He’s a baseball kid who knows the game,” Harbison said. “He won the job in right and deserves to play right away. He runs the bases very well.”
The Maroon Raiders also have some quality players off the bench in junior Nate Peraino, who plays both the infield and outfield and hits from the left side, senior infielder Angelo Sceppaguercio and senior catcher/outfielder John Milici.
The Maroon Raiders will once again play in the top division of the Super Essex Conference, the American, facing teams like Bloomfield, Livingston, Millburn, Montclair, Seton Hall Prep, West Essex and West Orange. It may be one of the toughest baseball divisions in New Jersey.
The Maroon Raiders opened their season with Seton Hall Prep Monday, then were slated to face West Orange and West Essex later in the opening week. Talk about getting thrown to the fire.
“I think we’ll know a lot about the team after the first week,” Harbison said. “But we can be there at the end of the season. We just need a little more production at the bottom of the lineup.”
Not only that, but to have the Maroon Raider hurlers keep on throwing like they can.