By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
As he begins his eighth season as the head baseball coach at North Arlington High School, Paul Marcantuono knows one thing. This year’s team has to be better than last year’s.
A year ago, the Vikings won all of three games. That’s not a lot to be excited about.
“We had a lot of sophomores on the team and only one senior,” Marcantuono said. “We kind of knew what we had and that we were going to take some lumps.”
But the calendar year has turned – and frankly, so have the hopes of the Vikings.
“Looking forward, we have the talent to make that losing stop,” Marcantuono said. “We have all of our pitchers returning.”
The pitchers worked hard in the offseason, receiving private lessons from the people at Wladyka Baseball, including former New York Mets farmhand Jim Wladyka.
“They put in the time during the winter,” Marcantuono said. “It’s good to know that we have a pitching staff that we can work with for the next couple of years.”
Leading the way is junior left-hander Brian Costello, who ended up having the lowest earned run average on the team and pitched for the Vikings in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs.
“He’s gotten stronger and put on more muscle,” Marcantuono said of Costello. “He looks good.”
Junior righty Joel Silva also returns from last year. Silva, who is also a solid outfielder, has worked with new assistant coach Bruce Daddis on becoming more of a pitcher and less of a pure thrower.
“They’ve really spent a lot of time together,” Marcantuono said of Silva and Daddis. “It’s been an easy transition. The pitchers had to refine their skills and learned how to pitch.”
Both Costello and Silva were clients at Wladyka.
“They’ve gotten better, but they already had the talent,” Marcantuono said.
Junior right-hander Timmy Ford, the basketball standout, and sophomore righty Charles Kearney complete the starting staff.
“Those four are the ones who will carry us pitchingwise,” Marcantuono said.
The Vikings have three catchers that they can use in junior Stephen Carey, junior Chris Giaquinto and sophomore Angel Santos.
“Stephen has worked very hard to get better,” Marcantuono said. “He has improved a lot. Angel is a versatile player who can play all over. Chris is one of our better hitters. We have to find a spot for him in our lineup.”
Costello plays first base when he’s not pitching.
The second baseman is senior Anthony Rotondo, the lone senior on the team.
“I don’t think he made a single error at second base last year,” Marcantuono said. “I like his glove, but I also like the leadership he provides. He’s the captain. I love his knowledge of the game. He’s probably the smartest baseball mind I’ve ever coached.”
That last comment says a lot, because Marcantuono has had his share of very bright ballplayers.
The shortstop is junior Ismanuel Mora, who is one of the best fielding shortstops around.
“He showed some flashes of brilliance last year, stepping into the varsity role as a sophomore,” Marcantuono said. “I have no doubt about the shortstop position for us for the next couple of years. He loves the game. Mora also worked hard in the offseason.”
The third baseman is Kearney, who is the team’s No. 5 hitter.
“He has a little bit of power,” Marcantuono said. “He’s also one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen. I’ve never heard him utter a bad word.”
Ford is the team’s centerfielder.
“He has a strong arm out there,” Marcantuono said. “If a ball is hit to him, he’s going to catch it. He’s our No. 2 hitter and he puts the bat on the ball.”
Junior left fielder Elias Aguilar returns to the Viking roster after missing all of last year with a broken hand. Junior right fielder Will Pimentel is what Marcantuono labeled “a very coachable kid who is serviceable,” Marcantuono said.
Santos and Giaquinto are players who can also help in the outfield.
Sophomore John Policano is a reliable and serviceable player who can come off the bench.
There are other things to be excited about the Vikings, despite the veteran roster.
The Vikings will play their home games at the newly restored Rip Collins Field and its new FieldTurf facility.
“It definitely helps,” Marcantuono said. “We had the luxury of having the turf. Others are calling us to see if they can get on the field. If it rains all day, we can still get on the turf and ready to go.”
The Vikings were set to open their season at Rip Collins Wednesday against Lincoln. They were off to face University Charter in Jersey City Thursday.
No question, the Vikings will be improved.
“We’re going to be better,” Marcantuono said. “We’re way better than we were last year.”
They have to be.