Maroon Raider baseball team looks strong once again

The Nutley High School baseball team won 16 games last season, a fine total considering that the Maroon Raiders reside in perhaps the toughest division in northern New Jersey baseball, namely the Super Essex Conference-American Division, with perennial powerhouses like Seton Hall Prep, Millburn, Bloomfield, Newark Academy and Montclair.

Although the Maroon Raiders graduated a ton of seniors from that team last June, there are still a lot of talented players on veteran head coach Bob Harbison’s roster.

“The numbers are good and the attitude of the kids is good,” Harbison said. “I think with our attitude strong that no matter what, we’re going to compete.”

The Maroon Raiders welcome back senior left-hander Jake Ramezzana, who is headed to Susquehanna University to play baseball in the fall. Ramezzana posted a 3-2 record last year with 25 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched. He also batted .250 with two homers (both in the same game against Newark Academy late last season) and 14 RBI.

“He’s going to be one of our top starters,” Harbison said of Ramezzana. “He also hits well. He’s coming at you. He’s not afraid of the competition.”

Sophomore Josh O’Neill, who started a few games at quarterback in the fall for the Maroon Raider football team, is another top hurler in baseball.

“He throws hard,” Harbison said. “He’s pushing for that top spot in the rotation. He has good command.”

Sophomore John Luberto is a right-hander with good stuff.

“He’s very similar to O’Neill,” Harbison said. “He got some work in for us as a freshman.”

Junior Dan Caraballo is a right-hander who will not only pitch, but will play right field and serve as the Maroon Raiders’ leadoff hitter.

“He just has to learn how to pitch a little,” Harbison said. “He cracked some radar guns over the summer.”

Senior Sean Bernardo will be called upon for quality relief outings. Junior Peter Lopez is in the mix to get a spot start and pitch in relief. Senior Jake Ifversen is an effective and solid right-hander who has good control and is able to get outs, according to Harbison.

When you throw sophomore Marty Higgins into the mix as a closer, then Harbison has a deep and talented pitching staff. Higgins will be the starting shortstop when he’s not on the mound.

Brian Smith, a transfer from Toms River North, will be in the mix at catcher. It’s Smith’s job to keep the talented pitching staff in line.

“That might be the biggest challenge,” Harbison said. “But Smith is a very polished kid.”

Sophomore Vinnie Russo is another player vying for time behind the plate.

Senior Mark Charles is a designated hitter who can also catch in a pinch.

Ramezzana will play first base when he’s not pitching.

“He hits and hits for power,” Harbison said. “He has ability.”

Freshman Dan Jennings will see time at first base when Ramezzana is pitching. Or perhaps it could be junior Wayne Wittmann, who is a slick fielder around first.

Freshmen Kevin Hogan and Trevor Santos are also first basemen by trade.

“They hit like men,” Harbison said. “They’re legit.”

Second base is an open position, but Seth Antonicello and Anthony Berardinelli are battling for playing time there.

Higgins is the returning shortstop. He hit .360 last year as a freshman.

“Marty has to take on the role of being the leader, even if he is that young,” Harbison said.

Bernardo plays third and can also man shortstop in a pinch if Higgins is called upon to pitch.

O’Neill will start the season as the everyday left fielder. Lopez, who started in right field last year, moves over to centerfield this season.

“He’s very talented,” Harbison said of Lopez. “He’s 15 pounds heavier this year and was in the weight room every day in the offseason. You can tell his hard work is paying off.”

Harbison said that Lopez will bat in the No. 3 or No. 4 hole.

Caraballo is the leadoff hitter and everyday right fielder.

“He has a good arm as well,” Harbison said. “We’re good to go.”

Charles will see a good amount of at-bats as the team’s designated hitter.

The Maroon Raiders are off to the land of Mickey Mouse this weekend, when they join the Nutley softball team at the Wonderful World of Disney in Orlando.

“We’ll get six games down there,” Harbison said. “It’s going to be a great trip.”

Especially when there’s going to be two feet of snow on the ground here.

“I like our kids,” Harbison said. “I have no idea about wins and losses, because we have so many newcomers. But we have a good group of kids and that’s the first step. If it’s a little fun along the way, then so be it. We just have to keep it all in its proper perspective.”

The Maroon Raiders open the 2017 season against Livingston April 1. But count on the Maroon Raiders to make solid runs in the Super Essex Conference tourney, the Greater Newark tourney and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer