By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Ask veteran Nutley High School head baseball coach Bob Harbison about the character of his Maroon Raiders and the coach doesn’t miss a beat.
“I like the makeup of this team,” Harbison said. “We’re doing pretty well.”
Despite the loss of returning starting shortstop Anthony Rossi to an illness, the Maroon Raiders should be improved on last year’s 15-14 record. There’s no timetable for Rossi’s return to action.
“I’m happy and excited about the team,” Harbison said. “We have a talented pitching rotation. We have some good arms.”
One of the Maroon Raiders’ best pitchers is senior lefthander Nick Lianci. “He’s a three-year varsity player and our starting centerfielder,” Harbison said of Lianci.
“He’s also our lead-off hitter. He’s always been a good player for us, because he gets on base. But he’s also very good as a pitcher. He’s a tough guy to hit. He throws off-speed stuff and is not afraid to throw a 2-0 change-up without a problem. He gives us the best chance to win games and beat the big teams.”
Senior left-hander Michael Meechan is another talented pitcher.
“He pitched a lot for us last year,” Harbison said. “He has had a little trouble with his control in the past, but he’s focused on throwing strikes this year. When his control is on, he’s a very good pitcher. I expect big things from him this year.”
Senior right-hander Kyle Cresci is also a key part to the Maroon Raiders’ rotation.
“He pitched some for us last year, but he was our top hitter,” Harbison said. “He’s a talented player. He runs well.”
Cresci will attend Ramapo College in the fall and play baseball there.
Vinnie Petracco is a junior left-hander. Petracco pitched three scoreless innings in a scrimmage against Kearny last Saturday afternoon.
“He throws very well,” Harbison said. “He throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of outs.”
Sean Rodriguez is another junior lefty.
“He played a lot last year as a sophomore,” Harbison said. “If he can throw strikes, he could be very good.”
Dillon Rubin is a senior left-hander.
“He’s had a very good preseason,” Harbison said. “He has good stuff.”
Needless to say, that’s a ton of pitching depth.
The person handling all that pitching is veteran backstop Austin Kunz, who has been the starter at catcher for the Maroon Raiders since he was a freshman. Kunz has already declared his intention to attend Alvernia College in the fall. Kunz was also a standout for Harbison on the Nutley basketball team.
“He’s a very good defensive catcher,” Harbison said. “I think declaring for Alvernia will settle him down and make him a better hitter. He can hit. He has great hands.”
Sophomore Anthony Condito, who started at right field last year as a freshman, moves in to play first base, along with senior Nico Mercandante, who played outfield and third base last year.
Junior Pete DeCillia is the second baseman.
“He has a chance to be one of the most effective players for us offensively,” Harbison said.
Junior Angelo Gaeta is the shortstop right now.
“He’s been playing very well for us,” Harbison said. “We put him at short and he’s been able to handle it.”
Junior Isaak Lindenbaum is the starter at third base.
The outfield picture is still a little clouded. Cresci is in the mix in left field, along with Rodriguez and sophomore Andrew Connor, who has a lot of promise.
“He can run, hit, throw,” Harbison said. “He’s forcing himself into the lineup.”
Centerfield duties will go to Lianci when he’s not on the mound and Rodriguez and possibly Connor.
Right field sees a combination of Condito, Rodriguez and Mercandante.
Sophomore Andrew Santos will see a lot of time as the designated hitter.
“He can also play the infield, but we’ll see him a lot as the DH,” Harbison said.
The Maroon Raiders begin their season against Seton Hall Prep on April 1. That’s no April Fool’s joke. It’s a big challenge right away for the Maroon Raiders.
“Let’s get going,” Harbison said. “We’ll see how good we are right away. I think we can be very good. We just need someone to step out and lead us on the mound. We definitely have talent. It’s going to be interesting to see how this team does against the better teams.” The Maroon Raiders hope to be playing meaningful games into late May and possibly June.