By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Kearny High School baseball team suffered through a tough 2013 season, posting a 5-18 record. “I don’t only want to turn the page on last year,” said third-year head coach Frank Bifulco. “I want to write a whole new book. We had some tough losses last year. It was brutal. We played all the big teams tough and lost. It was just a bad year. We don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”
Bifulco believes he has the right team to make 2013 a distant memory.
“I think we have the right group of kids,” Bifulco said. “We have the kind of youth we’ve been looking for and a solid group of seniors to lead us in the right direction. Every day, there’s a great amount of energy and they look to get better every day. If we have a bad day, we just chalk it up and move on.”
Bifulco said that the Kardinals have been improving.
“They’ve been on fire since the first day,” Bifulco said. “If they don’t get it right the first time, they do it again. They were ready for four hours the first day, five hours the next. The energy is incredible.”
Bifulco is counting on senior Brian Rowe to be one of the leaders. Rowe has been the starting second baseman the last two years and will be one of the Kards’ top pitchers this season.
“Brian was our No. 2 pitcher last year and may be able to step up this year,” Bifulco said. “We have three guys who I can hand the ball and we can expect to win. That’s a positive that we haven’t had in a while. Brian is a three-year starter for us. He’s a grinder. He goes out there and fights every day. He gets the ball and says, “I’ll keep the game close.” He pounds the strike zone and keeps the ball down. He has a four-or-five pitch arsenal. He’s not overpowering, but he’s going to get outs.”
Junior right-hander Josue Rodriguez is another pitcher with experience.
“Josue pitched a lot for us last year,” Bifulco said. “He’s been grabbing the bull by the horns this year. He wants to be the ace of the staff. He wants the ball and he’s going to get it. The team knows when he’s on the mound, we’re going to expect wins. He’s going to be the guy we hope to ride.”
Sophomore Corey Sawyer is a promising lefty.
“He’s a transfer from St. Joseph (of Montvale),” Bifulco said. “He throws it well. He threw three shutout innings in his first scrimmage. He has to be a complete player for us. He knows the situation. We see what he has. He can throw the ball hard and mixes up his pitches well. He throws his pitches at different speeds. I’ll say he’s a crafty lefty with some zip. It’s a matter of taking it all to the mound, but he has a bulldog mentality.”
Junior Michael Hyde is a right-hander with promise.
“He should see some starts,” Bifulco said.
Senior Steven Dyl, sophomore Connor McClelland, junior Louis Sandomenico, senior Adonis colon and junior Kyle Gerwood will all get chances to throw for the Kardinals this season. That’s incredible pitching depth.
“Especially with the top three starters, I like the depth,” Bifulco said. “It just has to pan out. I’m very happy with the depth. I don’t know if many teams have the pitching depth and starting pitching that we do.”
The one handling all the pitching will be veteran catcher T.J. Witt.
“Now he knows he’s the main man on the team,” Bifulco said. “When he speaks, people listen. He knows that priority number one is to get the pitching on board. Number two is to lead the team. He’s ready to take over. He’s the one guy we need. I expect him to be our leader in all aspects.”
Dyl is the starter at first base. He’s another three-year starter.
“He’s very solid defensively,” Bifulco said. “We just need his bat. But he’s starting to show it.”
Rowe is the second baseman when he’s not on the mound. When Rowe pitches, junior Adam French plays second.
Sophomore Joseph Baez is the shortstop.
“He’s been going through the growing pains,” Bifulco said. “I tell him every day that he’s in a position that a lot of people want to be in. I’m willing to let his ability take over. He has a lot of talent. He handles the bat pretty well.” Rodriguez is the third baseman when he’s not pitching. When Rodriguez is on the mound, French slides over to third base.
“Rodriguez is a good hitter,” Bifulco said. “We need him to contribute with his bat.”
Hyde is the starter in left field, with sophomore John O’Neill earning the nod in centerfield.
“He can catch anything,” Bifulco said of O’Neill. “He carries himself well. You would never know he was a sophomore. He also puts the ball in play. He’s very fast.”
Sawyer is the starting right fielder when he’s not pitching. If he’s on the mound, then McClelland is in right.
Junior Aaron Gonzalez will see time at designated hitter.
The Kardinals are slated to open April 1 against Hoboken. The next games are April 3 against Memorial of West New York and then April 4 against neighboring rival Harrison, now coached by Bifulco’s former Kearny teammate Jairo Mendez.
The Kardinals have a home-and- home schedule with Harrison this season, adding to some local excitement.
More importantly, the Kardinals’ first three games are at home. That gives the team a good head start.
“Being that we have a young team, it’s good to have the games at home,” Bifulco said. “But we can’t get comfortable. Starting off at home is great, but after those games, the season gets going and everything is for real. Being at home will help us get that first win and we can go from there.”
And easily improve on last year’s disaster.