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Golden Griffins survive tough schedule under new coach Steel

Photo by Jim Hague The Queen of Peace softball team is spearheaded by the play of its senior captains. From l. are Nikki Sammartino, Melissa Gallo, head coach George Steel, Gabby Lombardozzi and Raychel Piserchia.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Queen of Peace softball team is spearheaded by the play of its senior captains. From l. are Nikki Sammartino, Melissa Gallo, head coach George Steel, Gabby Lombardozzi and Raychel Piserchia.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

For the last 40 years or so, George Steel has heard all the jokes about his name. And no, he’s not the famous professional wrestler.

“I’ve heard it all the time,” said Steel, a lifetime Kearny resident. “I have to explain that I’m not a Yale professor like he is. Everyone calls me ‘The Animal’ because of him. We have a lot of fun with the name.”

Steel is also a coaching lifer. For years, Steel helped to run the Kearny Generals youth football program. He was also an assistant football coach at Queen of Peace under several regimes, including the state championship team coached by Andy Cerco.

“I’ve been back and forth at Queen of Peace,” said Steel, who also served as an assistant under head coaches Tom Ferriero and Ed Stinson.

For the last few years, Steel has been an assistant football coach at Morris Catholic in Denville.

This spring, Steel took on a different challenge – becoming the head softball coach at Queen of Peace

. “I think this year’s team can be a little more productive than last year’s team,” said Steel, who was an assistant softball coach at QP last year under Mike Flynn. “To be honest, we had only one scrimmage game (in the preseason) because of the weather. We used the first couple of games as practice for the rest of the season.”

With that in mind, Steel isn’t too concerned about the team’s 2-3 start. The Golden Griffins defeated Dwight-Englewood and Harrison, before falling to Secaucus and Lyndhurst last week.

“We scored six runs in the seventh inning to beat Dwight- Englewood,” Steel said. “We hit the ball real well.”

Steel feels that better times are ahead.

“I think when the girls can get on a little bit of a roll,” Steel said, “I think we can compete with anybody. We’re going to do better. I knew the last part of the schedule was going to be tough. I knew we would have a slow start. But we’re now to the point in our schedule where we’ll get some wins.”

Leading the way is senior pitcher Gabby Lombardozzi, a three-year veteran on the mound for the Golden Griffins.

“She’s not overpowering, but she has good control,” Steel said. “She does what I ask her to do. She throws strikes. If she can stay ahead in the count, she’s good. But if she pitches from behind, she gets in trouble.”

The catcher is freshman Ashley Ruivo, who is a rarity behind the dish being left-handed.

“She’s one of the few girls who was willing to go behind the plate,” Steel said. “Gabby picked her. Gabby wanted Ashley to be the catcher. If she gets time behind the plate, she could be a good one. She also has good speed. She’s one of our faster players.”

The first base duties are being shared by a pair of seniors. Senior captain Melissa Gallo has been a hot bat in the early going, batting almost .500.

“She’s hitting the ball well,” Steel said. “She has improved tremendously. She put a lot of time in during the offseason to get better and it’s showed.”

The other senior first baseman is Samantha Martinez, who has been solid offensively.

“She just needs to improve defensively,” Steel said.

Senior Sarah Lopez is the team’s second baseman. Lopez, who is also a part of the famed QP cheerleading squad, is a newcomer to softball.

“She hasn’t played a lot, so she needs a little work,” Steel said of Lopez.

Senior Adrianna Giangregorio and freshman Jane Amadeo are also seeing time at second base. Amadeo has a bright future as a pitcher.

“She’s a good all-around player,” Steel said of Amadeo.

The shortstop is senior veteran Nikki Sammartino, who has been a mainstay there since she was a freshman. Sammartino was an Observer Athlete of the Week last season.

Photo by Jim Hague Senior right-hander Gabby Lombardozzi, seen here in action last week against Secaucus, needs to keep throwing strikes for the Queen of Peace softball team.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior right-hander Gabby Lombardozzi, seen here in action last week against Secaucus, needs to keep throwing strikes for the Queen of Peace softball team.


“She’s hitting the ball well, batting better than .600,” Steel said.

Sammartino is headed to Rutgers-Newark in the fall.

Senior Kristen Vitale, another first-year player, is the third baseman.

“She’s doing a good job defensively,” Steel said.

Junior Jamie Nemeth is the Golden Griffins’ left fielder and the team’s fastest player.

“She’s our leadoff hitter and one of the fastest kids I’ve ever seen,” Steel said.

Senior Raychel Piserchia is another captain, along with Sammartino, Gallo and Lombardozzi, and the starter in centerfield.

“She’s one of the best hitters on the team,” Steel said. “She’s also very good defensively.”

A pair of seniors, Tori Fortunato and Kyra Gil, is splitting time in right field.

Senior Dana DeAnni will get a chance to pitch, spelling Lombardozzi, from time to time.

Steel said that he ran into a small obstacle recently, when there weren’t enough capable players to field a competitive junior varsity squad.

“We did a little search in the school and a couple girls came out,” Steel said. “We needed to get more people involved to keep the program moving. We don’t have a feeder program like some of the public schools. Some come to us never having played softball before, so it’s a little bit of a hindrance.”

But the Golden Griffins have survived the tough times and should thrive as the season moves forward.

“The girls are talented,” Steel said. “They’re trying hard and they want to play. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. You want girls who want to play.”

The Golden Griffins are scheduled to face some of the area’s top competition, like North Arlington and Kearny, in the weeks to come. Steel wants to get his team to the NJSIAA Non- Public B North state playoffs. They will need a few more wins before they can even consider such a lofty perch.

Mendez takes over Harrison baseball program

Photo by Jim Hague The Harrison baseball team will go as far as the team’s deep pitching staff will carry them. From l. are Tommy Dolaghan, Josh Williams, Sebastian Sanchez, head coach Jairo Mendez, Moises Roque, Markis Valentin and Kishan Patel.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Harrison baseball team will go as far as the team’s deep pitching staff will carry them. From l. are Tommy Dolaghan, Josh Williams, Sebastian Sanchez, head coach Jairo Mendez, Moises Roque, Markis Valentin and Kishan Patel.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Observer

At 28 years old, Jairo Mendez is not far removed from his playing days, when he was an excellent pitcher, first at Kearny High School and later on, Montclair State.

But Mendez feels he’s ready for the challenge of being a high school baseball head coach. Thus the reason why he took over the Harrison High School program this season, after Sean Dolaghan stepped down for family obligations.

Mendez, who had been an assistant coach with the Blue Tide for the past four years with Dolaghan, had an inkling that the program would be his toward the end of last season.

“He told me that he was going to step down because of his family,” Mendez said. “Sean recommended me for the job and spoke highly of me. I think that helped put me in a good spot. I felt like I was ready. The challenge is always exciting.”

Mendez said that he didn’t get that much grief from his closest friends in Kearny, taking over as head coach at the neighboring rival school.

“Maybe I heard things when I first started, but not now,” Mendez said. “In fact, my friends were all congratulating me and wishing me luck more than anything.”

Mendez was asked about the transition, going from assistant coach to head coach.

“It really has been pretty easy,” Mendez said. “My assistant coaches (Jimmy Morais, Charles Comprelli, Paul Herbster, Jose Morillo, Alex Delgado and Joe Wroblewski) have all helped me out a lot. It’s been okay. I’m not there to make friends. I’m there to teach them about baseball and teach them life skills. It’s almost like being the boss of a company.”

The Blue Tide has enjoyed a good start to Mendez’s first season as head coach, winning five of their first seven games.

Leading the way is senior right-handed pitcher Tommy Dolaghan, the former coach’s nephew, who has done everything and anything leading the Blue Tide.

Dolaghan has won his first two decisions, including a 10-2 win over Dickinson of Jersey City last weekend. Dolaghan allowed only one earned run, striking out eight and surrendering just five hits. He also had two hits and two RBI in the win.

“He has the most experience of anyone on our staff,” Mendez said of the former Observer Athlete of the Week. “He’s been battling since Day One. He throws all of his pitches for strikes and mixes up his pitches well. He changes speed well and hits his spots.”

Senior Sebastian Sanchez is another top returning hurler. The right-hander has a lot of confidence in his pitches.

“He’s not overpowering but he keeps it low and gets a lot of support from his teammates,” Mendez said of Sanchez.

Sophomore Markise Valentin is another solid pitcher.

“He comes from all different angles,” Mendez said. “He comes from the side, over the top, anywhere. And he has a lot of movement on his pitches.”

Junior Josh Williams is the team’s lone left-handed pitcher.

“He reminds me of Cliff Lee,” Mendez said of Williams, referring to the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace. “He challenges hitters and changes speeds. He has very good location and he’s going to be a good one.”

Senior Moises Roque is another solid pitcher, as well as seniors Kishan Patel and football star Adam Huseinovic.

“I think Adam is going to be a key pitcher for us,” Mendez said. “He has the ability to shut the door.”

Look for Huseinovic to be the Blue Tide’s closer this season.

The catcher is junior Miguel Zorrilla, who is an excellent defensive backstop.

“He is handling the pitchers well,” Mendez said. “He works hard and is a student of the game.”

Seniors Ricky DeSilveira and Danny Gerris are sharing the first base duties. Gerris is a transfer from St. Peter’s Prep.

“Ricky is very good defensively,” Mendez said. “Danny hits the ball well and hits it all over the field.”

Valentin is the returning starter at second base. When Valentine is on the mound, junior Jordan Villalta steps in.

Valentin was clutch Saturday against Dickinson, delivering two RBI.

Dolaghan and Roque share duties at shortstop, alternating depending upon who is pitching. Roque had three hits and three runs scored against Dickinson.

Third base duties belong to Sanchez. When Sanchez is on the mound, sophomore Craig Ruff takes the mound.

Left field responsibilities fall on the shoulders of Williams and when the lefty is pitching, then senior Brian Carr is out there.

Huseinovic is a fixture in centerfield. He might be known as a football player, but Mendez likes what Huseinovic brings to the diamond.

“He’s a good all-around baseball player,” Mendez said. “He has good power and could be our cleanup hitter.”

Huseinovic had two RBI in the win over Dickinson.

The right field duties are being shared by senior J.P. Ferriero and Patel and sophomore Felix Calderon.

The Blue Tide survived a tough early season schedule in fine fashion. The 5-2 record comes as no surprise.

“I’m very excited about this team,” Mendez said. “It’s a pleasure to be with the kids. I know we will be competitive.”

The Blue Tide, under the guidance of Mendez, has already proven the coach’s prediction to be true.

Lyndhurst’s Tellefsen steps in nicely as Golden Bears’ top hurler

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst junior pitcher Jenn Tellefsen.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst junior pitcher Jenn Tellefsen.



By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Emily Ringen took over the Lyndhurst High School softball program earlier this year, she wondered who would become the Golden Bears’ top pitcher, ever since Casey Zdanek graduated and took her immense talents to Drew University.

However, Ringen had a good idea which way she would lean to give the ball to, namely junior Jenn Tellefsen.

“I knew Jenn’s travel (team) coaches and I spoke with (former Lyndhurst coach) Elaine (Catanese),” Ringen said. “I had 100%confidence that Jenn would be our No. 1. I knew that she was predominately an infielder, but that she was a pitcher first. I knew that she was capable of stepping right in and doing well for us.”

Tellefsen was already preparing to take over the key position.

“Since freshman year, I was placed at shortstop, but I’m not really an infielder,” Tellefsen said. “I just had to wait until Casey graduated. She was older, better and more experienced. I just had to wait my turn. But since I was young, I was always a pitcher. I was just hoping that I could do as well as well as what Casey did. She was amazing over her four years.”

Ringen knew that Tellefsen was the real deal.

“She has a lot of power and speed in her pitches,” Ringen said. “She has the mindset of a softball player. She’s a very powerful force out there and takes care of business.”

Tellefsen said that she worked hard during the offseason to prepare for the challenge.

“I practiced my pitches every day,” Tellefsen said. “I don’t play another sport, so I can concentrate on softball.”

Tellefsen has been honing her craft since she was younger.

“I’ve been going to pitching lessons since I was in fifth grade,” Tellefsen said. “I work with Jen Barnes in Closter.”

Over the off-season, Tellefsen said she learned a few new pitches.

“I learned a rise and a drop,” Tellefsen said.

However, before the Golden Bears’ season opener, Tellefsen was suffering from a bit of the jitters.

“I was really nervous before my first game,” Tellefsen said. “I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone that I could pitch, but it was a little nerve wracking.”

Those jitters are a part of ancient history, because Tellefsen has been downright dominant since she entered the circle for the first time.

Tellefsen has pitched to a 7-2 record, with an astounding 95 strikeouts compared to just five walks. That is impeccable control.

After striking out 16 batters in a win over Kearny earlier this season, Tellefsen enjoyed a great week last week.

She struck out 15 in a win over Leonia, a game that Tellefsen won on her own with a late three-run homer. She had 10 strikeouts in four innings in a win over Queen of Peace, a game where she slugged another round tripper.

She had 10 strikeouts in a 2-0 loss to Kittatinny, but rebounded with nine strikeouts in four innings in a blowout win of Collingswood Saturday.

For the season, Tellefsen is batting .400 with three homers and 14 RBI.

For her efforts, Tellefsen has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“She really has been great,” Ringen said. “She has tremendous speed in her pitches. Batters are simply not getting around on her. The momentum she has had has been great. She keeps the ball inside and outside. She has a good pace of the game. She gets the ball and fires it in.”

“Ever since I was younger, I was taught to control my speeds,” Tellefsen said. “I don’t even begin to learn a new pitch until I can control it. I think that throwing hard doesn’t matter unless you have control. I concentrate on throwing strikes more than anything else. I concentrate on finishing my pitches and that’s helped with my control.”

But 95 punch outs compared to just five walks? That’s impeccable control.

“I’m very surprised I have that,” Tellefsen said. “I’ve worked on all my pitches, but I never expected this.”

While it’s easy to focus on what Tellefsen does on the mound, she’s also a ferocious hitter as well, evidenced by the clutch homer against Leonia.

“She bailed us out in the Leonia game big time,” Ringen said. “She hit an absolute shot and like that, we were up three.”

Tellefsen said that she was just trying to make solid contact.

“Alyssa Pipon got hit by a pitch right before I got up,” Tellefsen said. “She said, ‘It’s your turn to hit the ball.’ I just hit the ball and ran. I was so relieved it was a home run, because I was able to drive my teammates in.”

Ringen said that Tellefsen is a dangerous hitter as well.

“She’s up there to hit,” Ringen said. “Her power is unbelievable. She’s an elite softball player, both as a pitcher and a hitter. You don’t get to see a lot of girls who play softball all year. But that’s what Jenny does. She plays 10 months a year. She’s taken a good control of this team and helping out the other pitchers and catchers. I’m very impressed.”

“I like to think of myself as being a pitcher who can hit,” Tellefsen said.

Ringen can’t sing Tellefsen’s praises enough.

“She’s doing all the right things right now, on the mound, in the batter’s box,” Ringen said. “She’s also a very good student.”

It means that Tellefsen would be someone that the colleges would want to look at.

“I’d love to play softball in college,” Tellefsen said. “I am trying to go either Division II or possibly Division I. I have a lot of confidence in myself right now. I also think we can go pretty far this season.”

When the season ends at Lyndhurst, Tellefsen will play for the New Jersey Pride, a quality travel program based in Fairfield.

“But I love playing with my Lyndhurst teammates,” Tellefsen said. “We all get along great.”

“She’s a funny kid,” Ringen said. “She has a lot of one-liners that make everyone laugh. She jumps right in with everyone. She’s very friendly and very respectful. She’s matured nicely on the field and in the classroom.”

As long as Tellefsen keeps pitching and hitting the way she has been thus far, the Lyndhurst softball team can go a long way.

Golden Bears softball team now led by newcomer Ringen

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst softball team welcomes new head coach Emily Ringen (far l.). Front row, from l. are Brooke Laverty, Jenna DiTommaso, Caroline Beatrice and Nicole Goya (no longer with the team). Back row, from l., are Ringen, Bianca Fata, Sarah Brading, Grace Tomko, Alyssa Pipon, Dina Ingenito and assistant coach Diana Auteri.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst softball team welcomes new head coach Emily Ringen (far l.). Front row, from l. are Brooke Laverty, Jenna DiTommaso, Caroline Beatrice and Nicole Goya (no longer with the team). Back row, from l., are Ringen, Bianca Fata, Sarah Brading, Grace Tomko, Alyssa Pipon, Dina Ingenito and assistant coach Diana Auteri.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

At age 25, Emily Ringen never thought she could become a head high school softball coach.

But it was always a goal and a dream of Ringen, a native of Pequannock who was also a catcher at SUNY-Cortland during her college days.

“It was a dream of mine since I first started playing softball,” Ringen said. “I always wanted to be a coach.”

For two years, Ringen served as an assistant at her high school alma mater Pequannock, but when the head coaching position opened up at Lyndhurst High School, where Ringen was already a physical education for two years, she jumped at the chance.

“I already was volunteering with the kids, working on their hitting,” Ringen said. “When (former head coach) Elaine (Catanese) told me she was stepping down to have a baby, I thought it would be awesome.”

Sure enough, Ringen got the job as head coach – and has hit the ground running with the Golden Bears.

“The kids have responded well,” Ringen said. “I’ve been truly blessed with a fantastic group. Elaine helped by giving me pointers on what I should do, but I have a great group. (Assistant) Coach (Diana) Auteri and I have been working side-by-side. She takes charge of the infield and I handle the pitchers and catchers.”

Ringen said that the players have been very positive.

“I’m very fortunate to have a team that has a good knowledge of the game and that is very thirsty to win,” Ringen said. “We have a very determined, dedicated and talented group.”

Although the team lost standout pitcher Casey Zdanek to graduation, the Golden Bears have junior Jenny Tellefsen to take over. The righthander has been outstanding moving to the mound.

“She’s a very powerful pitcher,” Ringen said. “She’s an elite player. She plays softball all year round. She’s very strong. She’s stepped right into a different role than she was used to and has been outstanding.”

Tellefsen is also a solid hitter as well.

“If her bat stays hot, I’ll be very happy,” Ringen said.

Sophomore Monica Laverty is the team’s new catcher.

“She’s the main piece of the team, working with Tellefsen,” Ringen said. “She has stepped right in and done a great job. Being a catcher myself, I look after her. I try to establish a language with her. But she has a lot of potential. She’s our No. 2 hitter in the lineup.”

Fellow sophomore Giana Nerney is the backup catcher, but she will also get some time behind the plate.

Senior Alyssa Pipon is the team’s first baseman. She has been a member of the Golden Bears’ varsity for three years.

“She’s a very good hitter,” Ringen said. “I have her in the lead-off spot.”

Senior Jenna DiTommaso is the starting second baseman.

“She’s a great fielder,” Ringen said of DiTomasso, who had three RBI in the Golden Bears’ season-opening win over Dwight-Englewood.

Senior Grace Tomko is the mainstay at shortstop. Tomko is a talented three-sport (soccer, swimming and softball) standout.

“She’s leaving this year, but I wish I could keep her for about eight more years,” Ringen said. “She’s one of a kind. She’s the team leader and one of our captains. She does it all.”

Senior Caroline Beatrice is the new third baseman.

“She shared time last year, but it’s her spot now,” Ringen said. “I joked with Elaine that she left me an awesome senior class. Caroline is proof of that.”

Senior Brooke Laverty, Monica’s older sister, is the starting left fielder. “She’s done more teaching than anyone,” Ringen said. “She’s a very determined player who has that extra drive.” Senior Dina Ingenito is the starting centerfielder.

“Dina is a good athlete and a leader out there,” Ringen said. “She has such a love for the game and I think it’s spreading to the others.”

Right field duties are being shared by junior Kayleigh O’Rourke and freshman Christine Porta.

“Christina is a good athlete who I can play anywhere,” Ringen said.

The Golden Bears have senior Sarah Brading as a back-up pitcher to Tellefsen.

“She’s also going to find a way to sneak into the lineup,” Ringen said. “She’s going to see time on the mound.”

The Golden Bears suffered a setback when Bianca Fata suffered a knee injury during basketball. Anterior cruciate ligament surgery was recommended, forcing Fata to the sidelines for the entire season.

“She’s going to be a part of the team on the sidelines,” Ringen said of Fata. “She’s going to finish out her senior year with this group.”

The Golden Bears are a happy bunch, led by the young and energetic coach.

“They’re teaching me more than I’m teaching them,” Ringen said. “I’m still learning, but I love it. This team talks about goals and mention one thing every day.” That would be the “threepeat” of championships in the Northern Jersey Interscholastic League-Meadowlands Division. “They’re going for the ‘three-peat,’” Ringen said. “I’m going for the one-peat. They talk about that goal every day and we’re going to use it as motivation.”

Sounds like this team doesn’t need much to get ready for local and state playoff runs.

Fischer returns as Belleville football coach

Photo by Jim Hague Joe Fischer stands above Doc Ellis Field in Belleville, where he will be on the sidelines again as the Belleville High School head football coach. Fischer coached the Buccaneers for four seasons from 2004 through 2007 and was appointed recently as the Bucs’ head coach for 2014.

Photo by Jim Hague
Joe Fischer stands above Doc Ellis Field in Belleville, where he will be on the sidelines again as the Belleville High School head football coach. Fischer coached the Buccaneers for four seasons from 2004 through 2007 and was appointed recently as the Bucs’ head coach for 2014.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Joe Fischer stepped down as the Belleville High School football coach in 2007, the year he led the Buccaneers to their last appearance in the NJSIAA state playoffs, he cited family reasons behind his resignation.

“My kids were young at the time,” Fischer said. “It was the right thing to do.”

But a little more than a year ago, Fischer got the inkling that he wanted to return to coaching football. He already was coaching the track team at Belleville, so he was involved in coaching something. Fischer never left teaching at Belleville since he arrived a decade ago.

“I interviewed for a few jobs,” said Fischer, who was a finalist for the West Orange head football coaching position last year. “The itch to return has been back for a while. My kids are older now. The time was right to come back.”

So when John Dubuque resigned at the end of last football season at Belleville, Fischer thought that the time was right for a comeback.

Fischer’s comeback became official recently when the Belleville Board of Education appointed Fischer to be Dubuque’s replacement.

“The facilities now are much better than when I left,” Fischer said. “The number of kids wanting to play football is bigger. The schedule isn’t as bad as it was. Those are probably the three major reasons why I came back, but there are so many reasons why I came back. There’s a weight lifting and conditioning coach now. That’s so much less of a burden.”

Fischer spent four seasons as the head coach at Belleville, after he turned around a totally moribund program at Montclair Kimberley Academy and led MKA to two victories in the NJSIAA state playoffs.

When Fischer arrived at Belleville, the program was in the midst of the state’s longest losing streak. The Buccaneers lost all 10 games in Fischer’s first season in 2004, but Fischer was the head coach when the Bucs defeated Paterson Eastside in October of 2005, snapping the streak at 33 games.

Fischer had a 10-30 record in his four seasons as Belleville head coach.

“I’m very excited about coming back to be the head coach,” Fischer said. “I’m ready for Nutley right now. I wish the football season started tomorrow.”

The Buccaneers open the 2014 season against the neighboring rivals.

The Belleville football program has been down over the last few years, winning just five games and losing 25 over the last three years.

“Things have been a mess for a while,” Fischer said. “But things have obviously changed since I was the head coach at Belleville. I have a big advantage over when I took over in 2004. I know the kids already because I teach here and I coach track. It’s not the worst program around. I know my work is cut out for me, but I’m ready.”

Fischer said that he has been busy already interviewing candidates to join his coaching staff.

“I was talking to Ken Trimmer (the legendary head coach at Caldwell) and he asked me why I wanted to go back. I told him that I’m going to get a chance to prove that I’m a good coach. I love teaching here. I love the kids. I’m ingrained here. I might have left coaching, but I never left Belleville. I truly believe that we have talent here that we can groom.”

Fischer has already seen signs that the kids are eager to play.

“We have had as many as 30 kids in the weight room getting ready,” Fischer said. “I have a bunch of football kids running track for me.”

Fischer said that he would love to implement a youth football program in the Belleville middle school.

“I love going to the middle school and getting to know those kids,” Fischer said. “We have to try to hook them at that level before they get swooped up by the parochial schools. In 2005, we didn’t lose many kids to the parochial schools. You have to have a connection with the middle school kids now. I want to have some sort of a feeder program.”

Fischer said that there’s talent in the players that are returning in the fall.

“We have several kids that are back,” Fischer said. “We have four offensive linemen back. We have a quarterback and a wide receiver. We have about 10 talented kids who didn’t play football last year. We just have to fill some holes, but we’re in much better shape than we were when I took over in 2004.”

Fischer said that there’s one thing in mind right now.“My goal for now is to beat Nutley,” Fischer said. “That’s the first game. I’m very excited and I think the kids are excited. We’re ready to go.”

So is Fischer’s son, Joey, who is 13 now.

“He’s going to have a ball being with us,” Fischer said.

So is Fischer, especially when he’s manning the sidelines of Doc Ellis Field like he did a decade ago, leading the Buccaneers from the doldrums of the state’s longest losing streak to the NJSIAA state playoffs. He’s worked wonders in the past. Chances are that he could again.

Kearny’s Sawyer throws no-hitter in debut

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny sophomore pitcher Corey Sawyer.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny sophomore pitcher Corey Sawyer.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Corey Sawyer transferred from St. Joseph of Montvale to Kearny High School last fall, he didn’t know what to expect, except that he wanted to play baseball for the Kardinals.

“I knew a lot of people on the team, so I was really excited to play,” Sawyer said. Kearny head baseball coach Frank Bifulco knew that Sawyer had potential, especially as a pitcher.

“The first time I saw him throw, I noticed he had natural left-handed movement,” Bifulco said. “I thought he could really help us.”

Sawyer was placed in right field for the first Kardinal scrimmage. Things didn’t exactly go well.

“The first scrimmage, he dropped three fly balls in the outfield,” Bifulco said. “I pulled him out of the game and talked to him. I told him he had to relax. I knew he had this quiet confidence, but he wore his emotions on his sleeve.”

During the preseason, Bifulco told the sophomore that he was going to be part of the Kardinals’ pitching rotation, especially after an impressive three-inning scoreless stint in a scrimmage against Nutley.

“I was happy to be one of the starting pitchers,” Sawyer said. “I was really proud to be selected. I did well in that game against Nutley. That gave me a feel for what it would be like in an actual game.”

However, no one could have ever imagined what Sawyer would do in his very first start with the Kardinals last week against perennial power Memorial of West New York.

Before the start, assistant coach Dave Smart spent a lot of time with Sawyer, working on his curveball.

“We knew we had to work on his curve, because his ball moves,” Bifulco said. “Dave did a great job with Corey before the start. They worked on getting the curve over.”

“I worked on bringing my arm back,” Sawyer said. “Everything was coming out too short, so I worked on getting that curve over. I wasn’t so confident with it. But it was good the day of the game.” During warm-ups, Sawyer felt strong about his pitches.

“Before the game, I was nervous,” Sawyer said. “But it was good in warm-ups, so I wanted to take it into the game.”

Sure enough, Sawyer was on from the start. Like dead on.

“One batter turned to three and then there was an inning,” Bifulco said. “He was throwing real well.”

“By the fourth inning, I felt really good,” Sawyer said. Sawyer was mowing down the Tigers, batter after batter. After four innings, then five, he had not allowed a single hit. Did Sawyer realize he was working on a precious no-hitter?

“Yeah, I did, but I didn’t want to say anything,” Sawyer said.

Baseball folklore says that if anyone dares to talk about a nohitter, before it actually takes place, that it’s bad luck.

However, it’s not too bad when the head coach doesn’t realize something magical is taking place.

“I only realized it after it was over,” Bifulco said. “I was sitting in the dugout when it hit me that he didn’t let up a hit. I had to look at the scorebook. I then told Mr. (Doug) Gogal (another Kearny assistant coach) that Corey had a no-hitter.”

With the Kardinals holding a slim 2-0 lead, Sawyer got into his only difficulty in the seventh inning.

“I walked the first guy, then the second batter reached on an error,” Sawyer said. “I had to bear down a little.”

Sawyer struck out the next batter, then induced the final batter to ground into a double play.

“I grabbed Mr. Gogal and said, `There it is, he just threw a no-hitter.’”

Sure enough, in his very first varsity start, Sawyer pitched a no-hitter, striking out seven and walking just two in the 2-0 Kearny victory.

“I had to tell everyone, because I knew Corey wouldn’t,” Bifulco said. “He just went out and pitched a great game. The players behind him played well and Corey would turn around and show his support. Everyone just went out there to get him.”

For his efforts, Sawyer has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week, the first such honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.

Sawyer knew that he created some history.

“Everyone who has ever been a pitcher, from Little League to the major leagues all dream about pitching a no-hitter,” Sawyer said. “I was just trying to focus on one batter and getting him out, then going to the next. I knew Memorial is a very good team, so I had to work hard.”

Imagine that. In his first-ever varsity start, Sawyer pitched the pinnacle.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised, because I knew he had talent,” Bifulco said. “But it is a surprising thing in the fact it was his first start. We knew the kid could throw. This just shows his promise and what he can do. He’s going to be a big part of what we do. He really has this quiet confidence about him. He just came out and showed that confidence.”

So what does Sawyer do for an encore? Everyone will have to see Wednesday, when he faces another perennial power in North Bergen.

“It feels pretty good right now,” Sawyer said. “I know everyone will be watching me now.”

All eyes on the No-Hit Kid.

Lyndhurst hopes to give grand farewell to Servideo

Longtime baseball coach begins final season


Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst baseball team will try to make veteran head coach Butch Servideo’s final season a memorable one. Servideo, who is retiring after this season, likes his pitching staff, which consists of, from l., Jonathan Ferrer, Nicholas Romito, Danny Tallent, Nolan Kelly, head coach Servideo, Michael Polito, Patrick Dennehy and Jordan Lopez. Not pictured is Paul Minervini.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst baseball team will try to make veteran head coach Butch Servideo’s final season a memorable one. Servideo, who is retiring after this season, likes his pitching staff, which consists of, from l., Jonathan Ferrer, Nicholas Romito, Danny Tallent, Nolan Kelly, head coach Servideo, Michael Polito, Patrick Dennehy and Jordan Lopez. Not pictured is Paul Minervini.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After nearly 40 years serving as a coach and administrator in the Lyndhurst school district, Frank “Butch” Servideo has decided to retire at the end of this season.

So this will be the final go-round for the veteran Lyndhurst High School baseball coach, a position that he’s enjoyed through more than 500 victories and several championships, including the overall 2008 NJSIAA Group I state championship.

“I saw this coming one day,” Servideo said. “I’m of the mindset that this will be my last year. My assistant Pat Auteri is more than ready to take over. He’ll be a good one. He deserves the chance. I’m just hoping that we have a really successful year.”

Servideo has his retirement plans all set. Next winter, he’ll spend some time in West Palm Beach, soaking up the sun and working at a baseball camp.

But for now, his job is to guide the Golden Bears for one last campaign. Maybe there can be a repeat performance of a year ago.

When the 2013 season began, Servideo worried that perhaps the Golden Bears would be a .500 club. He entered the season needing 19 wins to get to the 500-win milestone.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll get it next year,’” Servideo said.

But after a 1-2 start, the Golden Bears set a school record with 18 consecutive wins. They ended with 23 wins, including the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division championship and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II title.

“We weren’t supposed to do much, but the kids put it together and won the league and state sectional championship,” Servideo said. “It was magical.” Many of those players have now graduated and moved on. There are a few returnees, but Servideo will have to count on some inexperienced kids to make his last season memorable.

“We have great kids who are willing to work hard,” Servideo said. “They are very hungry. They played together in the summer and fall. We are lucky enough to have multiple kids at every position and we have a lot of arms. We have some good arms. Pitching is definitely our strong point this year.”

Leading the returnees is junior right-hander Nolan Kelly, who won four games last year. Kelly gained some recognition last year for overcoming his battles with Tourette syndrome.

“He pitched against the toughest teams in our league last year and did well,” Servideo said. “He’s grown about three inches and got bigger and much stronger. He’s throwing harder this year.”

Senior Paul Minervini is another pitcher who grew in the offseason. Minervini saw quality innings last season.

“He throws hard,” Servideo said. “He’s a good pitcher.”

Junior Jordan Lopez, the standout bowler, is another quality arm.

“We’re trying to make him into a pitcher,” Servideo said. “He’s doing a good job.”

Senior Danny Tallent is a left-hander who played a lot in the outfield last year. Senior Nicholas Romito is a righthander who throws a knuckleball.

“He throws the knuckleball for strikes, so we’re going to give him some innings,” Servideo said.

Patrick Dennehy is a senior righty who also pitched a little during last year’s championship season.

“When you’re playing four or five games a week, you need to have a lot of guys who can throw,” Servideo said. Sophomore Eddie Rivera is another right-hander who is the Golden Bears’ jack-of-all-trades.

“He’s a multi-talented kid,” Servideo said. “He catches, plays the outfield and infield.”

The team will get a huge boost when Jonathan Ferrer becomes eligible to play after the first 30 days of the season. Ferrer is a transfer who played at both St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Paramus Catholic.

“We’re going to give him a fair shake,” Servideo said. “He definitely has talent and has been pretty good with us.”

The catcher is senior Anthony Meeney, whose older brother, Austin, was the starter at catcher the last two seasons.

“He’s following in his brother’s footsteps,” Servideo said. “He’s a good defensive catcher who blocks the ball well.”

Lopez is sharing the first base duties with sophomore Matt DeMarco, who has a ton of promise, and senior Gio Santiago.

Sophomore Vin Dorio, the younger brother of former Golden Bear standout Anthony, is in the mix to play second base.

“Like his brother, he has good baseball instincts,” Servideo said. “He’s a solid left-handed hitter who is a good baseball player.”

Senior Frankie DeLeva returns to his starting position at shortstop. DeLeva was the top hitter in all of Bergen County last season, batting .549.

Junior Brandon Karlok started at third base last year and also returns to his position.

“He’s a solid player,” Servideo said. “He can hit and field well.”

Tallent is the prime contender to play a majority of time in left field, although sophomore Evan Kelly, the younger brother of Nolan, will see time there as well.

Senior Sergio Turelli is another key returnee in centerfield. Turelli batted .350 with 27 stolen bases last year.

“He has good wheels,” Servideo said. “He’ll be our lead-off guy.”

Dennehy is the starter in right field, but senior Sean McChesney will see time there as well. Servideo said that most of his pitchers are good hitters, so they will hit this year.

“Nolan is surprising me as a hitter,” Servideo said. “Minervini can hit. Our pitchers will hit.”

The Golden Bears begin Servideo’s final season this week against Dwight-Englewood, then will face Harrison and Ridgefield Park.

Next week, the Golden Bears will travel to Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md., for a special game against Park Ridge on Sunday, April 13. Servideo has made arrangements for the Golden Bears to play there several times before.

“We’ll see right away how we match up in the first week,” Servideo said. “Our league is totally up for grabs. I think we’ll be a strong contender. We have a good group of kids. I’m really looking forward to this year.”

For one more time.

North Arlington baseball: Focus on youth

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington baseball team will count on a young pitching staff. From l. are Mark Cunningham, Christian Castro, Joel Silva, head coach Paul Marcantuono, Brian Costello, Tim Ford and Ryan McKenna.

Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington baseball team will count on a young pitching staff. From l. are Mark Cunningham, Christian Castro, Joel Silva, head coach Paul Marcantuono, Brian Costello, Tim Ford and Ryan McKenna.


The North Arlington High School baseball team suffered through some tough times a year ago, posting a 9-15 record.

As head coach Paul Marcantuono begins his seventh season with the Vikings, he knows where the future of his program lies.

“We’re starting six sophomores,” Marcantuono said. “I like being young. Young doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The kids have some talent. They’re challenging me and retaining so much that it’s making me teach new concepts. They also get along with each other so well.”

Marcantuono also has five players who saw significant playing time a year ago, so he has a good mix of talented youngsters with experienced veterans.

“I think this team will only continue to get better and better,” Marcantuono said.

There’s only been one obstacle – finding a place to play and practice. Since construction to overhaul Rip Collins Field has begun, it has forced the Vikings to be a little bit of a vagabond bunch.

“We’ve been all over the place to practice and play,” Marcantuono said. “We’ve been practicing at Matera Field (in Lyndhurst) at night in freezing temperatures. But that’s okay. It’s making them very strong.”

Leading the pitching staff is sophomore righthander Joel Silva.

“He’s gained a little more confidence since last year,” Marcantuono said. “He has good location with his pitches. He moves the ball in and out. He has a lot of poise on the mound. He also has a nice change-up. He has that ‘go get ‘em’ mentality and I like that. It’s only going to help him.”

Fellow sophomore Tim Ford is another key member of the pitching staff.

“He’s showed us a lot so far,” Marcantuono said. “We put him in some tough situations and he’s handled them well. He has three or four pitches he can throw for strikes.”

Sophomore Brian Costello is the lone left-hander among the pitching staff.

“He’s a little bigger and stronger than he was last year,” Marcantuono said. “I expect him to improve this year.”

Brian McKenna, who is one of the team’s lone seniors, is another right-hander who will see time on the mound.

“He throws hard,” Marcantuono said. “He can give us a few innings.”

Christian Castro is another pitcher, but he is also the team’s primary catcher, so it’s tough to get him on the mound.

Freshman Charles Kearney is another pitcher who has shown some promise in the preseason.

“He got people out in our scrimmages,” Marcantuono said. “He has a nice changeup and a nice curveball.”

Castro will be behind the plate, but when he takes the mound, promising sophomore Chris Giaquinto gets the nod.

“Giaquinto is working hard and is more like a work in progress,” Marcantuono said.

Sophomore Stephen Carey is a solid defensive catcher who will also see time behind the plate.

The first base duties will be shared by Costello and freshman Mike Rotondo.

Junior Anthony Rotondo, the older brother of Mike, is the team’s second baseman. Rotondo is one of the Viking captains.

“He has good hands and we’re going to rely on him a lot this year,” Marcantuono said. “He’s also a very smart kid.” Sophomore Manny Mora is the Vikings’ starting shortstop.

“He’s doing a wonderful job in the preseason,” Marcantuono said. “We gave him a few innings on the varsity last year and he handled that well. He makes every play. He may experience some bumps and bruises learning to play every day, but I expect him to do a solid job.”

McKenna is a three-year starter at third base who hit .450 last year.

“He led the team in extrabase hits and RBI,” Marcantuono said. “He’s our cleanup hitter. We need him to produce.”

Ford and sophomore Elias Aguilar are battling for time in left field. Silva is the centerfielder when he’s not on the mound. Giaquinto and Kearney are sharing time in right field.

Senior infielder Danny Yero and senior outfielder Endy Sanchez are key members of the Vikings’ bench.

“I think when you have a young team, you just have to get them on the field and see what happens,” Marcantuono said. “Some of these kids are going to suffer through some ups and downs and that’s expected. But we’re not going to use a designated hitter. We’re going to let the pitchers hit.” So Marcantuono will just wait and watch his young team mature.

“I spoke to my coaching staff about it,” Marcantuono said. “We have a bunch of sophomores and we have to take it in stride. We have to watch them become better. We have to be patient. We have to be positive, so we have to be able to pick them up when they get down. We’re also going to do our best job teaching these kids.”

The Vikings open their season this week against Paterson Charter at Breslin Field in Lyndhurst, which has also received an upgrade with artificial FieldTurf.

The Vikings will also play some night games at Matera Field in Lyndhurst and some in Riverside County Park.

The Vikings will know a lot about themselves after the first week, after facing Becton Regional, Saddle Brook and neighboring rival Lyndhurst at the Lyndhurst Recreation facility Saturday at noon.

“They’re getting better every day and I’m proud of them,” Marcantuono said.

Pride and patience – sounds like the making of a brilliant novel.

Back from Florida scrimmages, Nutley softball squad looks strong

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley softball team will look to its leaders to carry the load this season. From l. are Carly Anderson, head coach Luann Zullo, Morgan Gualtieri and Brittany Currie.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley softball team will look to its leaders to carry the load this season. From l. are Carly Anderson, head coach Luann Zullo, Morgan Gualtieri and Brittany Currie.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

While other teams were struggling to get on any local field to prepare for the 2014 season, the Nutley High School softball team was able to play 11 scrimmages.

That’s because for the 15th straight year, the Maroon Raiders went to the Disney World of Sports in Orlando and played those 11 games, most of which were against fellow New Jersey schools.

“The beauty of being there is that softball is your entire focus,” said veteran Nutley head coach Luann Zullo. “For five days, we were focusing on softball and got a lot of work in there. We had practice for two hours, then played two games. The next day, we had practice in the morning and played three games. It’s a great experience all around. It also helps the team to bond.”

There was an added bonus. Because it was the 15th year at Disney, Nutley was welcomed on the field before an Atlanta Braves preseason game against the Mets. They were right in the batting cages, watching stars like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward take their swings.

“The Braves were right there,” Zullo said. “It was a big thrill for everyone.”

The Maroon Raiders also went 9-2 in those 11 games in Florida. They lost to Indian Hills and Ramsey early in the week, then came back to knock the two Jersey foes off in a rematch.

Needless to say, the week in Florida gave the Maroon Raiders a leg up on their local competition.

The Maroon Raiders were 22-7 last year, reaching the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III semifinals and the quarterfinals in the Essex County Tournament.

A year ago, the Maroon Raiders were unsure of who their pitcher was going to be. That uncertainty is now gone, ever since junior Carly Anderson stepped forward and cemented her place as one of the premier pitchers in the entire state.

“She still doesn’t claim to be a pitcher,” Zullo said of Anderson. “She believes she’s more comfortable as a shortstop. But pitching is so much of the game. She’s such an accomplished athlete. She now knows that she has the ball. She finished in the top 10 in strikeouts in the state. I asked her, `Are you a pitcher now?’ She knows she can pitch.” Anderson will get the ball for the majority of Maroon Raiders games this season, but Zullo, looking toward the future, got sophomores Breanna DeMaio and Emily Holden and freshman Samantha Echevarria to pitch some in Florida.

“If we have to get the opportunity to give Carly a break, we know where we can go,” Zullo said. “But with our schedule and our league, we have to bring our ‘A’ game every day.”

Sophomore Danielle Pomponio moves from third base to catcher this season.

“She did a phenomenal job at third base last year, so we were a little hesitant to move her,” Zullo said. “But she’s clearly our best catcher. She came in as a catcher and is a good catcher. She stepped behind the plate and it was like she played there every day.

She’s such a student of the game and she keeps getting better every day.” Sophomore Emily Holden is the first baseman. Holden got some playing time last year, first as a designated player, then got the opportunity to play first base late in the season and handled it well. However, Holden suffered a gruesome hamstring injury that required surgery.

“She’s worked real hard rehabbing that injury and is gradually returning to play,” Zullo said. “She’s doing a nice job.” Junior Jenna Saporito is the starting second baseman once again.

“She’s a good hitter and solid at second base,” Zullo said.

Echevarria, the freshman, along with DeMaio and fellow sophomore Stefanie Ziemer are all battling to play shortstop and third base.

“We had Samantha all over the place in Florida,” Zullo said. “We’ll see where she’s most comfortable.”

DeMaio and sophomore Alanis Concepcion are currently sharing time in left field.

Senior Brittany Currie, the standout in soccer, is the team’s starter in centerfield. Currie is a three-year starter who has played a multitude of positions for the Maroon Raiders over the years.

Senior Morgan Gualtieri has been with the Maroon Raiders’ varsity for four seasons. She plays right field. Gualtieri is a standout in volleyball in the fall.

“It’s good to have good athletes in the outfield,” Zullo said.

Zullo likes the potential of the Maroon Raiders. While they are young, with only two seniors, the Maroon Raiders are talented with several of the sophomores already having varsity experience.

“We have a great group of girls,” Zullo said. “One thing about last year’s team was that they had great fight;, even if they fell behind, they kept fighting. They were never out of anything. We had a great year last year and we have a large group of those kids back. If they still have that fight that they had last year, then I’m very excited.”

Zullo knows where the importance lies.

“It all starts with Carly,” Zullo said. “She is the same kid she was last year. We also have seven sophomores that are going to play together for a while. If they just keep getting better, we’ll be fine.”

Count on the Maroon Raiders being just fine come Memorial Day and maybe beyond.

Kardinals prepare for improved baseball campaign


Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny baseball team will count on its starting pitching and catching this season. From l. are pitcher Corey Sawyer, Josue Rodriguez, head coach Frank Bifulco, T.J. Witt and Brian Rowe.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny baseball team will count on its starting pitching and catching this season. From l. are pitcher Corey Sawyer, Josue Rodriguez, head coach Frank Bifulco, T.J. Witt and Brian Rowe.

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.