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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.

Locals lead St. Peter’s Prep to solid hockey season

Photo courtesy of the Fearon family From l., Augie Burkhardt, Robbie Mahon, Ryan Pezzolla, J.T. Fearon and Sam Burkhardt are all local residents who have helped the St. Peter’s Prep hockey program become one of the best high school programs in New Jersey. Mike Zdanowicz, not pictured, but another local member of the Marauders.

Photo courtesy of the Fearon family
From l., Augie Burkhardt, Robbie Mahon, Ryan Pezzolla, J.T. Fearon and Sam Burkhardt are all local residents who have helped the St. Peter’s Prep hockey program become one of the best high school programs in New Jersey. Mike Zdanowicz, not pictured, but another local member of the Marauders.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The St. Peter’s Prep hockey team experienced great success in the past season, including a chance to play at Yankee Stadium while the rink was laid down at the world’s most famous baseball park.

Several of the members of that team hail from the area, giving head coach Mike Goodrich reason to be proud of the performances of the local players.

“There are so many towns locally that you wouldn’t think of getting hockey players,” Goodrich said. “The hockey world is so different than any other. It’s nice to be able to give kids who play hockey a program that they could continue to play. Not only are they good players, but they’re good people as well.”

Goodrich said that the local players who are members of the Marauders’ roster have to be experienced and talented.

“To play at our level, they have to be already good players, because there are so many others who want to be part of our program,” Goodrich said. “We have 65 kids in our program (freshman and junior varsity teams as well). So to be on our varsity, you better be a good player, because we play at such a high level.”

Added Goodrich, “Hockey is a different sport than say football or soccer. It’s very hard to develop kids when they get to the ninth grade. It’s tough to advance them if they hadn’t been playing. We introduce them to a new line of training, so they have to get on the ice at an early age.”

The Marauders finished 2014 with an 11-9-3 record, facing some of the toughest teams in New Jersey.

“We remained in the top 10 in the state with one of the toughest schedules around,” Goodrich said.

Leading the way for the locals on the Marauders is senior Ryan Pezzolla from North Arlington.

“Ryan is a great kid,” Goodrich said. “He has great hands and a knack for scoring. He was a very good offensive player for us.”

Sam Burkhardt is another senior who hails from Lyndhurst.

“He had the knack of scoring very big goals for us, especially early in the season,” Goodrich said. “He’s a hard working kid who worked very hard last summer to get better and make an impact for us.”

J.T. Fearon is a junior from Kearny.

“Fearon is a big, physical kid who played a big role for us,” Goodrich said. “We needed him to be a physical presence on the ice. He was also strong on the defensive end.”

Robbie Fearon is another junior from Kearny.

“He’s a beast,” Goodrich said. “He’s a physically tough kid to play against. He comes hard all the time. We use him with different situations on defense and offense. He’s a great kid to have.”

Augie Burkhardt is a sophomore and the younger brother of Augie. He has an extremely bright future.

“There are some NCAA Division I schools that are already showing interest,” Goodrich said. “Schools like Yale and Union are already looking at him. He’s a legitimate player. He’s going to play at the next level. He has a lot of potential.”

Freshman Mike Zdanowicz is another player with a bright future. Zdanowicz is from Lyndhurst, like the Burkhardt brothers.

“Mike is a good, up-andcoming player,” Goodrich said. “I like his potential.”

All of the locals began their hockey development playing street hockey and then getting to play with various ice hockey travel programs.

“We graduate eight seniors,” Goodrich said. “We have a great freshman class and another group of good players coming in. Our program is really starting to build and we’re starting to get some recognition.”

Goodrich applauds the efforts of the local players to become part of the Prep program.

“I think the location of St. Peter’s in Jersey City is convenient to those players,” Goodrich said. “It’s a good academic institution with a quality hockey program. The kids want to challenge themselves and play the best competition in the state. I think we were lucky to get these kids. They are all good kids and quality individuals.”

And the locals give the Prep hockey program a lot of hope and promise for the future.

Maroon Raiders look to be one of best local baseball squads

 

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley baseball team hopes to have an excellent season, thanks to a deep pitching staff. From l. are Nick Lianci, head coach Bob Harbison, Kyle Cresci and Michael Meechan.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley baseball team hopes to have an excellent season, thanks to a deep pitching staff. From l. are Nick Lianci, head coach Bob Harbison, Kyle Cresci and Michael Meechan.

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.

Is it the end for Kearny’s Adamek?

Heavyweight contender suffers lopsided loss to Glazkov

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events Kearny native Tomasz Adamek (l.) takes a vicious straight jab from Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov during their nationally televised heavyweight elimination fight Saturday, a card that was held at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa., and aired on NBC Sports Network. Glazkov won via a unanimous decision.

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events
Kearny native Tomasz Adamek (l.) takes a vicious straight jab from Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov during their nationally televised heavyweight elimination fight Saturday, a card that was held at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa., and aired on NBC Sports Network. Glazkov won via a unanimous decision.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Before he took to the ring for the first time in almost a year, Tomasz Adamek shook off questions about what would happen if he happened to lose to undefeated challenger and former sparring partner Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov.

“I never think about losing, because I’m a winner,” Adamek said in a pre-fight conference call last week. “I’m ready for a war. If God keeps me healthy, then I’ll keep going. I’ll keep fighting.”

A few days later, maybe Adamek is thinking about taking back those words.

In a fight televised nationally by the NBC Sports Network, Glazkov dominated Adamek from the start and won the 12-round fight by unanimous decision. Two judges scored the fight 117-111 and the other had it 117-112 in favor of the upand- coming challenger.

Glazkov improved his record to 17-0-1, while Adamek lost for the first time since facing Vitaly Kitschko for the World Heavyweight Boxing championship in 2011. Adamek, who is now 37, saw his professional record drop to 49-3.

There were many boxing experts who believed Glazkov had the upper hand against Adamek because of the damage he caused while acting as a sparring partner for Adamek.

“As everyone knows, sparring is sparring,” Adamek said pre-fight, trying to stay away from controversy. “The fight is a different story. I know I’m going to be the best.”

Adamek won the first round on several cards, but started to see the fight slip away in rounds 2 through 6, when Glazkov used a stiff left jab and a powerful right corner to hurt Adamek on a few occasions.

“We had a nine-week camp,” Adamek trainer Roger Bloodworth said. “We did what we normally do to prepare for a fight. When a fighter reaches Tomasz’ age, he needs rest.”

The Polish native who has called Kearny his home for the last four years had to pull out of the originally scheduled bout between himself and Glazkov last November, because Adamek was sick with the flu.

“I take every fight very seriously,” Adamek said. “I didn’t just stay home because I was sick. I got back into camp for nine weeks. I feel very sharp and very good.”

Adamek was neither on Saturday. Although some late round jabs scored like they did in his previous wins, there wasn’t a constant assault of scoring punches and that cost Adamek dearly.

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events Tomasz Adamek

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events
Tomasz Adamek

 

As for being very good, Adamek looked over-matched – and began to really show it in the middle rounds, when he offered very little resistance. At one point, the CompuBox computer service that scores fights for television viewers, said that Adamek had scored with only 17% of his punches while Glazkov had 45% of his punches score. That’s a big differential.

“I’ve been in the business a long time,” Bloodworth said. “You have a fighter here with a lot of experience and knowledge going up against a young fighter. Well, experience will tell the story.”

Unfortunately, it did not. Glazkov won the fight, fair and square. There were no controversies, no complaints. There were only 6,000 or so avid Adamek fans who made the trek to the new Sands Casino and Race Track to see the fight. The fans let out their famous cries and chants of “Adamek, Adamek,” but to no avail. The local hero was a beaten warrior.

Adamek won’t get another shot at the heavyweight championship. That ship has sailed.

So who knows if Adamek still wants to do it, doing it for the love of the game while collecting smaller, non-TV generated revenues?

Meanwhile, the rising star in the heavyweight division is the 27-year-old from the Ukraine.

“I would like to thank Main Events and Kathy Duva for giving me this opportunity and taking me to this road,” Glazkov said.

Kathy Duva of Main Events sponsors both boxers.

“I also want to thank Tomasz Adamek for taking this bout and giving me this opportunity,” Glazkov said. “He was risking more than I did. Tomasz was not a guy who was backing up, he was coming forward. It was a very good bout.”

It could very well mean the end of the road for Adamek. We will have to see the next few weeks, whether he’s up to training full-time once again. It will be a tough decision for Adamek, but one that can be made easier if he sees all the old-time fighters who are struggling with Puncher’s Dementia (or punch drunk syndrome) or even worse.

Duva hinted that Glazkov is the rising star of her stable now – and not the Polish wonder who took the area by storm, the boxer who calls himself “Mountain Boy.”

“This is a passing of the torch. Glazkov did everything he absolutely had to do to win this fight against a very tough and very accomplished opponent. Tonight, he announced his arrival to everyone that he belongs among the top five heavyweights. Adamek is someone who has been a top ten heavyweight for the last 6-to-10 years. I am really at a loss to say who amazed me more.”

Nutley girls’ hoops squad enjoys great season

Photo by Jim Hague Sophomore Blair Watson has emerged as one of the top all-around players in New Jersey. She averaged 20 points per game over the season and ended with 39 points against West Morris in the state sectional title game.

Photo by Jim Hague
Sophomore Blair Watson has emerged as one of the top all-around
players in New Jersey. She averaged 20 points per game over the season and ended with 39 points against West Morris in the state sectional title game.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Larry Mitschow knew the talent of the Nutley High School girls’ basketball team, having coached the Maroon Raiders to a 15-7 record, after having coached the freshman boys’ squad at the school for 14 years.

“I love coaching basketball,” Mitschow said. “I knew that the girls had a chance to play for something at the end of the season, meaning the league and county playoffs. I finally got the opportunity to coach a varsity team. Playing for something worthwhile at the end of the season really makes it much more exciting.”

Mitschow, a Nutley native who graduated from Nutley High, had a sense that the Maroon Raiders would be improved this year.

“I knew we had a couple of kids back,” Mitschow said. “Last year, there was an adjustment period, me getting used to the girls and the girls getting used to me. But coming into this year, the pieces were all in place.”

The Maroon Raiders held their own during the Paterson Kennedy summer league, one of the most competitive girls’ basketball leagues in the state.

“I wanted to challenge the kids and learn from what they did over the summer,” Mitschow said.

The Maroon Raiders were more than competitive this season, posting a brilliant 23-4 record and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship game last week, before falling to West Morris in the sectional final.

Mitschow liked his team’s chances going into the title game.

“We were very loose on the bus,” Mitschow said. “The kids were singing songs and laughing the whole way.”

The Wolfpack fell behind early, trailing by 10 in the second quarter.

“But to our girls’ credit, they handled everything really well,” Mitschow said.

Led by sophomore center Blair Watson, the Maroon Raiders got hot in the third quarter. Watson had a season-high 39 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and collected 10 blocked shots. Watson also had six steals.

The 6-foot-1 Watson is already drawing looks from major colleges.

“She’s the real deal,” Mitschow said. “She has a ton of Division I offers. She averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Blair really improved and matured as a person. She’s just awesome. She definitely saved her best game for the right time. She put us on her shoulders and carried us.”

The Montgomery twins, Grace and Meghan, were both key players for the Maroon Raiders.

“Grace handles the ball more and she’s more in control with the ball,” Mitschow said. “Meghan is more of a spot-up shooter.”

Between the two, Mitschow received approximately 17 points per game. That’s good complimentary numbers to Watson.

Junior Carly Anderson is an athletic player who can play any position.

“She contributes a lot to our offense,” Mitschow said.

Anderson will contribute a lot more in a few weeks, as the top returning starting pitcher for the Maroon Raiders’ softball team.

Senior forward Julia Seremba has improved tremendously down the stretch, scoring big points and collecting big rebounds.

Cara Michaels is a 5-foot-5 senior who also plays a multitude of roles for the Maroon Raiders.

“Cara knows her role and comes in at practically every position. She’s a quiet leader off the court.”

And that’s it. Mitschow only used six players on a regular basis.

“It really doesn’t affect us,” Mitschow said. “If you think of it, we outscored our opponents in the second half when we should be tired. We’re in great shape with our conditioning. We have high intensity practices. There isn’t much standing around. We don’t have a lot of down time. They all worked very hard.”

The Raiders dropped the state sectional title game last week, ending their season with an impressive 23-4 record. The four losses came to West Morris, Weequahic and Newark Academy, all teams that went on to win their state sectional. We played some solid teams. We took care of business when we had to.”

A lot of people might be shocked with Nutley’s impressive 23-4 record. One who is not surprised at all is the head coach.

“I really expected this team to compete for the county, the league and the states,” Mitschow said. “We were right there.”