By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
North Arlington High School’s baseball team posted a 6-18 record last season and sixth-year head coach Paul Marcantuono didn’t know what to take of that mark.
“I think last year, we had players in new positions they never played before and guys with no varsity experience,” Marcantuono said. “But they played together over the summer in a Babe Ruth league and gained a lot of experience. I think the routine got better and they gained confidence. Their attitude was better. I think the confidence helped them become more focused.”
So as the Vikings prepare for their season opener against Lincoln of Jersey City on April 1, they’re in a much better place than they were a year ago.
“There’s a different feeling this year,” Marcantuono said. “You can sense that they are a little more confident.”
One of the reasons why the Vikings are feeling better about themselves is their veteran pitching staff, headed by senior Ryan Fego, who has been the ace of the team for the last three seasons.
“We fooled around last year and put him at catcher and it didn’t work,” Marcantuono said. “He’s back at third base this year and he’s more relaxed. He’s also been our No. 1 pitcher and is ready for the challenge.”
Fego has earned All- NJIC honors the last two seasons, so he’s proven.
“He has experience to win games for us,” Marcantuono said.
Another returnee is junior left-hander Mike Brazzel, who only spent half of the season with the Vikings last year after transferring from Queen of Peace.
“He had a little bit of a control issue last year, but he’s dealt with that and is throwing strikes now,” Marcantuono said. “He throws very hard and he’s a lot more confident than last year.”
When he’s not pitching, Brazzel will be in centerfield.
Senior Jeff Frytek is another quality pitcher.
“He is absolutely unflappable,” Marcantuono said. “He takes on any situation. He can handle anything.”
Frytek will be in left field when he’s not toeing the rubber.
Senior Eric Costela is the Vikings’ fourth pitcher.
“He’s a control pitcher,” Marcantuono said.
“He pounds the strike zone. He does his thing. We expect him to throw strikes and he does.”
The catcher is promising freshman Christian Castro.
“From what I see, he’s going to be a good one,” Marcantuono said. “The pitchers all want him back there, because he calls a good game. He can handle it back there. He’s confident he can handle the defensive end and he has a lot of confidence at the plate.”
The first base duties are being shared by senior Matt Rosko and junior Ryan McKenna.
Sophomore Anthony Rotondo is the second baseman.
“He has a great glove,” Marcantuono said about Rotondo. “He’s a contact hitter who can put the ball in play. He also bunts well.”
Junior Kenny Kuzmuk returns at shortstop. The talented Kuzmuk grew into playing shortstop and went through some early growing pains, but he batted better than .300 and struck out only five times all season.
“Kenny is becoming a leader on this team,” Marcantuono said. “The other kids look up to him.”
Kuzmuk is a staple batting in the No. 2 hole.
Fego is at third and when he’s pitching, football and basketball standout A.J. Nocciolo will fill in. Nocciolo played baseball as a freshman, then gave it up, but returned this year as a senior. Senior Jeremy Melendez will also get time in the infield.
Frytek is in left, with Brazzel in center. Senior Julian Ortiz fills in all the outfield slots, depending upon who is pitching.
A player to watch is freshman Joel Silva, who has a ton of promise.
“He’s going to play a lot for us in the outfield,” Marcantuono said of Silva.
The veteran coach is hopeful that this will be a much better year for the Vikings.
“I have to hope so,” Marcantuono said. “We’ll see soon enough.”
After Lincoln, the Vikings have games against Becton Regional, Saddle Brook and McNair Academic of Jersey City.
“Those are our first four games,” Marcantuono said. “We’ll see where we are after that.”