By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Belleville High School head baseball coach Joe Sorce professed that his Buccaneer squad would be much better in 2013 than the 7-20 squad that took the field a year ago.
However, no one could have ever predicted by how much.
The Buccaneers have gotten off to a flying 4-0 start, with resounding wins over Rahway, North 13th Street Tech and Technology of Newark, scoring 10 runs or more in each, after starting the season with a 6-5 decision over Barringer, also of Newark.
“We had a rough year last year, but we made a lot of strides in the summer,” Sorce said. “We played American Legion ball together and won 12 games and earned a spot in the county playoffs. The kid stayed together and played in the fall as well and made it to the finals in that league. During that time, they improved a lot.”
But enough to start the year with four wins? After winning only seven in the previous year? It’s a remarkable turnaround.
The Buccaneers also won the four games without the services of senior co-captain Josh Caba, who tweaked his ankle a bit during a preseason scrimmage.
“He’s our No. 1 pitcher,” Sorce said. “He’s going to be fine. We’re expecting big things from him. He just needed a few days to recover.”
Junior Damien Sanchez, a left-hander, has made great strides.
“He’s shown good poise and he’s making all his pitches,” Sorce said.
Sophomore Steve Basantes has been very impressive in the early going.
“He’s done a good job on the mound,” Sorce said. “He keeps the ball down and throws strikes.”
The Buccaneers have a deep pitching staff, with seven different pitchers for Sorce to choose from.
Senior Miguel Cosme, who had a good season in the fall for the Belleville football team, is another quality arm, along with senior Carlos Marzan and juniors Brandon Cruz and Anthony Rivera.
Having Sanchez and Rivera throw from the left side is another plus for the Bucs.
The catching duties are being shared by junior Tom Agaman and freshman Dylan Walicky.
“Dylan has a strong arm and receives well,” Sorce said. “Tom is pretty solid and a hard worker. They’ll both get work behind the plate.”
Dylan Walicky has a twin brother, Dustin, who has also made the Belleville varsity. It’s rare to have twin brothers on any team, never mind freshmen.
Rivera, who had a sensational summer playing for the Legion team, is the starter at first base when he’s not on the mound. Rivera is the Bucs’ No. 2 hitter.
“He gets things going,” Sorce said.
Sorce will call upon a host of players to handle the duties at second base and shortstop, including sophomore Basantes, who has the potential to be the best of the lot.
Dustin Walicky is also in the mix there, along with junior Joel Ayala. Diminutive senior Joe Kirikatos, all 5-foot-4 of him, will also get in the hunt at second base.
“I like having all of those guys there to fill those spots,” Sorce said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility there. It’s good to have Joel and Dustin also able to play shortstop. There are going to be days where Steve and Joel are there and maybe Dustin is the designated hitter. We definitely have a lot of reliability in the middle infield.”
Junior Anthony Lantigua, who is another of the team’s captains, plays third base.
“Anthony led the team in hitting last year as a sophomore,” said Sorce of Lantigua, who batted .327 last season. “He was a Second Team All-League (Super Essex Conference). He had a great summer that led to a great March and hopefully that carries over to a great season.”
Marzan is the starter in centerfield, where he’s played the last three seasons.
“He’s our leadoff hitter and he’s a good hitter,” Sorce said of Marzan, who batted .320 last year.
Junior Henry Ayala, who is Joel’s twin, is the starter in left field. It’s very rare to have one team have two sets of twins.
Senior Kevin Gonzalez is the team’s right fielder and No. 5 hitter. “He has a good combination of power and speed,” Sorce said of Gonzalez. “He had a good summer as well.”
Cruz, senior Andre Martin and senior Domenick Gonnella provide depth to the Belleville bench.
“These kids want to win and now they expect to win,” Sorce said. “I like the makeup of this team a lot. They’re a good group of kids who have good chemistry together. There’s some good experience. I like where we are. We have talent, speed, deep pitching. The talent is spread out. We have some depth. I think it can be a good season.”
It’s already shaping up to look that way for the Buccaneers.