Ends great year with state sectional semifinal setback
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s not every year that a high school baseball team can go from a seven-win also-ran to a 23-win state sectional semifinalist.
But that’s what the Belleville High School diamond dandies achieved this season, improving from seven wins in 2012 to a 23-4 team that saw its season end last Thursday in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinals with a loss to Randolph.
Needless to say, Belleville head coach Joe Sorce was extremely proud of his team’s accomplishments.
“I’m obviously pleased,” Sorce said. “Looking back, they really accomplished a lot. They’re a great bunch of kids who care about each other. They’re all friends. We tried our best to build a family- type atmosphere. We’re going to miss the seniors, but the rest will be back.”
Only three Buccaneer starters graduate – namely pitcher/infielder Josh Caba, centerfielder Carlos Marzan and right fielder Kevin Gonzalez.
“Caba had a great year, with a 7-2 record and an ERA just over one,” Sorce said. “He beat West Orange twice. Josh is a tough pitcher and he did a great job, throwing the ball well. He was our No. 1 pitcher last year as a junior and he hurt his arm a little at the end of the season, so we shut him down. But he came back this year and was a tough competitor. He had that winning mentality on the mound.
Added Sorce, “Carlos had a really great year, hitting .380 as our leadoff hitter and played a solid defensive centerfield. Kevin was our No. 6 hitter, was a great base runner and just a solid player.”
Sorce said that the basis for the good high school season began last June.
“It started for us at the end of last season,” Sorce said. “The kids made a commitment last summer to play together (in the Essex County American Legion baseball league). We went to the playoffs in that league and that gave us a start. They also played together in the fall and did well there. In the winter, they lifted weights and did workouts together, so they were ready for the spring.”
Sorce knew that he had the makings of something special when the season began in earnest April 1.
“The kids had worked hard to get ready,” Sorce said.
“Once we started rolling and won some games, it didn’t stop.” The Buccaneers won their first 15 games, giving Sorce a sense that they were headed for greatness. “We really started to play well,” Sorce said. Then, the Buccaneers hit a little bump in the road. They lost to Newark Academy in the opening round of the Greater Newark Tournament.
“It was a good wakeup call,” Sorce said. “I told the kids that they had a lot to play for and they bounced back and made it all the way to sectional semifinals. That’s accomplishing a lot.”
The Buccaneers will lose Caba to graduation, but will expect the return of the team’s other three top starting pitchers in Damien Sanchez, Steven Basantes and Anthony Rivera. Sanchez and Basantes each won three games, Rivera won two.
The Walicky brothers, Dustin and Dylan, will be back, as will Anthony Lantigua, the smooth fielding first baseman. “We also have a good group of freshmen coming in,” Sorce said. “I’m excited about what we have moving forward.”
The Buccaneers won 23 games, one short of the school record.
“We didn’t play two games because of rain, so we had a chance,” Sorce said. “But it was a great year and I’m really happy for the kids. They really worked hard. There were a lot of sad faces after we lost, but they should know that they turned things around, going from seven wins to 23. They set the example for the younger ones and with many players coming back, we set the bar high for next year.”