Play for East squad in 20th Robeson All-Star Classic
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Kearny has a summer boys’ baseball team that is playing in a new league, the Bergen County Baseball League, a 10- team organization that is not part of the American Legion program.
Kearny had to make a move after the Bergen County American Legion league folded after last season.
“Last year, we only had five teams in that league, so I kept it in the back of my head of possibly moving to a new league,” said Frank Bifulco, who is also the Kearny High School head baseball coach. “This new league has 10 teams and guarantees us 18 games with one guaranteed playoff game. It’s a good league. The play is a little condensed, but that gives our kids a chance to play elsewhere later in the summer. I think it’s good for our kids to play with others and see how they match up.”
However, for the time being, they’re playing at home, at Franklin School Field, with their friends and classmates from Kearny High.
“We’re happy to be in the new league,” Bifulco said. “It’s giving us a chance to compete.”
It’s also giving the team a chance to win, because Kearny currently owns a 9-4 record, good for a tie for first place, with five regular season games left to play.
Kearny has basically an extremely young roster, with nine members of the team just recently completing their freshman year at the school. Six will be juniors in the fall and only three will be seniors.
“It’s a very young team, but that’s good, because they’re getting a chance to compete against older kids,” Bifulco said. “They’re all willing to work. We bring them in for practice two hours before a scheduled game and the kids are great. They’re making it happen.”
The young team is doing well, so the signs look promising for the future.
“It’s real encouraging,” Bifulco said. “We have three objectives in the summer. We want to build a winning attitude, we want to get every kid playing baseball and staying involved and we want to give them as much baseball as possible under our supervision to keep them playing and bring that success back to the high school varsity level. We’re on the right track. We’re enjoying winning in the middle of the summer.”
Last weekend, the Kearny team played a doubleheader, losing a tough 2-0 decision to Rutherford, then collecting a 2-1 win over Little Ferry to improve to 9-4.
“We took a step back recently, then came back to win four games in a row,” Bifulco said. “It’s all evening out.”
Leading the way for the Kearny squad is catcher T.J. Witt, who will be a senior in the fall.
“He is now a leader on this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s doing a great job with his leadership and catching.”
Witt has also been hitting the ball solidly all summer.
“He’s doing all aspects of the game for us,” Bifulco said.
Witt is backed up at catcher by two promising players, Cody Evancheck and Aaron Gonzalez.
“They’ve both been pleasant surprises and they’re both playing well,” Bifulco said. “We get them all chances to play.”
The pitching staff is headed by senior-to-be Bryan Rowe, who had an excellent varsity season in the spring for the Kardinals. Rowe has a 2-1 pitching record this summer.
“He’s also one of our leaders and has been taking on that role,” Bifulco said.
Left-hander Richard Joa, who pitched Saturday’s game against Rutherford, has displayed a ton of talent in his starts. Joa will be a sophomore at Kearny in the fall.
“He has a lot of potential and is growing into his role,” Bifulco said. “He’s turning into a dependable guy for us.”
Josue Rodriguez is the team’s No. 1 pitcher, posting a 3-0 record thus far. When he’s not pitching, Rodriguez plays third base, like he did for the Kardinals in the spring.
“He’s starting to take control of this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s hitting very well right now.”
Bifulco has a plethora of solid pitchers to use on this team, with Kyle Girdwood, Steven Dyl, Connor Mc- Clelland, Michael Hyde and Benny Cowan all taking the ball. Joseph Baez has been the closer, collecting three saves.
“They’re all young guys and we’re trying to build something by getting them all innings,” Bifulco said.
Dyl and Girdwood have been sharing first base duties with Joseph Esteves.
Rowe is the second baseman, although Adam French plays second when Rowe is on the mound.
Baez is the shortstop. He started there in the spring for the Kearny varsity as a freshman. Rodriguez is a fixture at third, although McClelland and Jonathan Illa get time at the hot corner when Rodriguez is pitching.
The left field duties are shared by Hyde and Joa.
Bifulco is very high on centerfielder John O’Neill.
“He’s taken the spot and run with it,” Bifulco said of O’Neill. “He’s taken charge out there. He’s an aggressive player who can run. He has a very bright future.”
David Nash sees time in right field, along with Cowan and Rayjay Fernandez.
All things considered, Bifulco has to be pleased with his summer action, considering the Kardinals struggled during the regular high school varsity campaign.
“I’m very happy,” Bifulco said. “Things are going very well. All of the coaches are working at it. It’s been a collective effort and I’m happy with the results. It’s all part of what we need to do.”
Another part is Bifulco’s annual Kards Baseball Camp, which will have two sessions, July 8-12 and July 15-19, at Franklin Field. The camp is open for both boys and girls, ages 7 through 14. For more information about the camp, call (201) 477-8061.