By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Dave Walsh didn’t know what to expect from coaching Little League for the first time this season in the Nutley East Little League.
“I was able to find time to do it,” Walsh said. “It turned out to be exciting and great.”
Walsh was the manager of the Nutley East 9-and-10-year-old All-Stars that competed in the District 8 tournament, a tourney that Nutley East captured a year ago.
“I was a little surprised that I was selected to coach,” Walsh said. “Incredibly, I was almost thinking of not doing it, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was very enjoyable.”
Coaching became even more of a joy after Walsh’s team recently captured the District 8 9-and-10-year-old All- Star championship last week.
Nutley East defeated Bloomfield National, 9-2, to win the district crown for a second straight season – although this year’s team had a totally new roster from a year ago.
“This was a totally new experience for these kids,” Walsh said. “None of them had this kind of experience. I even had three 9-yearolds on the roster. They handled the pressure very well.”
Walsh knew that he had a chance with this team despite the thoroughly new roster.
“I thought we had a decent team,” Walsh said. “I knew the kids were hard workers. I just didn’t know how they would match up with the other teams. You never know what can happen.”
The Nutley East All-Stars steamrolled through the District 8 tourney, winning all four contests.
Walsh got his first sign that his team was competitive in the very first game against Livingston.
“We were down, 5-0, in the early going, yet we came back to win 12-10,” Walsh said. “It showed that this team had a lot ot of character.”
When Nutley East defeated Bloomfield National to secure the district championship, Walsh became very emotional.
“It really brought tears to my eyes,” Walsh said. “I’ve never felt that way about a team before. I played baseball all my life and never felt like that. It was exciting.”
Walsh was happy to share the moment with his son, Jake, who was a first baseman on the team.
“It was a great experience for us,” Walsh said. “It was great that he was a part of it.”
Walsh said that his team’s pitching was the key to the team’s success.
“The pitching was unbelievable throughout the whole tournament,” Walsh said. “That’s great for 10-year-olds. They never fell apart. They had such good composure. When someone made a mistake, the pitchers made up for it.”
Joe Pezzino, Billy Searle and Justin Edert, all of them 10-year-olds, handled the pitching chores.
“It’s huge, because the kids can only throw 75 pitches,” Walsh said. “It’s a good thing we stayed in the winners’ bracket, because we didn’t need more pitchers.”
Searle is the team’s regular catcher, but also plays third base. Johnny Coppola is the team’s other catcher.
“He’s unbelievable,” Walsh said. “The kid can play anywhere. Billy would be our No. 1 catcher, but we need him all over.”
The manager’s son, Jake, plays first base, with Scott Christman at second base. Pezzino and Edert share shortstop duties. When one pitches, the other plays shortstop and vice versa. Searle and Coppola also share third base action.
The left fielders are a pair of 9-year-olds in Nick Polewka and Joey Senatore.
Spencer Ojeda and Nick Palangio are the centerfielders, with Chase Nicolette and Max Malanga in right field.
Walsh said that he received assistance from coaches Billy Edert and Dave Christman.
Walsh also credited the coaching that the players received during the regular season.
“We have a lot of good coaches in the league,” Walsh said. “The kids were well prepared for the District tournament. We had a lot of talented kids. We just had to put them together in the right places. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I’m just really happy and surprised that they put it all together and played very well.”
Unfortunately, the Nutley East All-Stars saw their summer of fun come to a close last week at the Section 2 tourney in Secaucus, losing in consecutive games.
However, Nutley East was happy and proud to be there.
“Everyone was excited,” Walsh said. “The kids were all thrilled. Moving on to the Section tournament was a lot like having extra innings. We got to play more baseball. That was like gravy. These kids have big hearts and they played their hearts out.”