Pitching and defense: Keys to Golden Bears’ baseball success this season

Photo by Jim Hague/ The hopes of the Lyndhurst baseball team rides with pitchers, from left, Mike Polito, Anthony Calabro, Kevin Rehbein, Max Hart and Rob Nichirico.


By Jim Hague

Once again in 2011, the Lyndhurst High School baseball team enjoyed immense success, winning 21 games and advancing all the way to the NJSIAA North 2, Group II semifinals, where the Golden Bears lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to West Essex.

Veteran Lyndhurst head coach and athletic director Butch Servideo believes that he has the makings of yet another solid squad, which has become a tradition at the school for the last decade, including winning the overall Group I state championship in 2008.

Although the Golden Bears may have to take a different approach to winning this season.

“We’re definitely not going to have the offense we’ve had in the past,” said Servideo, who lost top hitter and All-Bergen County selection Mark Naseef to graduation. “It’s all about defense. The pitching and defense are going to tell us how we’re going to be. We definitely have potential.”

That is, if the Golden Bears can get fully healthy. Right now, the team is battling a severe case of the injury bug, with at least five players either out of action with an injury or illness.

The biggest loss in the early going has been the absence of pitcher/first baseman Joey Catena, who is battling an illness. Catena should be cleared to return to action sometime this week, but he’s missed most of the early preseason workouts. The left-handed Catena was the Golden Bears’ top pitcher last year, winning six games.

“He’s been my No. 1 pitcher for the last two years,” Servideo said.

Another key setback has been the absence of third baseman/pitcher Anthony Calabro, who was the Golden Bears’ starter at third down the stretch last season. Calabro is battling a knee problem.

Promising sophomore infielder Frank Deleva has also been sidelined with a sore knee. Junior outfielder Peter Zeole broke an ankle during the off-season and has not fully recovered to date. Junior second baseman Michael Perry is also out of action with an injury.

“We’re a little banged up right now,” Servideo said. “We need to get all the kids healthy and back onto the field. We haven’t had all of the pieces to the puzzle together yet.”

One thing is for sure: The Golden Bears have a plethora of talented pitchers and will only get better when Catena returns.

Senior right-hander Rob Nichirico, who also sees time at shortstop and first base, is a talented pitcher with all the tools to be a great one. Nichirico has looked brilliant in preseason workouts and scrimmages.

Junior Max Hart has all the tools to be a very good hurler. Hart, a lanky right-hander, won three games last year and has been looking solid thus far.

Sophomore Mike Polito has been a great addition. The right-hander pounds the strike zone and keeps the ball low in the strike zone.

“He’s been doing real well,” Servideo said. “He has a lot of potential.”

Righty Kevin Rehbein, who will be a fixture in the middle infield, serves as the team’s closer.

“I’m pretty happy with the pitching depth,” Servideo said. “We have some decent pitchers.”

That’s the first battle.

Junior Austin Meeney has been given the responsibility to handle the pitchers as the starting catcher. The Golden Bears have been blessed to have had some excellent backstops over the last few years and Servideo is hopeful that Meeney can fit the bill this season.

“We’ve really been spoiled over the years with our catchers,” Servideo said. “Austin sets up well and throws pretty well. He just needs a little work defensively.”

Catena, Nichirico and Hart are all sharing first base duties, depending on which one is on the mound. Rehbein will play a little at both second base and shortstop, also depending upon who is pitching. Servideo is expecting a big year from Rehbein.

“He’s really improved,” Servideo said. “He’s grown about five or six inches. He’s coming off a great basketball season and I expect that to carry over into baseball.”

Junior Marcus Brandon, who had a fine football season in the fall, has also evolved into a fine baseball player.

“He can hit, but more importantly, he can run,” Servideo said of Brandon, who has been seeing some time at third base and the outfield.

Another outfielder with speed is sophomore Sergio Terrelli, who will also cause havoc on the base paths.

“He’s definitely going to help us,” Servideo said of Terrelli. “He’s going to be a good one.”

When Deleva works his way back to health, he will see time in the middle infield.

Calabro, when healthy, will be at third, with Brandon seeing time there as well.

In the outfield, senior Michael Walker returns to his left field slot. Walker, a three-year starter, was the Golden Bears’ second best hitter last year in every offensive statistical category behind Naseef. Walker earned All-NJIC honors last year. He’s also the team’s backup catcher.

Senior Jimmy Fitzgerald is a fixture in centerfield. Fitzgerald had a lot of clutch hits down the stretch a year ago.

“He came on strong during the second half of the year last year,” Servideo said. “The kid works hard.”

Junior Bobby DeMarco, the football standout, has decided to return to baseball this season.

“We didn’t know if he was coming out for the team,” Servideo said. “At first, he said he wanted to concentrate on getting ready for football, but he changed his mind and came out. I’m glad he did, because it gives us an extra bat. Bobby is a good athlete.”

The Golden Bears open the 2012 season with games against local rivals Queen of Peace (April 2) and Harrison (April 4).

“We can’t afford to make errors in the field,” Servideo said. “We need pitching and defense. If we do that, then this team definitely has potential.”

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