Vikings look to be vastly improved on the diamond

Photo by Jim Hague/ The North Arlington baseball team will look to be improved, thanks to a deep pitching staff. From left are Ryan Fego, Eric Costela, head coach Paul Marcantuono, Jeff Frytek and Mike Brazzel.

By Jim Hague

Paul Marcantuono knew that his North Arlington High School baseball team would take its share of lumps a year ago.

“We had a bunch of kids who never played varsity before,” said Marcantuono, who begins his fourth season as the head coach of the Vikings. “We had a very young team.”

The end result was a team that only won five games.

Well, as the 2012 season gets ready to begin, Marcantuono still has a young team – but at least they now have experience.

“We have only two seniors,” Marcantuono said of his squad, which will begin the new season April 2 against league rival Secaucus. “The core players are still young guys. But I think they’re coming in with some confidence, because they have experience. They’re a little more confident now and you can see the difference. Even though they’re young, they’re all now varsity players with a year under their belts. You expect them to pick things up quicker. We’re still trying to iron out some things, figure out some things, but we’ll be better.”

The Vikings will count on an experienced pitching staff, led by junior right-hander Eric Costela, who earned three of the Vikings’ five wins a year ago.

“He throws strikes and the team makes plays behind him,” Marcantuono said. “He’s thrown three innings in the preseason and looked good.”

Junior Jeff Frytek is another junior righty who has looked good so far.

“He didn’t know he was going to pitch last year and we threw him into his first game against St. Mary’s (of Rutherford) and he did well,” Marcantuono said. “He has a lot of poise. Nothing seems to bother or rattle him. He’s a gamer.”

Junior Ryan Fego is another solid right-hander. He’s also the Vikings’ top hitter, having collected 36 hits last season, batting .500 and earning All- NJIC Meadowlands honors.

“He’s an all-around clutch hitter who gives us what we need,” Marcantuono said.

Another quality pitcher is left-hander Jeff Brazzel, who transfers over from neighboring Queen of Peace and must sit the mandatory 30 days due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rules.

“He has good stuff and will help us,” Marcantuono said of Brazzel.

The catching duties are currently being shared by senior Rob Mullins and sophomore P.J. Sirotiak.

Senior Joey Ford and junior Matt Rosko are battling for playing time at first base. Ford can also pitch when called upon.

Second base will be handled by junior Jeremy Melendez, who is a newcomer to the program.

Sophomore Kenny Kuzmuk, who was inserted as a starter at second base right away last year as a freshman, has moved to shortstop. Kuzmuk has a sensational glove with great range.

“He has great potential,” Marcantuono said. “He just needs to improve at the plate. But he has all the tools.”

Fego holds fort at third base when he’s not pitching. He plays a crucial role if the team is going to be improved this spring.

Frytek is the team’s starting left fielder. Junior Julian Ortiz is in centerfield, but Brazzel can also play there when he becomes eligible later this month. The right field duties are being shared by a pair of sophomores in Neffry Peralta and Mike Long.

Marcantuono truly believes that the Vikings will be vastly improved this spring.

“I really do believe that,” Marcantuono said. “They’re a little more confident and that helps. They’re all supportive of each other and that helps. There’s still a lot of learning going on. I think this team is going to be tough and scrappy.”

The Vikings will know right away how tough they are, as they open their season with games against Secaucus, Becton Regional and Elmwood Park.

“When you are coming off a losing season, you want to get wins early to build the team’s confidence,” Marcantuono said. “You don’t want to have a couple of losses and then the thought is, ‘Here we go again.’ It’s very important to get off to a good start, especially with a young team.”

Look for the Vikings to be improved this season.

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