Kardinals have new field, new coach, same philosophy

Photo by Jim Hague/ The Kearny baseball team will look to its solid senior contingency to lead the way under new head coach Frank Bifulco. Front row, from left, are Ramon Cadiz, Alex Potvin, Eric Cruz and Paul Matta. Back row, from left, are Bifulco, Dave Bush, Brian Colon, Nick Beauchene and Dylan Schalago.



By Jim Hague

Frank Bifulco hasn’t noticed much of a difference in his first days as the new head baseball coach at Kearny High School.

It’s not like Bifulco is a total stranger to the Kardinals. He did serve as an assistant to the now-retired Jim Sickinger for the last few years and he is a product of the Kearny baseball program.

But he’s the new head honcho, so things are just a little different.

“The transition has been pretty good,” Bifulco said. “It’s now up to me to be able to read each player. I’m the guy who has to make the decisions now. I’m manning the coaching staff. It’s only been a month in so far, so it hasn’t been bad. The biggest thing I have to do is know the team and try to find what’s going to make us click. It’s everything I’ve expected and more.”

Bifulco inherits a basically young team, with only a handful of players back from the Kardinal squad that won 17 games last year.

“We have to work hard and the kids have to buy into what we’re doing,” Bifulco said. “They realize they have a lot to do as a young team. But they’re improving every single day.”

Leading the way is senior pitcher/third baseman Nick Beauchene. The hardthrowing Beauchene won four games last year.

“He’s going to be our workhorse,” Bifulco said of Beauchene. “We have all the confidence in the world that he’s going to shut people down and we expect to win when he’s on the mound. He’s also a very good hitter and we’re looking for him to crush the ball.”

Another solid hurler is senior right-hander Dave Bush, who won three games last season.

Photo by Jim Hague/ Senior right-hander Dave Bush, who won three games last year, is counted upon to be a big-game pitcher this season for Kearny.


“Dave has to come out with a bulldog mentality every time he pitches,” Bifulco said of the three-sport standout. “He’s looked very good on the mound.”

Junior Eric Greenlee, the starting quarterback on the Kardinal football team in the fall, is another quality hurler and the team’s lone lefthander.

“He saw some spot time with the varsity last year and looked good,” Bifulco said. “He gives us good balance.”

The rest of the pitching staff will be comprised of senior Dylan Schalago, junior Kyle Macconchie and sophomore Bryan Rowe.

“They’re all right-handed and all can throw,” Bifulco said. “Schalago is going to be our closer and we’re counting on him to come in and shut the door. He’s been an excellent worker so far.”

The Kardinals’ catching duties are currently being shared by a pair of juniors in Ryan Michaels and Anthony Oliveira.

“It’s a totally open position and they’re battling for it,” Bifulco said. “They’re both doing a nice job. I think the competition between the two just breeds success.”

First base responsibilities will be shared by Beauchene, Oliveira and sophomore Steven Dyl, the younger brother of former Observer Female Athlete of the Year Allyson Dyl, who played college soccer at Pace University.

Sophomore Rowe has been a find and he earns the starting nod at second base.

“He’s been phenomenal defensively and keeps improving leaps and bounds,” Bifulco said. “He’s going to be a battler in the batter’s box and I think he’s going to be fun to watch.”

Schalago will be the shortstop when he’s not pitching. When Schalago takes the hill, senior Eric Cruz will be the shortstop. Cruz handles all the middle infield duties.

“Schalago is doing a great job as the everyday shortstop,” Bifulco said.

Third base will be shared by Beauchene and Bush. When one is pitching, the other will play third, although Beauchene may also see time at first. It’s like mixing and matching players with positions for Bifulco.

Junior Brandon Vilar will be the left fielder.

“I hate to say it, but he reminds me of me,” Bifulco said. “He gets on base, makes contact, works hard. He’s a fireball.”

Senior Alex Potvin is the centerfielder. Potvin saw some varsity playing time at the end of last season.

“He has a strong arm and goes after the ball,” Bifulco said.

Greenlee will be in right field when he’s not pitching. Michaels and Oliveira will handle designated hitter duties as well when one is not catching.

The Kardinals open the 2012 season April 3 against Hudson Catholic, then will face Clifton to christen their new field at Franklin School on Saturday, April 7 at 11 a.m. The field’s renovations are now complete and the Kardinals will have a home to play on this season after spending the entire 2011 season as road warriors.

“We’re just trying to get back to what we used to do,” Bifulco said.

“We’re trying to get to that regular routine. They have to understand that we don’t usually lose games at home. Plus, everyone comes out to watch us at home. It’s amazing the support we get, even for scrimmage games. We have to keep doing well so the fans keep coming out.”

Bifulco is fortunate to have the town’s resident baseball guru Doug Gogal back to serve as an assistant, along with Dave Smart, who was with the freshman team last year.

“We have three different personalities, but all have the same mindset,” Bifulco said. “The goals are the same.”

And the goals this season will be like any other. Win as many games as possible, earn a berth in the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV playoffs and contend for a Hudson County Tournament title. Those are all viable goals for the Kardinals this season under their new head coach.

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