The Nutley High School baseball team lost a lot of talent to graduation last June.
“We lost a lot of position players and a lot of offense,” veteran Nutley head coach Bob Harbison said. “We also lost some pitching, some good arms. We have guys this year who never had to become big-time players before. They knew they couldn’t be just role players anymore. They had to perform on a regular basis.”
The Maroon Raiders own a 10-8 record, after defeating Caldwell, 11-1, in the opening round of the Greater Newark Tournament Saturday.
“We’re definitely too inconsistent,” Harbison said. “I never thought we would be blowing the doors off people, but we’re trying to feel confident for the rest of the year.”
Harbison believes that his team hit the turning point last week, when they suffered a tough 14-4 loss to local rival Belleville.
“After the Belleville game, we put the first half of the season behind us,” Harbison said. “We were getting a chance to start over. We want to be a better team for the second half of the season. We have to hope that it will make us a better team. After that game, we learned something and took something positive out of it. We know what we have to improve on. We showed we can play (against Caldwell) and now we just have to do it on a daily basis.”
It’s not easy playing in the American Division of the Super Essex Conference, one of the toughest in the entire state and including the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Seton Hall Prep as well as perennially tough teams like Millburn, Montclair and local rivals Bloomfield and Belleville.
“We have a lot of good teams on our schedule,” said Harbison, who will take his team to face Hudson County power Memorial of West New York this week. “We played well against Caldwell and played well against Bloomfield. We just have to keep going in the right direction. The kids have filled in pretty nicely. Baseball is such an emotional mental game. You have to learn how to win.”
The Maroon Raiders are blessed with a deep pitching staff, spearheaded by senior left-hander Sean Rodriguez.
“When he’s throwing his breaking ball for strikes, he’s very tough to hit,” said Harbison of Rodriguez, who is headed to Susquehanna College in the fall. “He has a good fastball as well.”
Junior right-hander Nick Senatore, who got the win over Caldwell in the GNT over the weekend, has also been a solid mound contributor.
“He’s made a big improvement over last year,” Harbison said of Senatore, who scattered four hits in the win over the Chiefs.
Senior lefty Vin Petracco, junior righty Nick Santoriello, junior righty John Lawton (a transfer from Don Bosco Prep) and sophomore lefty Jake Ramezzana are the other members of the Maroon Raiders’ pitching staff.
“Santoriello has been getting a lot of work,” Harbison said. “Ramezzana is developing nicely and has been getting more time.”
The offense has been led by senior right fielder Anthony Condito, who has had a monstrous season at the plate.
Condito is batting an unconscious .596 with four homers and 17 RBI. Condito has collected an astounding seven games with three or more hits and had consecutive games against Paramus and Newark Academy where he had four hits. He had three RBI in the win over Paramus and three doubles and two RBI in the win over Newark Academy.
“He’s at another level right now,” Harbison said of Condito, who wants to play Division I baseball and has Seton Hall and Rutgers looking at him. “We had him leading off at first, but then we put him in the three (third batting position) and let him do his damage there. He’s having a pretty good year.”
Harbison has never been one to overplay his kids to college recruiters.
“I am very careful to don’t oversell the kids, but I want to make some people come and see him, because the kid can play,” Harbison said. “We’re trying to get his name out there.”
Condito already has 31 hits in just 18 games. It’s a tremendous run.
The catcher is senior Andrew Santos, who was a second baseman last year.
“He just started catching this year and has handled himself pretty well,” Harbison said.
The first baseman is Michael Mattia, who was slated to be one of the Maroon Raiders’ top pitchers, but developed some elbow problems.
“It was a big blow to us, because he was going to be our No. 1 pitcher,” Harbison said of the tall lefty. “He was being recruited by FDU and Iona before the season started. He’s playing first to limit his throws. He’s hitting the ball well.”
Senior Pete DeCilla is the second baseman. DeCilla had two hits and an RBI in the win over Caldwell.
Senior Angelo Gaeta is the returning starter at shortstop.
“He’s done a great job defensively,” Harbison said of Gaeta.
Isaak Lindenbaum is the senior third baseman. Lindenbaum, who played basketball for Harbison during the winter, had a huge three-run homer in the win over Caldwell.
“He’s become one of the best kids I’ve ever coached in terms of attitude,” Harbison said. “He does whatever I tell him.”
The left fielder is junior Matt Butler, who has developed into the Raiders’ leadoff hitter.
“He reminds me of Lenny Dykstra, the way he gets on base,” Harbison said, referring to the former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies standout. “He hits, he runs. He’s a good kid. We just had to get him in the lineup.”
The centerfielder is junior Andrew Connor, who started in left field last year and has flawlessly made the move to center.
Rodriguez also sees some time in the outfield, while Mattia can become the team’s designated hitter if his elbow flares up.
So after the win against Caldwell, the Maroon Raiders seem to have it going right now. They are slated to face Columbia in the quarterfinals of the GNT Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve started anew, but we can’t look ahead, not in our league,” Harbison said. “We’re ready for the second half of the season.”
The Maroon Raiders are also jockeying for position in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket that will be released in two weeks.
“The games are all important now,” Harbison said.
The real important game is Thursday.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”