The Nutley American Little League 9-and-10- year-old All-Star team is headed to the New Jersey state tournament.
The Nutley Americans earned their berth in the state tourney by coming from behind to defeat Elmora of Elizabeth, 14-9, last Friday night, winning the Section 2 championship. Nutley American had already earned the District 8 championship to get to the Section 2 tourney, held in Lodi last week.
In the title game, Nutley American showed a ton of resiliency, after falling behind by four runs, then coming back to tie the game at 4-4, then falling behind again, 8-4, only to pull away down the stretch.
“There was no room for error,” said Nutley American manager Carmen Alberti. “Every game was crucial. These kids never flinched. They were unfazed. They remained positive and just kept coming back after them.”
Alberti has been coaching in the Nutley American Little League for the last 10 years. He was the manager of the 10s last year and had the opportunity to move up to the 11-and- 12-year-old All-Stars, but elected to stay with the club he managed last year, even if it meant not managing the team that his son played for.
But Alberti had a good feeling about his team’s chances in the tourney this year. There were five members of last year’s team that lost in the District 8 finale to Bloomfield National returning on this year’s team.
“Our district is very tough,” Alberti said. “There are a lot of good teams in the District like Bloomfield National, Nutley East and Livingston. But I knew we had a very good group of talented kids. They believed in teamwork and bought into the idea and bought into us.”
Alberti said that the Nutley American kids didn’t care how much playing time they received.
“Whether they were a six inning player or a two-inning player, they all bought in,” Alberti said. “They’re a great group of kids and that’s the first step. Every kid did something, whether it was fielding, base running, hitting. They’re just a great group of kids, with no one bigger than the team. That says a lot.”
The Nutley Americans had a solid three-headed pitching staff in Joe DeLanzo, Dylan Santos and Ryan Gencarelli. All three talented right-handers saw action in the Section 2 tourney.
“Joe DeLanzo is our strikeout pitcher,” Alberti said. “He throws hard. He has good control and has excellent confidence. He pitches well. Dylan Santos is also a confident kid and goes out there with a winning attitude. He doesn’t get rattled and just keeps pitching. Ryan Gencarelli is also confident. He came in during the championship game and we were losing, 8-4, and he shut them down. He stayed poised and brought us home to victory.”
Gencarelli pitched the final three innings of the game and allowed just one run.
“Our three main pitchers were so poised,” Alberti said. “It was unbelievable to watch three 10-year-olds with that much poise and composure. They knew their jobs and they did it.”
Frankie Contella was the team’s fourth pitcher and did well when called upon.
“When you need a couple of innings, Frankie came in and did the job,” Alberti said.
The catching duties were shared by Contella and Jack Kirk.
“They both are excellent catchers,” Alberti said. “They keep the ball in front of them and don’t allow the other team to run on them.”
The first baseman is Chris Pierro, whom Alberti labeled “an unbelievable first baseman.”
“Any throw coming over to him, he’s going to get,” Alberti said of Pierro. “He’s like a wall over there. Nothing gets by him.”
Second base duties are shared by Gencarelli, Joey Crocco and Patrick Smyth.
“All three of them are athletic and are good fielders,” Alberti said. “They’re almost identical. Nothing gets by them either. They can run, they can pivot and they make their plays.”
DeLanzo and Santos share shortstop responsibilities.
“When one is pitching, the other plays shortstop,” Alberti said. “Both of them catch the ball at all costs. They are two of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached. I swear, you watch these kids play and you don’t think they’re 10 years old. They have high baseball IQs and make good baseball plays. They know what to do.”
Cantella and Will Jennings share third base duties. They are also excellent fielders.
Sal Intilli and Crocco are the team’s left fielders.
Brandon Lucia is the centerfielder.
“He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve ever seen,” Alberti said. “He gets to a lot of balls in a heartbeat and covers a lot of ground.”
Smyth and Joey Haines play right field for Nutley American.
Joe DeLanzo, Sr., Woody Schino, Jamie Lucia and Rich Jennings serve as assistant coaches.
The Nutley American All- Stars now move on to the state championship round and will face Paramus in the opening game Thursday in Milltown at 5 p.m. Most of the players have no idea where Milltown, N.J. actually is, but they will be there, as one of the Final Four battling for the overall state title.
It’s been quite some time since Nutley American competed at the state level.
“I think the last time was in the 1980s, but I’m not entirely sure,” Alberti said. “It’s been a long time. We come from a very good baseball community that supports us and sponsors us. Getting here is a huge accomplishment. We’ve been getting compliments from all over, from everyone in town, from the other leagues. The kids have to realize that we’re one of only four teams left playing in the state of New Jersey, so that proves how big of an accomplishment it is.”
Alberti said that his team is extremely loose and confident as they head south to Milltown for the state tourney.
“They’re all going with an open mind,” Alberti said. “We’re going to practice hard and play harder. At this level, the best teams win and we feel like we have one of the best teams. That’s the best description I can give you.”
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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.”