Nutley baseball looks to bounce back after lost weekend

The Nutley High School baseball team had high hopes and aspirations for the 2016 season, but things didn’t exactly start out as planned for the Maroon Raiders and veteran head coach Bob Harbison.

The Maroon Raiders lost to Montclair in a rain-shortened game to start the new campaign on Friday. A day later, Nutley dropped a tough decision to neighboring rival Bloomfield. Just like that, the Maroon Raiders found themselves in a 0-2 hole.

“I think we have to pitch better,” Harbison said of the two setbacks to start the season. “I think that’s pretty obvious. We also need better at-bats with runners on base.”

But there is one aspect to Harbison’s team that the coach likes a lot _ and that’s the immense depth in pitching talent that the Maroon Raiders possess.

“I do like our pitchers,” Harbison said. “We have arms. We just need someone to get us some outs on the mound. We have seven pitchers. I didn’t figure we’d have to use all of them already.”

Senior John Lawton is coming off a solid junior campaign, where Lawton won four games.

“He’s not a power pitcher,” Harbison said of Lawton. “He has to have command of everything he throws. But he does throw strikes and gets people out.”

Senior Nick Senatore won five games and lost only one last season.

“He does throw hard,” Harbison said. “He’s a power pitcher.”

Freshman Joshua O’Neill, who gained attention three years ago when he won the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition, is now showing his talents on the baseball diamond. O’Neill already got to pitch against Montclair last Friday.

“He got thrown right into the fire and did a nice job,” Harbison said. “I think he’s got a lot of potential.”

Another freshman with a promising future is right-hander Jon Luberto.

“He’s going to be a good one,” Harbison said.

Senior Nick Santoriello is a mainstay on the mound, with senior righty Ryan McGrath, junior left-hander Jake Ramezzana and sophomore righty Dan Caraballo all getting a shot to toe the rubber for Nutley this spring.

“I think they’re going to push each other for innings,” Harbison said.

Still, that’s a very deep staff.

The Maroon Raiders also have depth at catcher, where senior Dominic Palumbo returns, senior Nick Balitsos battles for time, but talented sophomore transfer Raul Ortega is moving his way in.

Ortega, a transfer from St. Joseph of Montvale, is a switch hitting backstop who will fit right in once he becomes eligible in a few days.

Ramezzana will see time at first base when he’s not pitching. Right now, he’s the Maroon Raiders’ No. 6 hitter, but has a lot of upside.

“He’s very dangerous and has a lot of power,” Ramezzana said.

Senior Matt Butler, who is a left-handed hitter, is the second baseman, with another promising freshman, Marty Higgins, at shortstop.

Higgins is the team’s No. 2 hitter. He hit a home run in his first varsity at-bat against Montclair.

Senior Andrew Santos is the third baseman. He saw spot duty last year.

Senior Nick Miller is the left fielder and senior Andrew Connor is the centerfielder. Connor has been there for the last three seasons and begins the year as the Maroon Raiders’ cleanup hitter.

“He’s a talented hitter,” Harbison said. “He also runs well. We have a talented lineup of guys who can all hit the ball. We just need to pitch better.”

The right-fielder is the best of the Maroon Raiders in senior Anthony Condito, who has already signed his national letter of intent to play his college baseball at Rutgers in the fall. Condito hit an ungodly .546 last spring.

“He’s done everything already to prove himself,” Harbison said. “I don’t know if he could do better. I hope he’s not trying to improve on what he did. Last year, no one knew who he was. We got a little lucky with that. Now everyone knows who he is and will get pitched to. I hope that benefits the rest of our lineup a little. They have to take advantage of that a little bit.”

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the Maroon Raiders. They have games scheduled this week against Millburn and then have a contest with Livingston.

“They’re all tough,” Harbison said. “We then come back Monday and have Seton Hall. There are no breaks in the schedule. That’s what we’re in.”

The Maroon Raiders had a good preseason of scrimmages, plus a trip to Orlando to get some other games in.

“We played pretty well in the preseason, but those games didn’t count,” Harbison said. “Now that the games matter, we start playing poorly. We have a lot of arms that we can call upon, so that’s a blessing. We also have a lot of young kids who are going to have to pound the strike zone. We just need to develop that winning attitude. We need to stop the bleeding, because playing at the Oval will do that to you.”

The Maroon Raiders will recover in time to have a good season.

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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.”