Belleville tries to contend in tough SEC division

Joe Sorce knows that it won’t be easy for his Belleville High School baseball team to contend for a league championship this season.

Just look at the schedule the Buccaneers were slated to face this week.

Monday, it was Seton Hall Prep. Then, it was Livingston, followed by Montclair, Bloomfield and West Orange. Yes, all in a span of a week.

Talk about your cruel and unusual punishment. The Buccaneers are being thrown to the wolves and the sharks while being tortured and water boarded _ all at the same time.

You catch the drift. It’s not exactly a favorable schedule for the Bucs.

“It is what it is,” Sorce said. “We play in a tough league. Every game is tough.”
And frankly, Sorce wouldn’t have it any other way. He wants his teams to compete in the toughest division of the Super Essex Conference, namely the American Division. Sorce is not afraid to take on the elite teams like Seton Hall and Millburn. He’s not looking for a pity party.

“I thought last year was a great year,” said Sorce, who guided the Bucs to a 13-14 record while playing in the SEC’s American Division. “I was very pleased with what we did. We jumped up two divisions, which wasn’t easy.”

This season marks the second year in the American Division, which was based on the Bucs’ brilliant 23-win season in 2013, a campaign that saw the Bucs advance to the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV title game.

“We beat Montclair late in the season and we beat Kearny in the state tournament,” Sorce said, highlighting the Bucs’ win over Seton Hall-bound Kearny ace Corey Sawyer in the states. “

The Buccaneers have a bunch of key players returning from last year’s 13-win team, including his senior captains, the Walicky twins, catcher Dylan and third baseman Dustin, who have been four-year starters for the Bucs.

Dylan is off to a roaring start, collecting nine hits in the Bucs’ first three games, of which they’ve won one. They lost to state power Millburn and neighboring rival Nutley while defeating Caldwell, 7-6, in eight innings.

Sorce knows that his team has to play better than what they did against Nutley, walking eight batters and committing seven errors.

“It wasn’t a good game,” Sorce said of the 10-3 setback to the Maroon Raiders. “It was an odd game with all the walks and errors.”

The Buccaneers welcome back two pitchers from a year ago in junior right-hander Brayan Villar and senior lefty Adrian Alarcon.

“Villar and Alarcon have to step up for us on the mound,” Sorce said. “Alarcon won three games for us last year and has gotten better.”

Junior left-hander Alex Luna has been a nice surprise so far this season.

“He’s done a nice job,” Sorce said of Luna.

Juniors Mark Cruz and Anthony Roman and sophomore Danny Pinedo are other hurlers that Sorce will be counting on this season.

“We need to see who is going to be the one who is going to step up,” Sorce said. “We have a long season ahead.”

Dylan Walicky is a mainstay behind the plate.

“He’s also a very good defensive catcher,” Sorce said of Dylan, who wants to study athletic training in college. “We have to see where he ends up.”

The first base duties are being shared by Villar, Roman, Cruz and promising freshman Chris Amparo.

“Amparo also plays the outfield,” Sorce said. “We might not be able to keep him out of the lineup.”

Senior Andrew Perez, who did not play last year, has returned to be the Bucs’ second baseman. Cruz plays short and Dustin Walicky is at third.

“The two brothers are very similar at the plate,” Sorce said.

Alarcon is a go-and-get-it type of outfielder in centerfield.

“He’s pretty good out there,” Sorce said.

Junior Sammy Abreu is the left fielder, with Brandon Basantes in right field. Basantes is the younger brother of former Buc standout Steve Basantes.

Pinedo is also a catcher and will get a chance to get at-bats as a designated hitter as well.

Sophomores Justin Klus and Dominick Borowski are also in the mix. Klus will go back and forth between the junior varsity and the varsity depending on pitching needs. Borowski is a middle infielder who can play anywhere.

“We can even use him in the outfield if we need to,” Sorce said of Borowski.

On paper, it looks as if Sorce has a very young team.

“I think we have a really good mix,” Sorce said. “We only have five seniors, but all five seniors play all the time. We also have good juniors and a sophomore class that plays. It’s good that we have that kind of balance.”

But there’s no question that the Buccaneers have a huge challenge this season.

“We need to rely on our seniors,” Sorce said. “We need to tighten up our defense. We’re still inconsistent defensively and that can’t happen. But I like this team. I think we’re going to be fine.”

As long as the seniors will lead the Buccaneers, then Belleville will be just fine. Again, Sorce wouldn’t want it any other way.


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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.”