NA baseball: Looking to build off success

The North Arlington High School baseball team won 15 games a year ago, including a win over Dayton Regional of Springfield in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs.

“It was the first state playoff win in a long time,” said veteran head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono. “It was a good season for us.”

The Vikings lost an ungodly amount of 13 seniors to graduation last June. That’s an unforgiving number for a Group I baseball program.

But Marcantuono is still very optimistic about the upcoming season, provided that the snow melts by April Fool’s Day.

“We’re going to be young,” Marcantuono said. “We only have five seniors. The other kids who haven’t played much varsity are going to need some time to get it going, like maybe a good month or so to get accustomed to varsity baseball. But once they get clicking, there’s a lot of talent here. We have a good mix of veterans with the younger guys.”

Marcantuono will lean heavily on senior right-handed pitcher Charles Kearney to lead the way on the mound. Kearney won four games on the hill last season as a junior.

“He actually pitched for us as a freshman,” Marcantuono said. “He’s tough to hit when he’s on. He has a great breaking ball when it’s working.”

Senior Mark Cunningham is another right-handed starting pitcher.

“He hits his spots,” Marcantuono said. “He pitched a few games for us last year. He has good mechanics.”

Senior Danny Elliott is a newcomer to the pitching staff. Elliott is also a right hander and he features a trick pitch.

“He actually throws a knuckleball,” Marcantuono said. “He uses that as his change-up. He worked very hard in the winter to get ready. I think he mixes his pitches well.”

Sophomore Eric McKenna is also a righty, but McKenna will see most of his time at shortstop. But McKenna will also pitch.

“He’ll probably play shortstop most of the time, but he’s very talented,” Marcantuono said.

The catcher is sophomore Will Cruz, the football quarterback.

“He has a lot of raw talent back there,” Marcantuono said. “But he’s willing to learn. He can also swing the stick a little bit.”

First base duties are currently being shared between Elliott and senior Mike Rotondo.

Rotondo unfortunately missed most of the last two baseball seasons due to injuries to his elbow and knee.

“Having him back helps us out a lot,” Marcantuono said.

Senior John Policano is the leader to take over second base duties. Policano spent last year going back and forth between the varsity and junior varsity.

“He has a good glove and doesn’t make many errors,” Marcantuono said.

McKenna is a player to watch at shortstop.

“He’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Marcantuono said. “He has a strong arm and knows the game well. He’s anchored at shortstop with no worries. I enjoy watching him play.”

Elliott, Rotondo and sophomore Zach Young are currently sharing time at third base.

The Vikings’ outfield is way up for grabs at present time.

Cunningham is a returning starter in the outfield and is joined by senior Martin Almonte, juniors Brandon Barth, Nick DeGrace (the basketball star who scored 32 points in one of the Vikings’ final games of the season) and Zack Pizarro, who also will share time as the Vikings’ designated hitter.

The Vikings were getting ready to take on some preseason scrimmages when the winter storm placed a white blanket on top of the entire spring season for a while.

The Vikings were scheduled to begin the new season April 1 against Bogota, but who knows now when the season will begin, as we all wait for the massive amount of snow to melt and fade away.

Once play begins, then the Vikings should be alright.

“I think we can do some damage with this team we have,” Marcantuono said. “It’s a very talented bunch. I think we can adjust quickly.”

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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.”