Lyndhurst Golden Bears look to contend once again

The Lyndhurst High School baseball team won 19 games last year, earned a share of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division championship with Harrison and advanced all the way to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title game against Parsippany.

Needless to say, the Golden Bears just might be hard pressed to duplicate that success this season.

“We lost five starters from that team,” Lyndhurst head coach Patrick Auteri said. “You just don’t replace that kind of leadership. We lost our top pitcher (Nic DiTommaso), our top catcher (Eddie Rivera), our shortstop (Vincent Dorio), our top outfielder (Matt DeMarco) and another outfielder (Evan Kelly). It’s a big transition to play without them. They got us going all the time. They were great kids with great attitudes.”

So it’s going to be hard for the Golden Bears to regroup after losing so much talent.

“It’s one of our big challenges this year,” Auteri said. “When that door opens after the last practice before the start of the season, it should be interesting to see who steps up and does that job. It’s more than what they did on the field. It’s more so what they did off the field to get the team ready. They were all great kids.”

Auteri is hopeful that the Golden Bears gained some of that togetherness with a recent trip to Florida, where they played five games, all considered scrimmages in the eyes of New Jersey high school baseball. The Golden Bears have a 0-0 record right now, despite what happened in Florida.

“The faculty and staff in our school were all supportive of the trip,” Auteri said. “And I got to see the team camaraderie come together. They spent time together in the hotel rooms. I think it brings a team together. It helps develop our chemistry.”

The Golden Bears have a solid pitching staff that will also bring the team together.

Sophomore Frankie Venezia is the ace of the staff. The right-hander won six games last year as a freshman, including some huge victories down the stretch.

Venezia has undergone a huge growth spurt since last year, sprouting up three inches or perhaps more.

“He’s also gotten bigger in his shoulders and arms,” Auteri said of Venezia. “He has developed into a man. You can see his velocity has gone up as well. He’s playing baseball all year round in travel leagues and club teams. He’s pitched our main games. He has ice in his veins and has tremendous stuff.”

Venezia has a tenacious slider.

“It’s still as nasty as it was,” Auteri said. “He touched up on a few mechanics and worked on his length. He’s a lot more downhill with his approach, so that’s going to make him more successful.”

Although he’s only a sophomore, Venezia is getting some looks from major NCAA Division I schools.

Senior Nick Matarazzo is the team’s No. 2 pitcher. The righty was the team’s No. 3 hurler last year.

“He got some key varsity experience last year,” Auteri said. “He has a live arm and his curve ball has looked good in the scrimmages.”

Senior right-hander Dave Mitchell is back for his final season. Auteri is hoping to keep Mitchell healthy this season.

“He hasn’t been able to stay healthy his whole career,” Auteri said. “But he throws hard. We just can’t keep him on the field.”

Junior Nick Cutola will see time either as a long reliever or spot starter.

“He’s working his tail off in the role of middle relief,” Auteri said.

Diminutive Isaiah Figueroa is another pitcher.

“For a little kid, he throws hard,” Auteri said of Figueroa. “He’s going to pitch for us. We have the arms. The question mark will be how they perform.”

Junior Matt Tomko replaces Rivera as the team’s catcher.

“He has big shoes to replace,” Auteri said of Tomko, whose older sister Grace was a standout soccer player. “He works his tail off.”

Senior Ryan Donohue, the standout bowler, is the team’s first baseman.

“He’s one of our varsity returning starters,” Auteri said. “He’s the glue to the infield. If you get the ball near him, he’s going to make the play. He has to hit a little bit this year.”

Figueroa is the second baseman.

“He’s hitting the ball,” Auteri said. “He makes good contact.”

The shortstop is standout senior Nick Carnevale, who was the team’s No. 3 hitter last year and batted better than .400.

“He’s our best defender,” Auteri said. “He has the ability to hit to all fields. It’s key to have him back and in the three hole. I’m sure that some (NCAA) Division I schools will come to look at him.”

Venezia and Cutola are sharing third base duties.

Junior Jonathan Karlok is the Golden Bears’ starting left fielder.

“The kid can fly,” Auteri said. “He’s going to get his share of hits.”

Max Vigliotti is the centerfielder this year, moving over from left field.

“He’s going to be our leadoff hitter,” Auteri said. “He has a nice left-handed swing. We also need him to perhaps pitch a little.”

Senior Peter Lazaris is the team’s right fielder, sharing time with designated  hitter James Podolski, also a senior.

“Lazaris is a big, strong kid,” Auteri said. “Podolski is one of our seniors who we need to perform.”

The Golden Bears open the 2017 season April 1 against Becton at 12 noon at the Lyndhurst Recreation Center complex.

“I definitely feel like we’re a work in progress,” Auteri said. “But the team has potential. We have to come together already. Now we have to put it all together. If we do, we can be there, right at the top of the league.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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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.”