Lyndhurst enjoys strong showing in District 5 Little League tourney

Although their run in the District 5 Little League All-Star tournament ended last Saturday night with a heartbreaking loss to Lodi, the Lyndhurst Little League All-Stars have nothing to be ashamed of, winning five games in the tourney and advancing to the tourney’s semifinals.

“Coming in, we knew that Rutherford was the team to beat,” said Michael Rizzo, the manager of the Lyndhurst 12-year-old All-Stars. “They’re the two-time defending district champion and had a really good team again this year. But I knew we had more than enough talent to make a good run. We came into the tournament with high expectations.”

Rizzo said that the Lyndhurst All-Stars have been playing together for the last five summers, especially after Rizzo and Butch Bellenger organized the first travel team from the town.

“We have a bunch of kids who can hit the ball,” Rizzo said. “We preach about putting the ball into play. But we also preach defense more than anything. Pitching and defense is what wins championships. We don’t have overpowering pitchers, but we have pitchers who pitch to contact and we concentrate on making the plays. The boys understand their roles and watching them develop has been fun to watch.”

The Lyndhurst All-Stars feature a deep pitching staff, highlighted by right-hander Jalen Maharaja, who displayed a host of different pitches in leading the way.

“When he’s on, he’s very tough,” Rizzo said. “He has an overpowering fastball. His velocity is exceptional.”

Anthony Pizzuti is another solid right-hander.

“He consistently throws strikes,” Rizzo said. “The opponents don’t get the barrel of the bat on the ball. He’s a solid pitcher who logged the most innings for us.”

Fellow righty Xavier Mieles was the third starter on the squad.

“Xavier is the most improved pitcher on the staff,” Rizzo said. “He especially improved with his accuracy.”

The catcher is Billy Mareski.

“He’s an energetic kid who is very motivational to the pitchers,” Rizzo said. “He talks to the pitchers and gets them going. He’s also one of our best power hitters and RBI producers.”

Nick Adamo is the team’s first baseman.

“He’s another power hitter,” Rizzo said. “He’s a big, strong kid who hits the ball hard and also hits for average. He’s an all-around good ball player.”

The second base duties were shared by Frankie Davis and Nate Eckert.

“They’re both above average defensively,” Rizzo said. “They play good defense. They’re also good bunters and move runners along.”

The shortstop duties are shared by Maharaja and Pizzuti, depending on who was doing the pitching. Maharaja hit four homers during the tourney, including two grand slams.

“Both are tremendous baseball players,” Rizzo said. “They both have outstanding futures in baseball.”

The third baseman is Michael Rizzo, the manager’s son.

“He’s a very heady player who never gets caught off guard,” the manager said of his son. “He’s always been a top average hitter who gets on base a lot.”

The left fielder is Bobby Czarniewey, the team’s cleanup hitter.

“He’s a natural outfielder,” Rizzo said. “He hits for power and also pitches when we need him.”

The centerfielder is Cam Werner.

“He’s the best defensive outfielder in our league,” Rizzo said. “He is very fast and gets to a lot of balls.”

The right fielder is Matteo Morelli.

“He’s a left-handed hitter who makes good contact,” Rizzo said. “He also has the strongest arm of the outfielders and leads our team in assists.”

The team also features reserve outfielders Ryan DiMase and Michael Anthony.

Rizzo received assistance from George Lee and a familiar name in Lyndhurst sports circles, namely Ralph Lilore, who was the long-time head softball coach at Lyndhurst High School before retiring a few years ago.

“It has been a lot of fun coaching this team,” said Rizzo, who has a history of coaching sports in town, having served as an assistant baseball coach and the head bowling coach at the high school for years. “It was a lot more enjoyable than I could have imagined.”

All in all, it was a summer to remember for the Lyndhurst All-Stars.

“It was really fun watching this team develop,” said Rizzo, who is the principal at Lincoln and Memorial Schools in Lyndhurst. “They’ve learned a lot and progressed really well over the years.”

And certainly provides a lot of promise for the years to come.

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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.”