NA’s Vikings look to strong pitching depth on baseball diamond

The North Arlington High School baseball team won 12 games last year and will look to improve on that number when the 2019 season begins in a few weeks.

Veteran head coach Paul Marcantuono begins his 12th season as head coach of the Vikings, looking to be a solid contender in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division.

Marcantuono thinks that the Vikings have a nice mix of returning players and promising newcomers.

“I think there’s a nice balance,” Marcantuono said. “We have some older kids who have been in the program a while, a lot of kids who gained a lot of experience over the years by being thrown into the fire right away. We have other younger players who are coming in relaxed and ready to contribute.”

Perhaps the most influential member of the Vikings’ roster is the team’s resident scholarship performer, namely senior right-hander Eric McKenna, the three-sport (soccer, bowling and baseball) standout who has already signed a scholarship letter of intent to attend Caldwell University and play baseball there in the fall.

“Eric has been a good leader for this team,” Marcantuono said. “He leads by example. He gives you all that he has. He’s a very competitive person who is self driven. I think that it’s a great thing that he’s already signed. The recruiting process is over and done with. He can now focus on his senior year of baseball and he’s already focused.”

McKenna heads a veteran pitching staff with a unique distinction.

“Every pitcher who threw every single inning that we pitched last year returns this year,” Marcantuono said. “We have a lot of experienced pitchers.”
Junior righty Mike Roman also returns.

“Mike was our No. 2 pitcher last year,” Marcantuono said. “His ball moves a lot. It sinks and he produces a lot of ground balls. When he’s going well, he’s a tough pitcher. He knows the game well. He’s ready to go.”

Roman won three games and earned All-NJIC honorable mention last year.

Sophomore Joe Witt is also back from last year. Marcantuono likes to use Witt as a closer.

“But he can also get a spot start,” Marcantuono said. “He has a lot of pop in his fastball. He also has a nice breaking ball.”

Witt pitched to a 2.75 earned run average last year.

Other pitchers include sophomores Jared Velasquez and Pete Ziakos. Those two, along with Witt, were members of the North Arlington Senior Little League team that went to the state tournament two years ago.

“They’ve all played together a lot and pitched a lot,” Marcantuono said.

Freshman Eddie Ortiz is the team’s lone left-handed hurler, but he will see plenty of action. Fellow freshman Oscar Torres will also see mound time.

“Both throw strikes,” Marcantuono said. “They’ve been both holding their own.”

The catcher is sophomore Tony Alho, who led the Vikings with 22 RBI last season as a freshman. Alho is also the team’s cleanup hitter.

“He’s a big presence in our lineup,” Marcantuono said. “He also calls a good game behind the plate.”

Velasquez is the team’s starter at first base when he’s not on the mound.

“He’s coming into his own as a first baseman,” Marcantuono said. “He puts the bat on the ball.”

Sophomore Donovan Ortiz, Eddie’s older brother, is the team’s resident second baseman.

“He’s probably our best fielder,” Marcantuono said. “He also has a strong arm.”

McKenna plays shortstop when he’s not pitching. Witt also sees time there as does Roman.

“Because of our pitching depth, we’re able to give guys a day off,” Marcantuono said.

Third base is shared by Ziakos, senior Zach Young and junior Eddie Walters.

The outfield positions had yet to be determined. A lot of that depends on which player is pitching for the Vikings on a given day.

“Whoever is hitting the best will play in the outfield,” Marcantuono said. “We have a bunch of players who can play in the outfield.”
Young will see time in the outfield as well. McKenna and Witt are also capable outfielders when called upon. It will be a mix-and-match situation in the Viking outfield.

“We want to try to put our best hitting lineup out there,” Marcantuono said.

Senior Will Cruz, the football quarterback, will see a lot of time in right field. Junior Lucas Hughes and sophomores Chris Fontes and Ricky Joa will also see time in the outfield.

Freshmen Ortiz and Torres are also trying to sneak into the lineup.

“I’ve been impressed with Eddie Ortiz’s bat,” Marcantuono said.

Senior Greg Checo and junior Jacob Taylor are utility players for the Vikings.

“I like that we have a versatile team that we can interchange players and give kids a rest and others a chance to play,” Marcantuono said.

The Vikings open their season April 3 at Rip Collins Field against St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

“I think we’re going to be super competitive,” Marcantuono said. “I think we’ve shown a lot of fight and grittiness. We’re going to go out and put out a good game every day. We play the game the right way. We’re a high-energy team.”

Chances are that it leads to high-energy victories. North Arlington should have its share of those this season.




The North Arlington baseball team features a host of talented pitchers, like, from left, Joe Witt, Eddie Ortiz, Pete Ziakos, head coach Paul Marcantuono, Eric McKenna, Mike Roman, Jared Velasquez and Oscar Torres. Photo by Jim Hague



Learn more about the writer ...

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.”