Expectations super high for Nutley baseball squad

The buzz of excitement has been humming around the Nutley High School baseball team since the 2018 season drew to a close last June.

The Maroon Raiders were 21-9 last year, advancing to the finals of the Greater Newark Tournament, where they lost to Livingston, and to the semifinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III tournament, where the Raiders fell to Somerville.’

But the majority of that team returns this season. And the key players on the Maroon Raiders are major NCAA Division I prospects with their names already signed on dotted lines of scholarship letters with schools throughout the East Coast.

So needless to say, the Maroon Raiders are primed to have a great season this spring.

“Expectations are always a curse,” said Nutley’s veteran head coach Bob Harbison, who begins his 16th season next week, “When you have a team like this, you’re expected to do it. But the kids are taking every game seriously. We have good senior leadership. And having pitching makes it easier to win games.”

The Maroon Raiders certainly have that. They may have the deepest and most talented pitching staff in northern New Jersey.

“But having high expectations doesn’t make achieving any easier,” Harbison said. “If we play well, we should win a lot of ball games.”

The Maroon Raiders traveled to Florida last weekend and played seven scrimmage games, winning five.

“The trip was outstanding,” Harbison said. “We had 22 kids there. We made sure that everyone got a chance to play.”

Now, as the Maroon Raiders get ready to open the season against perennial rival Livingston Monday, Harbison knows one thing about his team.

“We can throw a solid quality pitcher every single game,” Harbison said. “That’s a good thing.”

Leading the way is senior right-hander Josh O’Neill. The power thrower has already signed a scholarship letter with Stony Brook and will pitch there next spring. O’Neill has been pitching for the Nutley varsity since he was a freshman.

“He worked hard all fall and all winter,” Harbison said of O’Neill. “He knows the game well and throws the ball hard.”

Another solid hurler is senior righty John Luberto, who has signed a scholarship letter to attend Rutgers.

“He just keeps getting better and better,” Harbison said of Luberto. “He throws a heavy ball. We’re going to look to extend his innings a little this year. We hope he can be a little more consistent this year. Because when he’s on, he’s as tough as anyone.”

Another scholarship player is senior Marty Higgins, who has signed his letter with St. John’s. While Higgins is more known for his infield play, primarily at shortstop, Higgins is also a pitcher. Higgins had 44 hits, five of which were home runs, and 28 RBI last season. Higgins is the Maroon Raiders’ version of Mariano Rivera, a lockdown closer.

“I never want to take him out of playing shortstop,” Harbison said. “But he’s a good guy to finish a game out.”

Junior left-hander Trevor Santos returns after enjoying a breakout season last year as a sophomore.

“His effectiveness last year was a surprise,” Harbison said. “He has the mentality to get outs. As a pitcher, that’s very important.”

Senior Eli Acosta, the football and basketball standout, has decided to play baseball this season after setting the school’s high jump record last spring. Acosta is another right-handed pitcher with a ton of talent.

“He can throw,” Harbison said. “He’s throwing strikes a lot at this point.”

Junior Andrew Budine is yet another right-handed pitcher.

“He mixes his pitches well,” Harbison said. “He throws a lot of good off-speed pitches.”

Sophomore Jake Walsh is another righty who will find his way to the mound for the Maroon Raiders.

“He pitched a couple of games for us last year as a freshman,” Harbison said. “He gets outs. He’s not overpowering. He throws three pitches for strikes.”

Junior Kevin Hogan is another righty who might squeeze in a few innings this season.

“He threw some in Florida and he looked good,” Harbison said.

Needless to say, that’s a deep pitching staff.

The catcher is sophomore Lou Raffaelli.

“He has all the tools,” Harbison said. “He manages the game well and manages the pitchers.”

Hogan is the mainstay at first base. He’s been a two-year starter there.

“He’s in better shape than he’s ever been,” Harbison said. “He’s stronger and works hard at it.”

Junior Justin Lucia is the second baseman. Lucia is also the quarterback on the football team.

“Justin started at second last year for us,” Harbison said. “He put a lot of work into his game.”

The shortstop is all Higgins.

“I just have to hope he can play as well as he always has,” Harbison said of Higgins.

Senior Tyler Genitempo is the third baseman.

“He won the job in Florida,” Harbison said of Genitempo. “He hit the ball well. He can play anywhere. He’s a utility player in our lineup.”

His twin brother, Connor, is a first baseman.
Left field duties are being shared by junior Matt Connor and junior Peter Haverick, who is a transfer from Paramus Catholic. Haverick has to sit out the 30 days mandated by the NJSIAA’s transfer rule, but he will be in the mix when he becomes eligible.

Santos is the centerfielder when he’s not on the mound. Acosta will see a lot of time in right field. Luberto will also see time in the outfield, as will junior Dan Jennings.

Sophomore Anthony Haines is a reserve third baseman who didn’t play last season due to injury. Junior Dominic DiNorscia is the team’s reserve catcher.

So as the Raiders prepare for the season opener, there is a level of excitement.

“We have a good group of kids,” Harbison said. “The kids are excited. They all should be comfortable in their own skin. We’re not trying to impress anyone.”

The Raiders should be in the hunt for championships through Memorial Day weekend.




The Nutley High School baseball team should be one of the top teams in northern New Jersey this year. From left are Andrew Budine, John Luberto, Jake Walsh, Marty Higgins, head coach Bob Harbison, Trevor Santos, Josh O’Neill and Eli Acosta. Photo by Jim Hague




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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.”