Lyndhurst looks to be improved thanks to strong pitching staff

Lyndhurst High School head baseball coach Pat Auteri knows that the expectations about the Golden Bears have to be higher in 2019 than a year ago.

“We only lost five seniors from last year’s team,” said Auteri, whose team won 13 games last season. “The expectations are high. We have a lot of young talent that should fill the void of those who have graduated.”

However, Auteri knows that when baseball season comes around, the Golden Bears are supposed to be a contender.

“In Lyndhurst, the expectations are always high,” Auteri said. “We understand that.”

So last week, before the 2019 season was set to begin, Auteri and the Golden Bears traveled to Florida for a five-day training camp.

“It was truly spring training,” Auteri said. “We were very demanding on our kids over the five days we were there. It was like a mini-camp in football. We grinded it out, did our drill work and played some games.”

Auteri said that the trip to Florida went a long way in developing team chemistry.

“We have a good group of kids who have played together for a long time,” Auteri said. “They were close already, but I could tell that the trip brought them closer together. You see the little things they did together. The team really bonded. We go on this trip every year and it’s a great way for the team to get to know each other better.”

So as Auteri begins his fifth season as head coach this week, he notices one thing.

“We’ve had some good teams in the past,” Auteri said. “We won two league championships and went to two state sectional finals. But this can definitely be the best team I’ve had. We have to piece things together, but I think we can make another run.”

And the reason for Auteri’s optimism: A deep and talented pitching staff.

“It’s going to be a big plus,” Auteri said. “The more arms you have, the better chance you have at winning. We’ve put together a competitive schedule this year, playing teams like Governor Livingston, Millburn and Bloomfield, because we know we have a good pitching staff. It’s important to get that kind of competition. I think it’s only going to help us and having that pitching depth is going to make a difference if we’re going to improve.”
With the pitching staff that the Golden Bears have, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Golden Bears can make a leap from 13 wins to possibly 20 this season.

Leading the way is senior right-hander Frankie Venezia. The tall, righty has won 16 games over his three-year career at Lyndhurst and already has a scholarship to NCAA Division I UMass-Lowell tucked away in his pocket.

But Venezia pitched in tough luck last year, winning only four games despite a stingy 1.67 earned run average, striking out 66 batters in 54 innings.

“He’s our horse to rely on,” Auteri said. “He’s our go-to guy. His velocity is up. His breaking ball is better. When he came to us as a freshman, he was a thrower, but now, he knows how to pitch. I think he has the opportunity to win some games for us this year. He’s bigger and stronger. Everything seems to be coming together for him.”

Venezia is also no slouch at the plate. He batted .333 last season with 17 RBI after collecting 22 RBI as a sophomore.

There’s another talented Venezia on the Golden Bears’ pitching staff, namely younger brother Adam, who won three games last year as a freshman. A right-hander like his older brother, Adam Venezia has all the tools to be just as effective as his big brother.

“Adam has worked hard at his craft,” Auteri said. “He’s also throwing harder. He understands how to pitch and perform at a high level. I don’t think you’ll find anyone more dedicated to getting better. He’s going to improve this year.”

Sophomore left-hander Yianni Lazaris showed some promise last year as a freshman, seeing some varsity action.

“He showed me a lot of good things,” Auteri said. “If he can get that mental approach down, he can be a very good pitcher.”

Junior righty Aaron Alvarez is someone to watch. The multi-talented Alvarez has been working diligently with local respected pitching coach Jim Wladyka on his delivery.

“He does a little bit of everything,” Auteri said of Alvarez, who should be the team’s leadoff hitter this season. “He plays third base and the outfield, as well as pitches. I think he’s really going to stand out for us this season.”

Junior righty Jonathan Berko, fresh off a solid season for the Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack hockey co-operative, is a transfer from Don Bosco Prep who will be the Golden Bears’ No. 2 hitter in the lineup and will be a key pitcher as well.

“He has great command of his pitches,” Auteri said of Berko. “He has good stuff. He can play the middle infield, second base and shortstop, as well as third and the outfield. It’s a nice problem to have with his ability to play other positions.”

Senior Nick Zaino is another righty hurler.

“He throws strikes and can be a spot starter for us,” Auteri said. “He will also play first base and be a designated hitter. I think he’s going to make a big contribution for us.”

Senior Ray Holland is a left-handed pitcher who will also see time in the outfield.

“He’s a good scrappy player, a nice little player for us,” Auteri said of Holland.

As you can see, it’s a deep pitching staff.

The Golden Bears have three players vying for playing time at catcher. Junior Robert Bloom played sparingly last season and has made the transition to catcher. Bloom has the potential to be the team’s cleanup hitter.

Sophomore Alexia Jorge is no longer a novelty, being a girl playing varsity baseball. She’s proven she belongs – and wants to be there.

“She receives the ball well,” Auteri said. “She loves the game and she’s very coachable. She’s never been a problem.”

Sophomore Nicholas Morelli is also a capable backstop.

First base duties are shared by the Venezia brothers or Zaino, depending upon who is pitching.

Second base is owned by hockey standout Sean Leonard, a senior, or fellow senior Billy McCann.

Senior Jose Acta, who already has a scholarship with NCAA Division II Dominican College signed, sealed and delivered, will return to his spot at shortstop.

“He’s a good kid who works his tail off,” Auteri said of Acta.

A plethora of people, namely the Venezias, Berko and Alvarez, can all play third base.

Senior Michael Fandetta will be the left fielder, with Holland in center and senior Kyle Bouteloupt, Lazaris and sophomore Anthony DeMarco sharing time in the outfield.

“DeMarco is the ultimate utility kid,” Auteri said. “He can play anywhere.”

Another sophomore, Sean Mayer, is battling for playing time somewhere.

“I like him a lot,” Auteri said of Mayer. “He had a couple of hits in our scrimmage against Hackensack. I’ve been preaching to them all spring that I’m going to go with the hot hand. It all depends on who hits.”

Auteri said that he never remembers a Lyndhurst team being this deep.

“This is my 20th year as a coach and the fifth as a head coach,” Auteri said. “I don’t remember having so many kids. It’s like having a major league roster. We’re going to have a lot of different options.”

The Golden Bears open Monday against Waldwick and have a showdown with defending league champion New Milford set for next Wednesday.

“It’s an exciting time for our program,” Auteri said. “I look forward to going to practice and being with these kids.”




The Lyndhurst baseball team has a lot of pitching options this spring. From left are Yianni Lazaris, Aaron Alvarez, Adam Venezia, head coach Pat Auteri, Frankie Venezia, Jonathan Berko, Nick Zaino and Ray Holland. 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.”