Nutley baseball, softball teams enjoy 2019 to remember

It’s safe to say that the 2019 high school baseball and softball seasons will be forever remembered in the folklore of Nutley.

In fact, one would be hard pressed to find another campaign as fruitful for both programs as the season that just ended last week.

The Maroon Raiders’ softball team recovered from some early season doldrums to enjoy an impressive run in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs, winning three times with a very young roster before falling to Chatham in the sectional finals.

The Nutley baseball team took it one step further, winning 22 games, spending most of the second half of the season among the Top 20 teams in all of New Jersey, only also to fall to West Morris Central in the sectional title game.

Needless to say, those are impressive campaigns any way you slice it.
“We had a good year,” veteran Nutley head baseball coach Bob Harbison said. “We loaded up the schedule a little this year because we knew we had a chance to be pretty good. We thought we got better as the season went on. It was a good year of baseball in Nutley.”

There was only one downside. The Maroon Raiders won 22 games, but didn’t win a title.

“You hope you come away with something,” Harbison said. “Not winning a championship is disappointing.”

But the Maroon Raiders had a host of individual achievements.

Senior Josh O’Neill, who is headed to Stony Brook in the fall, had a solid season, posting a 7-1 pitching record with a 1.95 earned run average. He also had 91 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. O’Neill also batted .402 with 17 RBI.

“His improvement as a hitter was tremendous,” Harbison said of O’Neill, who was selected to the Northwest All-Star team in the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches All-Star Classic that was played at Diamond Nation in Flemington with the top 100 players in the state. “He also faced all the top competition.”

O’Neill surpassed 200 strikeouts for his career.

“He’s going to be a tough kid to replace,” Harbison said of O’Neill.

Fellow senior Marty Higgins also had a sensational senior year, batting .432 with six homers and 21 RBI. Higgins is headed to St. John’s University to play baseball in the fall. Higgins also had a 5-1 pitching record with a 1.56 earned run average on the mound. Higgins was also selected to play in the NJSBCA All-Star Classic.

Others that had solid years include senior John Luberto, who won seven games on the hill before heading off to Rutgers, and junior lefty Trevor Santos, who hit .333 with five homers and a team-high 34 RBI. Santos also won two games on the mound. Santos will be asked to lead the pitching staff in 2020.

“No doubt, he has to be the one who steps up and takes over the role as the No. 1 starter,” Harbison said of Santos.

Junior first baseman Kevin Hogan batted .411 with one homer and 30 RBI. Hogan will also be asked to be one of the Maroon Raiders’ top pitchers next year.

“He hit very well against the better pitching,” Harbison said of Hogan. “He was our No. 4 hitter for most of the year.”

Senior Eli Acosta went from being a standout high jumper last year to a key member of the Maroon Raiders’ pitching staff this season, winning five games and posting a 1.52 earned run average.

“He had a really good game against Seton Hall,” Harbison said of Acosta, who will play football at Rowan University in the fall. “He’s a big reason why we had 22 wins. He has a cannon for an arm in the outfield.”

Sophomore Lou Rafaelli proved to be an excellent backstop behind the dish for the Maroon Raiders. Rafaelli was selected to play in the Underclassman All-Star Game at Kean on Saturday at noon.

Others that will return next season include infielder Justin Lucia, the starting quarterback for the Nutley football team; pitcher Andrew Budine, who won three games on the hill; outfielder Pete Haverick; third baseman Anthony Haines; sophomore pitcher Jake Walsh and freshman Matt Harbison, the coach’s son and third baseman.

“We had a great year,” Harbison said. “It didn’t end the way you wanted it to, but it’s as good of baseball we’ve seen in a long time. It’s as high of a level that we’ve had in a while.”

Nutley head softball coach Luann Zullo was a little concerned when her team had a 5-7 record in early May and lost standout centerfielder Courtney Wilde to a broken ankle.

“For some reason, we just went on a tear after that,” said Zullo, whose team finished 18-11 and faced Chatham for the NJSIAA North 2, Group III championship. “The team responded. We knew that there was a little bit of magic going on there at the end. We just ran into a buzz saw in Chatham. That girl (Anna Lengner) struck out 17 batters and surrendered only two hits. Still, we were one hit away.”

Nutley lost, 2-0, in the sectional title game.

“We were in that game,” Zullo said. “That’s what’s disappointing.”

But the Maroon Raiders have a bright future, as the two key players, left-handed pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel and catcher Sydney Hess, are both freshmen.

“We knew that Fallyn was pretty good,” Zullo said. “She’s a competitor. She has always been a competitor. We started to make plays behind her at the end of the season and that was a key. But Fallyn started to make pitches that had bend and snaps and made every pitch count. I think Fallyn and Sydney threw well together. Sydney is always ready for the next play. She’s a little more advanced defensively than most. Next year, we’re going to have a sophomore pitcher and catcher who made it to the sectional final. This was definitely a learning experience.”

Alexa Hergenhan is a rising senior with catching ability.

Junior Jamell Quilles was a nice addition to the team this season.

“She played a little bit of third base, a little bit of shortstop, but she really came on when we put her at first base,” Zullo said of Quilles. “She’s a good first baseman. We were doing a lot of moving people around. Once we settled down and got things figured out, we were fine.”

Junior Brianna Cruz hit .354 with 21 RBI.

“We moved her around a lot as well,” Zullo said of Cruz. “She was the third baseman last year, but we moved her to the outfield and she worked out well out there. She stepped up as a leader.”

Lorianne O’Connor was the team’s leadoff hitter and second baseman. O’Connor, an All-SEC honoree, returns next season.

Seniors Melanie Conca and Wilde were key players.

“They’ve been around us for four years and know what it takes,” Zullo said. “Mel Conca is one of those players who makes you want to keep coaching. She’s a great kid and a great leader. She’s athletic and steady. She’s a wonderful kid and a good role model. I’m going to miss her a lot. Courtney Wilde is the team’s workhorse. She wanted to get back on the field after breaking her ankle.”

Cecelia Mielnicki is the team’s right fielder.

“She did a really nice job and threw some runners out at first base,” Zullo said.

Freshman Lia DeMaio and sophomore Julia Ciccone will also get quality playing time next season.

“The more you say freshman and sophomore, the more I get excited for next season,” Zullo said. “How can you not be excited with all the talent we have? Stoeckel is just a competitor. She makes everyone better.”

And that means Nutley will be better. Count on it.




Junior Trevor Santos will be counted upon to be the leader of the Nutley baseball pitching staff next season. Photo by Jim Hague


Fabulous freshman Fallyn Stoeckel had a brilliant rookie campaign for the Nutley softball team in 2019. 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.”