Michael Rizzo is the principal at Lincoln School in Lyndhurst, but during his free time, he enjoys coaching Little League baseball.
Rizzo was the head coach of the Lyndhurst Little League 11-year-old All-Star team that recently competed in the District 5 Tournament, a double-elimination tourney that Lyndhurst had not won in almost a decade.
As the spring rolled into summer, Rizzo believed that his team could achieve greatness – only after they realized it themselves.
“Once they finally believed in themselves enough that they could win, then they started to realize they could do this,” Rizzo said.
But the Lyndhurst All-Stars suffered a crushing blow when Matt Jarvis was lost for the summer with a broken wrist.
“It was devastating,” Rizzo said about the loss of Jarvis. “He was one of our best players. He was our No. 2 pitcher, our starting catcher and our No. 4 hitter.”
The locals marched on without Jarvis.
“We started to play in pool play and had some nice wins,” Rizzo said. “We were trailing Kearny, 8-0, when the light bulb went off. We beat Kearny, 9-8, and we beat Rutherford, 17-14. Those were big wins. Last year, we lost to Wood-Ridge, but this year, we stepped it up.”
After suffering a loss to Wood-Ridge, Lyndhurst bounced back to defeat their rivals twice, including a miraculous turn of events in the championship game.
“We were down 6-0 in the championship, but then we clawed back to cut it to 6-4,” Rizzo said. “Then, everything broke loose.”
Lyndhurst scored an astounding 13 runs in the top of the sixth inning to go ahead 17-6 and they eventually won, 17-7, to capture the elusive District 5 championship.
It marked the first district title of any kind for Lyndhurst since 2011.
“The kids really stepped it up,” Rizzo said.
Leading the way was Tyler Herman. The right-handed pitcher, who plays a good shortstop when not pitching, developed nicely on the mound.
“He doesn’t let anything get to him,” Rizzo said of Herman. “He just gets back on the mound and throws. We have been developing Tyler as a pitcher. He went out and threw three scoreless innings for us in the championship game.”
Xavier Muniz is another of Lyndhurst’s starting pitchers.
“He’s a big boy,” Rizzo said of Muniz. “He throws hard. He throws a heavy fastball that has good movement on it. He’s a big reason why we beat Kearny. He wasn’t used much in regular Little League as a pitcher, but we used him in All-Stars.”
Ryli Piniero is a left-hander who threw well for Lyndhurst.
“He’s a little guy,” Rizzo said. “But he has a strong arm and likes to pound the strike zone.”
Max Gonzalez is the team’s catcher.
“He’s the best defensive 11-year-old catcher I’ve ever seen,” Rizzo said. “He goes after the balls in the dirt. He’s a fundamentally sound catcher for an 11-year-old and he’s also an excellent hitter.”
Joey Rizzo is the coach’s son and starting first baseman.
“He’s developing into a good defensive first baseman,” Rizzo said of his son. “This is his first year of trying that position and he’s done well. He’s also our No. 2 hitter in the lineup. He definitely gets on base.”
Joe Brennen is the team’s second baseman.
“He is a very fast kid,” Rizzo said of Brennen. “He knows the game well and plays very smart. He also is a heady kid who bats toward the top of the lineup.”
Herman is the shortstop, with Adam Foley at third base.
“Foley is also a good relief pitcher,” Rizzo said. “He’s the best hitter we have.”
Foley collected seven hits in eight at-bats in the final two games of the tournament.
“He had four RBI in the Kearny game,” Rizzo said of Foley. “He’s had a lot of big hits. He really carried us.”
Muniz is the team’s part-time left fielder, along with Andrew Sofield.
“Andrew is a natural outfielder,” Rizzo said of Sofield. “He can really play anywhere. We also use him at catcher. He does everything I ask of him.”
Piniero plays centerfield, with Chase Maharaja and Brandon Willerton sharing right field duties.
The assistant coaches are Rob Maharaja and Pedro Gonzalez.
Unfortunately the team was eliminated in the Section 2 tournament for 11-year olds last week, but it doesn’t diminish the pride Rizzo has for his group of overachievers.
“They really turned the corner this year,” Rizzo said. “It’s been very exciting watching these kids develop. It’s nice to get over the hump and beat teams like Wood-Ridge and Rutherford.”
And that made the summer enjoyable.
The Lyndhurst Little League 11-year-old All-Stars won the District 5 championship last week, marking the first District banner for Lyndhurst since 2011. Photo courtesy of Michael Rizzo
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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.”