Maroon Raiders look to be as strong as ever

The Nutley High School baseball team enjoyed a spectacular season in 2019, winning 22 games and advancing to the finals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs, falling to West Morris in heartbreaking fashion, losing 2-1 in nine innings, and falling to Montclair in the semifinals of the Greater Newark Tournament.

The Maroon Raiders lost a ton of talent from that squad, including a host of players who moved on to NCAA Division I baseball like Josh O’Neill (Stony Brook), Johnny Luberto (Rutgers) and Observer Co-Male Athlete of the Year Marty Higgins (St. John’s).

It’s not every day that a high school baseball program loses such a contingency to major college baseball and recovers from such losses.

But veteran Nutley head baseball coach Bob Harbison believes that the Maroon Raiders could be just as competitive this season as they were a year ago.

“Last year was a lot of fun,” Harbison said. “We had a bunch of good arms last year, but honestly, I don’t know how much we would fall off from that group. I think we’ll be able to compete in the division (the Super Essex Conference-American Division, one of the fiercest leagues in the entire state). I think about what we’ve had in the past and I’m really comfortable saying that we would be highly competitive this year. I’m really comfortable with my team.”

Leading the returnees is senior left-handed pitcher and stellar outfielder Trevor Santos, who has already signed a national letter of intent to play NCAA Division I baseball next spring at Manhattan College in the Bronx.

Santos had a brilliant junior year for the Maroon Raiders, batting .333 with five homers and 34 RBI, while posting a 6-2 record with a 1.89 earned run average on the mound with 29 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched.

“He was very good for us,” Harbison said of Santos. “He was an important part of our pitching staff. A healthy Trevor Santos is a good start for us and he’s healthy this year. He has a good fastball, a good slider and a good change. He pounds the strike zone. I think he wants the role of being our ace. We relied on him heavily when he was a sophomore, so he’s pitched in a lot of big games over the years.”

Senior right-hander Kevin Hogan is also a fine pitcher. Hogan, who has signed a scholarship letter to play baseball at nearby Felician next spring, gained a lot of experience as a hurler with solid outings over the summer months.

“He gained some seasoning as a pitcher,” Harbison said of Hogan. “He can throw fairly hard, like in the mid-80s or so. He also has some natural movement on his pitches. We have to see how long he can be consistent for us.”

Senior Andrew Budine is another right-handed pitcher who also throws strikes.

“He pitched well for us as a sophomore,” Harbison said. “He’s a big kid who throws four different pitches. He’s sneaky fast. We need him to rely on his fastball more. He could be very good for us this year.”

Junior righty Jake Walsh will fit in nicely with the Maroon Raiders staff this season. Walsh pitched varsity as a freshman, so he’s another hurler with a lot of experience.

“He’s not going to throw the ball by you,” Harbison said of Walsh. “But he throws strikes and gets outs.”

Junior righty Ryan Breihof is another hurler who gained a ton of experience with his summer mound work.

“He’s another big kid who wants to pitch and he’s going to get a chance,” Harbison said.

All of the Maroon Raider hurlers will get a shot to throw if and when the season begins perhaps now sometime in mid-May. Even if it is a condensed season, the pitchers will have to be able to throw shorter, more consistent outings, like two-to-three innings an appearance, especially if the schedule calls for six games a week. To get as many games in as possible, look for possible doubleheaders, especially during the weekends.

Junior Lou Raffaelli is the team’s talented catcher. Raffaelli has opened a lot of eyes with his defensive abilities behind the plate. Harbison will look to the impressive Raffaelli to be more of an offensive force.

“The pitchers love throwing to him,” Harbison said of Raffaelli, who made two Essex County All-Star teams at the end of last season. “He works real hard. He’s what you want in a catcher.”

Junior John Van Deventer is Raffaelli’s backup.

“He’s a big, strong kid who can hit the ball,” Harbison said.

Look for Van Deventer to get some at-bats as a designated hitter even with Raffaelli in the lineup.

Hogan is the team’s first baseman when he’s not pitching. Hogan hit an informational number last year – you know, .411 – with 30 RBI.

“He’s been in the middle of our lineup since he was a freshman,” Harbison said. “He’s a solid hitter who does a lot of good things.”
Sophomore Joe DeLanzo is the team’s starter at second base.

“He’s a very good fielder who can play anywhere on the infield,” Harbison said.

Fellow sophomore Dylan Santos, the younger brother of Trevor, is developing into a strong infielder.

“He’s come along and put himself in the conversation in the infield,” Harbison said.

Senior Justin Lucia, the quarterback of the Maroon Raiders’ football squad, is the starter at shortstop, replacing Higgins. Lucia played a ton at second base last year and hit .325 with 14 RBI.

“He’s a good natural athlete who now returns to his natural position at shortstop,” Harbison said of Lucia.

Junior Anthony Haines, another solid hitter, is the team’s mainstay at third base.

The left field duties are being shared by seniors Dan Jennings and Andrew Ponzoni and junior John Coppola.

“Ponzoni had a strong offseason,” Harbison said. “Coppola played in a lot of big games last year as a sophomore.”
Santos is the starter in centerfield. He’s one of the best all-around performers in Essex County, pitching, hitting and defending in the outfield when he’s not on the mound. Manhattan is getting a stud player next spring.

Senior Matt Connor will also see time in centerfield when Santos is on the mound.

The right field duties are being shared by junior Lou DeLitta and freshman Felix Gonzalez, who is definitely a player to watch.

“He’s a talented kid,” Harbison said of Gonzalez. “He can play everywhere, the infield, the outfield and even catcher. We’re going to try to get the kid some quality varsity exposure this year, because he has a very bright future.”

Senior Dom DiNorscio is another jack-of-all-trades utility player, playing second base, catching and designated hitter.

Needless to say, Harbison likes the makeup of his team – if and when the Maroon Raiders get the opportunity to head onto the Nutley Oval for action.

“I really think we could be better No. 1 through No. 9 in the lineup,” Harbison said. “We have fewer holes in our lineup than in past years. I think we really could be a better team than last year.”

It says a lot about the Maroon Raiders’ chances if there is such a thing as a high school baseball season this spring, thanks to the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19. If there’s baseball, count on the Maroon Raiders to be highly successful.




Senior left-hander Trevor Santos, already signed a national letter of intent to play NCAA Division I baseball next spring at Manhattan College, hopes to get the chance to lead the Nutley Maroon Raiders this spring. 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.”