There’s no question that the Nutley High School baseball team is better than the 2-5 record the Maroon Raiders have achieved thus far in the early stages of the season.
“Yeah, but everyone thinks they’re better than 2-5,” said veteran Nutley head coach Bob Harbison. “I don’t know about our team. Do I think the record should be better? Of course. But we’ve played like a 2-5 team. I think a lot of people are in the same boat. We have kids who never played varsity baseball before. I think it’s a case if you play well, you win. It sounds simple, but it’s true.”
The Maroon Raiders were given the No. 9 seed in the Greater Newark Tournament and were supposed to face No. 8 seeded Bloomfield, a team that already defeated the Maroon Raiders earlier in the season, Saturday, but the game was postponed due to rain until Monday night after press time.
“We haven’t received a lot of offense,” Harbison said. “But they’re coming around now. I really didn’t know who was who on this team. Even the kids I knew, I didn’t know because of the shortened preseason. We’re seven games into this season. I’m now beginning to see who can do what.”
One of the players that Harbison knows he can count on now is junior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Joe Delanzo, who has already declared his intentions to play college baseball at Stony Brook University when his playing days are done, just like former Maroon Raider standout Josh O’Neill.
Delanzo has been a pleasant surprise on the mound, having collected 18 strikeouts in 12 innings of work.
“He throws it pretty hard,” Harbison said of Delanzo. “I was hoping to use him more as a closer, but he’s now become one of our top starters.”
Another top hurler is senior right-hander Jake Walsh, who has been on the unfortunate side in losses to Bloomfield and Montclair.
“But Jake held Seton Hall Prep to only one unearned run,” Harbison said. “The kid throws strikes.”
Walsh, the football standout headed to Sacred Heart University to play football, has also struck out 18 batters thus far to only four walks.
Senior right-hander Billy Searle, the All-State football player committed to play at Wilkes University in the fall, has made his presence felt on the mound.
“He’s been coming out of the pen for us,” Harbison said. “He throws it hard and throws strikes.”
Junior righty Brian Conte is another Maroon Raider hurler.
“He pitched five good innings against West Essex,” Harbison said. “He throws his off-speed pitches for strikes and gets ground balls.”
Junior lefty Chris Pierro was thought to be a top starter, but he’s battling control issues.
“He has good enough stuff to be one of our starters,” Harbison said. “But he needs to work on throwing strikes.”
Junior righty Alex Sanchez is another promising pitcher.
“He also throws strikes,” Harbison said. “His ball has a lot of movement on it.”
Senior Ryan Breihof is another right-hander in the arsenal, as is junior righty Jonathan Velez and sophomore righty Mike Zitola.
The team’s catcher is senior Lou Raffaele, who has been a staple backstop since his freshman year. Raffaele is batting .409 in the early going and he has already committed to play baseball at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. in the fall.
“It’s really a plus to have a kid with that much varsity experience,” Harbison said. “He knows what we want and calls all the games.”
Senior Anthony Haines, the three-sport standout (football, wrestling, baseball) is the first baseman after playing third in 2019.
“He’s made the move over from third and become a pretty good defensive first baseman,” Harbison said. “He’s a natural third baseman though.”
Junior Dylan Santos, the younger brother of former Maroon Raider ace hurler Trevor Santos (now at Manhattan College) is the starting second baseman. He’s batting .368 in the early going with two doubles and a home run.
“He’s a terrific defensive second baseman,” Harbison said. “He’s a better player than I thought he would be. The ball jumps off his bat. He’s a good baseball player.”
Delanzo plays shortstop when he’s not pitching. When Delanzo is on the mound, Santos slides over to play short.
Junior Ryan Gencarelli is the team’s third baseman who has delivered some big hits in the clutch already. Junior Daniel Reyes should see some time at third base.
The left fielder is junior Paul Scutti, who is the team’s leadoff hitter. Senior Zach Sanchez, no relation to Alex, is the centerfielder and a transfer from a school in Brooklyn. Sanchez is a speedy centerfielder with “a cannon for an arm,” according to Harbison. Sophomore Brandon Lucia, the younger brother of former Nutley quarterback in the fall and outfielder in the spring, is making his way as a Maroon Raider right fielder.
“He does things the right way,” Harbison said. “He’s a big, strong athlete who swings the bat hard.”
Junior Vinny Miller is another dependable athlete. So is junior Frankie Contella. Both Miller and Contella are outfielders.
Junior C.J. Hannon is the backup catcher, but Harbison uses him all over the field. Senior John VandeVenter is a dependable outfielder.
Breihof is a first baseman and designated hitter who has hit his way into the lineup.
“He’s swinging the bat well and has earned that spot in the lineup,” Harbison said of Breihof, who is hitting a team-high .455 with four doubles and a triple. “He got the opportunity and he’s now staying in the lineup.”
Harbison is encouraged by what he sees.
“I think we’re getting better,” Harbison said. “I think we’re doing the little things now that they weren’t disciplined enough to do. They have learned to react better.”
And that should lead to more wins. Just how many? It’s anyone’s guess.
Junior Brian Conte has emerged as one of the top pitchers on the Nutley baseball team. 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.”