Joe Sorce understands the perception that comes with a 6-18 record like the one Belleville had a season ago. But as he enters his 16th season as the head baseball coach at the school, behind that record was the realization that with a little more luck, the Buccaneers could have enjoyed a different outcome.
“When you look at that record you say ‘jeez, 6-18.’ But I like to say numbers tell a story, but they don’t tell the full story,” Sorce said. “We played in eight one-run games, but we were 2-6 in them. It tells me that last year we were a couple of pitches away from maybe being 9-15 or 10-14, which really wouldn’t have been bad considering we only played a few seniors who were experienced varsity players.”
This spring, especially with a more experienced, senior-heavy roster, there’s a confidence that Belleville’s record will look quite a bit different 2022.
“A lot of these seniors were going to get time when they were sophomores, but it didn’t work out that way because of Covid,” Sorce said. “And last year was really a transition year for us since our program really only had like two players with significant varsity time.”
Leading the group of 10 seniors is shortstop Matt McCann. A year ago, McCann hit .320, while leading the team in runs (24), stolen bases (15) and walks, while bringing dependable defense as well.
“As a shortstop/leadoff hitter, he’s very valuable to us,” Sorce said. “He had a lot of good at-bats last year and at shortstop he makes the routine plays.”
Another veteran on the infield is Mike Napolitano, who will be the primary third baseman, but is also the Buccaneers’ top returning pitcher, and should also see some at first base, along with fellow senior Victor Bian.
At second base is promising sophomore Joshua Abramson. But Abramson’s role is sure to go well beyond that thanks to his versatility.
“Josh is maybe our most versatile player,” said Sorce. “He can play second, third or short and the outfield and he’s going to be a starting pitcher. Josh is going to see a lot of work at second and third.”
Seniors Matt Cardone, Colin Cook, Andre Barroso and EJ Molina could all see time on the infield depending on who is pitching on a given day.
Santiago Nunez, who saw quite a bit of varsity action last year as a freshman will be in left field. Speedy junior Jacob Mauricio will man center field. Seniors Chris Vitale and Jimmy Cicchetti should see the majority of time in right field. Sophomore James Monroig, Abramson, Molina and Isaiah Tejada could also see time there as well.
Tejada is one of three seniors vying for the starting catcher spot along with Barroso and Molina.
Napolitano headlines the rotation and brings plenty of experience to the mound.
“He was really a hard luck guy last year,” Sorce said. “He pitched really well against some really good teams. We have a lot of faith in Mike because he throws a lot of strikes.”
Abramson and Cook are expected to slide in behind Napolitano in the rotation. Monroig has shown potential as a key reliever, along with Bian and Barroso.
Belleville opens its regular season on April 1 with a short trip to neighboring rival Bloomfield. The Buccaneers begin play in the Super Essex Conference Liberty Division on April 4 at Columbia.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)