NA baseball team has ‘heart & fight’

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North Arlington baseball coach Paul Marcantuono saw a competitive streak in his players from the first practice in March.

And while the Vikings dropped a 7-6 heart-breaker to Wallington in the season opener, that fight first seen during tryouts was on full display. Twice, North Arlington rallied to tie the game, including the top of the seventh inning when it erupted for four runs to tie the game at 6.

“I think our kids have a lot of heart and hustle and fight,” said Marcantuono, now in his 15th season as head coach. “We were down twice in that game and we came back. I love that fight in them. I do think that we’re going to be very competitive in the league and in all the games that we play this year and hopefully make some noise in the playoffs.”

Marcantuono believes that competitive nature comes from having 34 kids in the program, ensuring no one’s job is handed without being earned.

It also has created a level of depth the Vikings have rarely enjoyed as one of the smaller schools in the NJIC.

Marcantuono has eight pitchers he has confidence in sending to the mound at any time, allowing him to keep arms fresh throughout the spring.

“It’s awesome because they’ve pitched really, really well against some tough teams in the preseason, which really opened my eyes a little bit this year,” Marcantuono said. “We’re trying to keep pitch counts at a reasonable number and bring younger pitchers along.”

Headlining the collection of hurlers is junior Devin Rivas.

Rivas, who threw for 1,917 yards and 16 touchdowns this football season at quarterback, is a power arm, capable of racking up strikeouts in bunches.

“Devin is a hard thrower, he’s a strikeout pitcher,” Marcantuono said. “He’s a power pitcher we’re going to use for 75-80 pitches a game when he’s out there.”

Behind Rivas are two veteran seniors in Eddie Ortiz (29 strikeouts in 25⅔ innings last year) and Oscar Torres (34 strikeouts in 30⅔ innings). Seniors Pedro Hernandez and Angel Elliott, as well as junior Kyle Villani and sophomores Robert Carselda and Kevin Zidiak are also going to be counted on to provide meaningful innings.

They’ll be throwing to senior Christian Gerace, who shifts back to catcher after playing third base last season. Gerace was an All-NJIC Meadowlands selection last year after hitting .329 with 22 runs, 19 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 12 extra-base hits and a .457 on-base percentage.

“He’s becoming a vocal leader on this team and a leader by example,” Marcantuono said. “He’s very vocal on the field and in the dugout. He’s like my coach out there, saying the right things and doing the right things.”

Gerace is one of the few players who has one set position.

Where most of the others will play varies by who is on the mound on a given day or who needs to rest after pitching earlier.

“You have to have a bunch of people that are utility players, ‘You never know where you’re going to play,’” said Marcantuono. “I tell the kids if you have an extra glove, bring it because you never know where you’re going to play.”

First base and designated hitter in particular will be based largely on who is pitching, but Arias, Iker Bouzas and Nate Smith are the primary options at first base. Elliott is the main second baseman with Alijah Rodriguez also seeing time. Torres will start at third base, but Hernandez and Robert Kairys will also see action at the hot corner.

One position, however, that is set in stone is shortstop with Carselda. A part-time outfielder as a freshman, Carselda is poised for a breakthrough season, especially defensively.

“Robert’s just a super athlete with a really strong arm,” Marcantuono said. “He can get to a lot of baseballs and he’s just super athletic. He’s going to be the shortstop for the next three years.”

Villani is the starter in centerfield and Ortiz will see a lot of time at one of the corner spots. Also vying for at-bats in the outfield will be Zidiak, Gerald Lawless, Sean McGeehan, Bernie Pimentel and Matt O’Mara.

North Arlington looks to bounce back on Tuesday at Hasbrouck Heights, then travels to Becton two days later. The Vikings’ first home game of the season is Saturday when it hosts Fort Lee.

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)