Bob Harbison can look up and down the lineup and he sees a senior-heavy group with plenty of experience. But despite that, Harbison doesn’t see any complacency within the Nutley baseball team. Instead, it’s a roster with plenty to prove after last year’s disappointing — for them at least — 10-10 record.
“There’s some guys looking to prove themselves,” said Harbison, who is entering his 19th season as head coach. “Last year was ok, we finished strong, but it would have been nice to go a little bit deeper in the (Greater Newark Tournament). There’s a lot of experience there and they’d like to showcase a little bit of what they can do out there.”
When the Raiders concluded last season with eight wins in their final 10 games, it was done primarily by an explosive offense. That will once again need to be the case for Nutley.
At the heart of the Raiders order is one of the best double play tandems in Essex County with shortstop Joe Delanzo hitting third and second baseman Dylan Santos in the cleanup spot.
Delanzo, who’s committed to play next year at Stony Brook alongside former Nutley ace Josh O’Neill, hit .346 with 12 runs and 11 RBI a season ago. Santos, a William Paterson commit who plays much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame, hit .306 while leading the team in walks and extra-base hits.
“I can only get in the way of those guys. I just have to let them play. They’ve been around baseball for as much as I have,” Harbison said. “That’s what they do. Those are my two captains, I run things through them, I communicate with them. They’re just two very knowledgeable and experienced baseball guys. They can run a team if they had to.”
Senior Ryan Gencarelli is a returning starter at third base and senior lefty Chris Pierro is the primary first baseman. Another senior, Dan Reyes, will see significant time at both first and third, depending on who is on the mound on a given day. Junior Mike Zitola will also see extensive innings on the infield as well as at designated hitter.
Senior Paul Scutti is a returning starter in center field and will hit second after tying for the team lead with 18 hits last season. In right field is junior football standout Brandon Lucia, who is poised to have a big year on the diamond.
Frank Contella has emerged as the team’s starting left fielder and leadoff hitter after a breakthrough preseason that left Harbison with no choice but to find a spot for the senior.
“He’s a smart base runner and he just gets on base whether it’s a hit by pitch or getting a walk. He’s an instinctive baseball player,” Harbison said. “I never thought of starting him at leadoff until I saw how much he was getting on base. He played himself into this opportunity.”
Junior David Sanchez will get plenty of at-bats in the outfield and Vin Miller is back as a designated runner and defensive specialist.
Behind the plate, senior CJ Hannon takes over the starting job after serving as the backup to four-year starter Lou Rafaelli. Derek Lanza will spell Hannon at times and bring pop off the bench.
While Nutley is blessed with plenty of established talent in the lineup, the rotation features far less certainty as Delanzo, last year’s ace, will be limited on the mound due to an arm injury suffered last summer.
With the Delanzo now a late-inning reliever, senior Brian Conte and Zitola have become the leaders of the Raiders’ rotation. Pierro is the lone lefty on the staff and Damian Quiles is a strike thrower, who will be asked to eat up innings.
Sal Intile, Santos and potentially Delanzo will all be coming out of the bullpen.
Nutley opened the same with losses to defending Group 4 finalist Montclair and perennial state power Seton Hall Prep before defeating St. Benedict’s on April 5.
Nutley will host West Orange on Monday before traveling to longtime rival Bloomfield in a SEC American Division showdown on Tuesday.
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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.)