When Patrick Auteri and the rest of his coaching staff looked at the lack of experience within the Lyndhurst pitching staff before the season, they understood that some rough patches were likely in the team’s immediate future.
Those concerns were further magnified when senior Ethan Rodriguez, the team’s most experienced arm, went down the first week of the season due to injury, leaving Auteri to rely on a rotation entirely of sophomores.
“Coming into the year we kinda figured with what we lost pitching wise we would probably take our lumps this year, not having experienced pitching on the mound,” Auteri said. “We kinda figured as a staff that this might take a while before they get into a groove and into a comfort on the varsity level.”
Instead, the trio of Michael Rizzo, Anthony Pizzuti and Jack Nowinski have not only kept the Golden Bears’ heads above water, but in their familiar place near the top of the NJIC standings.
With road victories at Secaucus and Leonia, Lyndhurst is second in the Liberty Division at 4-1. Overall, the Golden Bears are 6-6 while playing a strong independent schedule against the likes of Bloomfield, St. Mary of Rutherford and Westwood among others.
Pizzuti leads the team with 20 strikeouts in 24 innings, Rizzo owns a 3.08 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 25 innings, while Nowinski has a stellar 1.87 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 15 innings. A fourth sophomore, lefty Matteo Morelli, held his own with four solid innings against perennial state title contender St. Mary of Rutherford on April 13.
“This sophomore group we knew had the potential,” said Auteri, who earned his 100th win as head coach in Wednesday’s victory at Leonia. “We figured it would maybe take a little while, but they’ve really stepped their games up and contributed so much.
“We’re relying on them so heavily that at times you forget about their inexperience and that they’re sophomores.”
Auteri acknowledges that his quartet of pitchers don’t have the skill to overpower hitters quite yet, but have been boosted by a strong defense up the middle in senior shortstop John Lembo and senior second baseman Vincent Auteri.
The senior mainstays have been equally impressive at the top of the Golden Bears lineup with Lembo (.469 on-base percentage, nine runs, seven stolen bases) leading off and Auteri (.469 obp, eight runs) hitting second.
“We knew coming in that it would be a strong point of our team with them coming back,” Patrick Auteri said. “You want to be strong up the middle and those two really solidify (those positions).
“With the experience they have, they both get on base, they run the bases well, they’re both fast and can steal bases, it really sets the tone for our lineup.”
Rizzo and Pizzuti split third base depending on who is on the mound. Morelli is the main first baseman, but junior DH Xavier Mieles (12-for-28) and Pizzuti could also see time at the position.
Lyndhurst has depth in the outfield Isaiah Alvarado and Greg Frangipane in center field, Ben Nowinski in right. Seniors Shane Monahan and Jason Presutti are also in the mix at right field, while seniors Cayce Lusinger and Anthony Maldonado are defensive specialists in left field.
Junior Billy Mareski, who has eight RBI, has been doing a solid job at catcher, a position that is further fortified with the return of Brian Kantor from a preseason injury as well as Justin Mayewski.
Rodriguez is another sure to see at-bats when he returns from injury.
Lyndhurst’s two-game winning streak was snapped with a loss to Wood-Ridge on Saturday at the Autism Awareness Challenge in Weehawken. The Golden Bears look to get back on track with division games at New Milford on Monday and at Harrison on Wednesday.
Learn more about the writer ...
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.)