At a smaller Group 1 program like North Arlington, head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono knows that versatility is key to navigating through a 25-game season.
A look at the Vikings’ roster shows a group of players who will be asked to do multiple things and field multiple positions.
“I tell the kids this all the time, be baseball players. Don’t say ‘oh I’m a shortstop or I only play the outfield.’ Be baseball players. Be versatile,”Marcantuono said. “Even at practice, go take a few fly balls if you’re an infielder. Show the coaches that you can play any position if I have to shuffle people around mid-game. You’re not just a shortstop, you’re not just a first baseman or a catcher. Be versatile, be baseball players. That’s the thing we’ve been stressing to them.”
The result is a team where virtually everyone can and will be asked to play different spots on a game by game basis.
A big reason for that baseball equivalent of musical chairs is the depth of pitching options North Arlington has, the most Marcantuono has ever had.
The Vikings return three starting pitchers from last year’s rotation. Juniors Robert Carselda (4.06 ERA, 36 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings) and Kevin Zidiak (2.96 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings) lead the way along with senior Devin Rivas (5.12 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 26 innings), a Southern Connecticut State football commit.
“Devin, Kevin and Robert threw the bulk of the innings on the staff last year and we’re leaning on them to be ready to go and take the next step,”said Marcantuono. “Robert pitched some big games for us as a sophomore. He’s a competitor and will be pitching in big games for us. Same with Devin (Rivas), same with Kevin Zidiak.”
Junior Nate Smith and Senior Kyle Villani are also set for bigger roles, with Villani in particular opening some eyes with the way he’s improved as a pitcher this preseason. In addition, freshmen Jesse Calfayan and Chris Troyano have pitched themselves into prominent roles as well.
Another freshman, Luis Ramos, as well as sophomore Rohan Patel and junior Luka Ziakos are also in line to pitch meaningful innings.
“We’re going to piece together games with the pitchers we have because they’re all capable of throwing innings,” Marcantuono said. “That’s what we’re leaning towards. Starters, openers, closers, it doesn’t matter, it’s whenever we need you, that’s where we’re going.
Back behind the plate for the Vikings is Robert Kairys, who is a returning starter that has made significant strides defensively.
“Robert Kairys behind the plate has taken some very big jumps defensively,” said Marcantuono. “We’re all pretty impressed with him.”
Zidiak, who hit .367 a season ago, will be a fixture in the lineup whether it’s at first base or at a corner outfield spot. Ziakos and Patel are also vying for time at first base.
Another lineup mainstay is Carselda (.260, 19 runs, 12 stolen bases), who will get the majority of the starts at shortstop. Cafayan will also see significant time at the position and has a very bright future.
Troyano will be the primary starter at third base with Rivas also in the mix at the hot corner. Second base is currently being shared by senior Alijah Rodriguez and freshman Luis Ramos.
Villani (.290, 13 runs, 13 RBI, seven stolen bases), is a returning starter in center field, while Smith will be in one of the corners on most days after hitting .345 in limited action last year. Zidiak, Gerald Lawless, Troyano and Rodriguez will also be in the mix in the outfield.
Bernie Pimentel will be part of a rotation at designated hitter, depending on who recently pitched.
Also vying for at-bats are Matt Green, Justin Hayashida, Sam Rosamilia and Julian Moya.
North Arlington began its season on Monday, April 3 with a home contest against Hoboken followed by a road game with New Milford. NJIC National Division play begins for the Vikings on April 10 against Rutherford before going to St. Mary (Ruth.) the next day.
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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.)