The baseball season may be a month old, but even as the calendar turns to May, veteran Lyndhurst coach Patrick Auteri still doesn’t fully know what to expect from his Golden Bears team on a daily basis.
“One day we’re playing one of the top teams in Bergen County and we put together a great performance. But then the next day we come out and play a team that isn’t considered a top team and we play down to our competition,” Auteri said. “Through 14 games, to be 7-7, we could easily be 10-4, but we could also be 6-8 (or worse) too.”
But even with a record that isn’t what Lyndhurst envisioned before the season, Auteri remains positive in his belief that a May run is still quite possible and goals of competing for a state sectional title are still on the table.
“Obviously being 7-7 isn’t ideal for us, it’s not ideal for our program,” said Auteri. “But if we can somehow figure it out during this little stretch run, we can be a tough team to beat.”
A big reason for Auteri’s optimism resides on the mound where Lyndhurst sports the area’s top 1-2 starting pitcher tandem in Michael Rizzo and Anthony Pizzuti.
While distinctly different on the mound, both have been highly effective for the Golden Bears. Rizzo, a junior, has a 1.75 ERA, yielding just eight walks with 19 strikeouts in 32 innings. Pizzuti, a 6-foot-3 junior, sports a 1.84 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.
“Anthony definitely is the power guy. Anthony definitely strikes out more guys. He’s got the power breaking ball, the power fastball and is more of a ground ball guy,” Auteri said. “Michael is that finesse guy, but he throws all three pitches for strikes. His intelligence for the game and his hitting of spots is second to none. He’s more of a flyball pitcher. Kids go up there and he’s not overpowering, but he’s so smart and his ball moves so much that they end up having a bad swing.
“The guys know that when we have Anthony and Michael on the mound we got a shot.”
Junior Jack Nowinski, sophomore Shawn Bellenger and senior Dean Woolis are also counted upon for quality innings on the mound. Nowinski looks to bounce back and return to the form he showed as a sophomore and Bellenger is a hard thrower, who has flashed success as well.
The key, however, to a turnaround lies with an offense that has been held to three runs or less in seven games this season.
The lineup took a major hit in the preseason when projected starting first baseman Matteo Morelli suffered a season-ending injury, erasing a bat that hit .358 a year ago.
Filling in the void at first base has been senior Billy Mareski, who has hit .314 with 10 walks and a team-best 11 runs after struggling at the plate a year ago while starting at catcher.
“He’s definitely been, by far, our most improved player,” said Auteri. “He’s got a great work ethic, he’s got great leadership.”
Nowinski is the main second baseman, while Pizzuti and Rizzo share shortstop.Depending on who is pitching, Rizzo, who leads the team in RBI with 11, can also shift to shortstop.
Bellenger, who is hitting a team-high .342 with 13 walks, 10 runs and six stolen bases, is the primary third baseman, but can also shift to second base when Nowinski pitches.
Tony Frangipane, who suffered a torn ACL over the summer that cost him his senior football season, also sees some time on the infield.
Frangipane also sees some time in left field, where his twin brother Greg, has been the primary starter. Also in the mix in the corner outfield spots are seniors Justin Mayewski and Ronald Treto. Treto, has been perhaps the Golden Bears’ biggest surprise, hitting .318 to force his way into the starting right field spot.
“We tried him in the outfield when some guys were struggling. We said let’s give him a shot, and he’s made the most of it,” Auteri said. “He’s been one of our better hitters. He puts the ball in play. He’s been a big surprise.”
Senior Isaiah Alvarado starts in center field and the lefty has the ability to make things happen on the bases.
Two other seniors Xavier Mieles at designated hitter, and catcher Brian Kantor are the other primary starters. Kantor’s defense has been huge for Lyndhurst after he missed nearly the entire year due to injury.
Anthony Amaro has been a key contributor off the bench as a runner as well.
Lyndhurst played at Rutherford on May 1 then travels to Secaucus on Wednesday before a rare weekend off. The Golden Bears return from the short break with contests against perennial state powers St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Gov. Livingston.
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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.)