The Northern Essex County trio of Nutley, Bloomfield and Belleville has long been known as an area with plenty of baseball talent. That talent was on full display Wednesday night at the Quad County Underclassmen games in North Brunswick.
Two Observer-area athletes took home Most Valuable Player honors for their respective teams in the event, which featured players from Essex, Hudson, Middlesex and Union counties.
In one of the games, Essex and Hudson played to a 7-7 tie after nine innings. In a game with plenty of big hits and offensive moments, the biggest came from Nutley native and St. Peter’s Prep catcher Joe Haines, who launched a three-run home run off of Columbia’s Reno Spagnoli in the top of the ninth inning for the Hudson County squad.
Three walks and a wild pitch had trimmed the Essex County lead to 6-4 and with count 3-1 on Haines, the standout catcher was looking for a fastball to drive, which he certainly did.
“You’re always looking for that one and I got into a hitter’s count, 3-1,” said Haines, who has helped lead the Marauders to consecutive Hudson County championships. “I was looking to attack a fastball and he got that one in there and I was able to turn it around pretty quick. He’s a talented baseball player, but I got the best of him today.”
Haines’ blast, which disappeared into the trees beyond the centerfield fence at Community Park, gave Hudson a 7-6 lead.
Essex County would tie the game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to an error, forcing the tie.
Haines, who had a RBI single earlier in the game, was named Most Valuable Player for Hudson County.
While several hitters had big games, the night’s dominant pitching performance came from Bloomfield’s Evit Dwyer, who was the Most Valuable Player for Essex County.
The towering 6-foot-5 right-hander struck out six of the seven batters he faced. Dwyer, who went 9-1 this spring for the Bengals, was deceptive with his fastball, then left multiple hitters shaking their head at being exposed to his devastating curveball.
“I had a couple of good curveballs, but most importantly, I just located the fastball to set up the curveball,” said Dwyer, who helped lead Bloomfield to the North 1, Group 4 final. “It’s exciting. You know you have two innings so just go out there and just throw, do the best you can. Having the scouts there just gives an added pressure to perform well.”
While everyone who stepped on the field experienced some added pressure, arguably no one on any of the four teams had more to prove than the Belleville tandem of Crismel Deleon and Ayden Carrero.
No Belleville player had been selected to the event since 2015.
“The first time (head coach Joe Sorce) told me, I couldn’t believe it,” said Deleon, one of just two freshmen selected to the Essex County team. “It was pretty cool. It made me realize that I have a lot of talent. And for the next three years, I’m looking forward to a lot of big things.”
“If you make it to an all-star game, you have to try to prove that you belong there,” said Carrero, a sophomore infielder.
Carrero and Deleon may have initially been overlooked due to Belleville being in a weaker division, the Super Essex Conference’s Colonial Division, but they showed they belonged on this night.
Deleon reached base in both of his plate appearances, singling to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning, then drawing a walk in the seventh. Carrero was hit by a pitch in the sixth and later hit into a fielder’s choice ground out in the seventh.
“They were both pretty excited when I told them,” Sorce said. “They were honored, they were excited, but the moment wasn’t too big for them.
“These two guys really epitomize the group we have right now. Good kids who want to play baseball, who want to work hard and want to get better.”
Nutley first baseman Erik Thompson had a RBI groundout in the bottom of the sixth inning for Essex County.
This year marked the 13th edition of the event, which started as the Essex vs. Union Underclassmen Game in 2010. In 2018, it was expanded to a two-game event with teams from Hudson and Middlesex County included.
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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.)