Spring sports begin preseason with lots of optimism, good weather

Gomez Copyright 2017

The start of the spring sports season comes with plenty of hope and optimism, but for several coaches, those feelings are also joined with a sense of dread due to the fickle March weather leaving large parts of the preseason in shared gym spaces rather than outside.

Thanks to an unusually warm stretch, Observer-area teams were able to soak in the sun during the first official week of the preseason, which only added to an already strong sense of optimism around the area.

“(As a coaching staff) we always say an hour outside is better than three hours in the gym,” North Arlington baseball coach Paul Marcantuono said. “The kids are excited, especially the ones coming out of basketball and other indoor sports. Just to get outside and practice is a big deal. You get a lot done outside and it’s just nice, especially with baseball in the northeast.”

According to Marcantuono the warm weather and outside practices are especially beneficial for pitchers as they build up endurance leading up to the start of the regular season on April 1. In the case of North Arlington that should prove advantageous for senior hurlers Robert Carselda and Kevin Zidiak as the Vikings look to build upon last year’s 12-13 campaign in which it won 12 of the final 18 games.

“We started off rough, but we wound up winning 12 out of the 18 games  with some big victories in there,” said Marcantuono. “I think they have a lot of confidence. We’re looking to get off to a better start and just compete throughout the season as opposed to three quarters of the season, which I think they did a really good job after we got off to that rough start.”

North Arlington isn’t the only local team set to rely on veteran arms this spring. Fellow NJIC – National Division foe Lyndhurst is set to return senior aces Anthony Pizzuti and Michael Rizzo. William McChesney is set to be the ace at Kearny, while Sean Walsh and Ayden Carrero are back for a Belleville team that won the SEC Colonial Division last year. Also in Essex County, Nutley is set to return nearly its entire pitching staff, while Bloomfield, which reached the North 1, Group 4 final last spring, will rely heavily upon aces Evit Dwyer and Evan Fried to lead a lineup that is one of the youngest the Bengals have ever had.

While softball doesn’t rely on the depth of pitching that baseball does, the mild temperatures proved equally beneficial, especially for a Lyndhurst team that is set to have just one senior as well as multiple underclassmen set to play varsity for the first time.

“It makes a huge difference,” said head coach Diana Autieri. “The girls, they’re excited, although I explained to them the (potential) adversity of the weather, but they were counting down the days walking past my office saying four days left, three and then, so they were definitely excited to be outside especially.”

Leading the group of underclassmen is sophomore catcher Gianna Lembo, who burst onto the scene with 22 stolen bases and a team-high .368 average last season.

In North Arlington, the Vikings bring back one of the NJIC’s most feared hitters in Rhi’anna Gomez, who hit .562 with a 1.203 slugging percentage and 30 RBI for the Vikings. Gomez and Kyra Garcia should be a potential 1-2 combination in the North Arlington lineup.

Harrison should also have a strong offensive attack again this season with the return of junior shortstop Hailey Scocco back after breaking out for a .413 average with four homers last season as are pitching Danica Carr and Rebecca Sardinha.

Sara Ryan will once again be a fixture in the top third of the Kearny lineup after her second consecutive 30-plus hit season.

In Essex County, Nutley should be much improved as juniors Lola Thompson, Skye Stoeckel, Gabriella Mariano and Sianna Kantor all saw extensive action last year against some of the state’s top teams. Belleville’s Nina Gemino (.510 average, 41 runs scored), Deanna McIntosh and Anniyah Thompson all return to lead what should be a potent Belleville offense. Bloomfield should also plate plenty of runs as six of its top seven hitters from a season ago return, led by Rylie Fabrazzo, who hit .490.

Last week was also the first week of practices for boys tennis, lacrosse and boys volleyball, where Kearny and Harrison could be on a collision course for a third straight matchup in the Hudson County final. Belleville should remain in the mix in Essex County, while Nutley looks to build off of a strong second season of varsity volleyball last spring.

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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.)