Belleville baseball set to defend SEC Colonial title with experienced group

Joe Sorce knows that his Belleville baseball team might have taken some people by surprise last spring when it went 20-7 and won the Super Essex Conference – Colonial Division title with a very young roster.

With much of that group back this spring, that past success comes with an understanding that this version of the Buccaneers won’t be able to sneak up on anyone as they begin their title defense.

“They know that and we really hit home with these kids in the offseason that you got to realize you are the hunted now,” Source said. “We won our league last year, so everybody’s looking at us. They’re looking at us and saying ‘Belleville’s the team to beat,’ if we are or we’re not. It doesn’t matter.”

With all, but one starter back from a lineup that averaged nine runs per game, the offense should once again be the strength for the Bucs.

That offensive firepower again start at the top of the lineup with sophomore third baseman Crismel Deleon (.361 average with 21 walks, three homers, 27 stolen bases and 35 runs) expected to lead off and junior shortstop Ayden Carrero (.405 average with 33 runs, 21 RBI and 23 stolen bases) set to hit second.

Both are viewed as two of Essex County’s top up-and-coming talents.

“Those two guys, batted one, two last year, did a great job, and they’re most likely going to start the year in that role,” said Sorce. “And we’ll go from there with that.”

While the specific order is to be determined, Source knows the middle of the Bucs’ lineup will be a combination of Josh Abramon, Santiago Nunez, Jordan Rosario and Sean Walsh.

Abramson, a senior captain and outfielder, hit .333 with 22 runs and 17 stolen bases. Rosario, a junior who hit .409 with 18 RBI, can and will play all over the infield and outfield. Walsh, a sophomore 1B/OF, hit .329. Nunez, a left-handed junior, hit .406 in limited action and is set to play primarily first base and designated hitter.

Junior Rafael Matos, who hit .308 and 17 runs scored last year, will also be in the mix at first base, but is expected to see a lot more time in the outfield than a season ago. Junior Derek Gonzalez (21 runs), is another guy with extensive infield experience, who could see time in the outfield. Senior Bernie Fajardo and promising sophomores Marcos Atehortua and Jordan Armstrong could as well.

Gonzalez and Rosario shared second base last year. Senior Luis Deleon will see time at third base and both Atehortua and Armstrong will be in the mix all over the infield.

Junior Ariancy Paulino and senior Marino Perez are once again set to share the catching duties with freshman Damir Giddens vying for a role behind the plate.

On the mound, Belleville will once again rely heavily upon its bullpen to get through games. A big reason for that is the one-two combo of senior captain James Monroig, who had a 1.99 ERA in 24 2/3 innings and Perez who posted a 1.19 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.

“James pitched in, I believe, 13 games last year,” Sorce said. James was one of our top guys. When you can get one of your top guys on the mound in that many games, even in short work and ending two innings, two outs, whatever it is, that’s huge.

“Our bullpen really was a key to our success last year because James and Marino coming in games really shutting it down and sometimes using both of them, that was big for us.”

Luis Deleon (3.50 ERA in 16 innings) and Armstrong should further bolster the bullpen as relievers while also getting a start or two in weeks with four or five games.

Walsh, who had a 3.60 ERA in 44 2/3 innings, is once again the top starter on the mound, with Abramson and Carrero are also back in the Bucs’ rotation.

Belleville begins the regular season on April 1 at home against Cedar Grove in a matchup of the Colonial Division’s top two teams a year ago. Division games at Newark Academy and Newark Tech follow with a home independent contest against Verona on Saturday, April 6.

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)