Photos by Steve Ellmore: Nutley vs. Livingston, GNT championship game, May 20, at Doc Goeltz Field in Verona.
NUTLEY, NJ – As the head baseball coach at Nutley High School, Bob Harbison has had a number of thrills.
But for Harbison, the 2018 diamond campaign will always be one to savor. After a losing season last spring, Nutley bounced back strong this spring and ended with a top mark of 21-9. Nutley made it to the finals of the Greater Newark Tournament against Livingston, and won a pair of games in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament before bowing to eventual Group 3 champion Somerville.
“I’m already looking forward to 2019,” said Harbison. “We’ll lose a few good kids due to graduation, but we’ll have a pretty good nucleus returning. I think the major area we have to improve on for next year, is to hit a little bit better. We have to replace a couple of guys in the outfield, but I like the fact that we’ll have some quality pitchers returning.”
Leading the way for Nutley in 2018 was junior shortstop/pitcher Marty Higgins, a kid who is already committed to St. John’s University. Higgins, who also excels in basketball, hit a robust.450 and belted five homers and 15 doubles, and knocked in 29 runs.
“Marty can do everything well,” said Harbison, who was a top player in his day. “I really think he has a bright future in the game.”
Interestingly, this fall Higgins will go out for the football team. With the kind of arm he has, the youngster could end up as the starting QB.
“I enjoyed playing football when I was younger,” said Higgins, “so I decided I want to play the sport in high school.”
Higgins, along with sophomore pitcher/left fielder Trevor Santos, wa a first team All-Super Essex Conference-American Division selection. Santos, a talented southpaw, went 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA. The youngster chalked up 47 strikeouts in only 34 innings.
Nutley, which upset heavily favored Seton Hall Prep in the GNT semifinals, had five other selections on the all-conference team. Senior center fielder Pete Lopez, sophomore third baseman/first baseman Kevin Hogan and junior hurler Josh O’Neill were second team picks, and junior pitcher John Luberto and senior first baseman/left fielder Wayne Wittmann were honorable mention choices.
“We were successful because a lot of guys contributed,” remarked Harbison, who has great respect for such top Essex County coaches as Brian Chapman of Millburn and Dennis Sasso of Caldwell. “Hey, in our second round game in the states against Chatham, we pulled it out at the very end of the game when Higgins and Hogan belted solo homers. We had three frustrating losses against Livingston, but in just about every other game, we thought we could always come back to get the win.”
Lopez, the lead-off hitter, batted a solid .326. The other key senior, Wittmann, was below .250, but proved to be very valuable in the field.
On the hill, O’Neill went 5-3 and had a fine ERA of 1.83. He racked up 63 strikeouts in only 49 ⅔ innings. Luberto went 4-3 and was another strikeout man for Nutley.
Hogan, who figures to be the big bat in the 2019 lineup along with Higgins, batted .351 and had two dingers and 24 RBI.
“You need a team effort to succeed in our league,” said Harbison. “We really go up against some quality competition.”
DIAMOND NOTES – This summer, several Nutley kids are playing in a Developmental League that involves Essex and Union county teams. Nutley plays against the Essex County teams… Higgins is a Yankees fan, but has great respect for Mike Trout. In summer ball for a tri-state club, he wants to improve his arm strength.