NUTLEY – Year in and year out, you can always expect the Nutley High School varsity baseball team to contend for conference, county and state championships.
But this spring, fans have reason to feel extra excited about the Raiders.
That’s because the team is loaded with Division 1 college players who were instrumental in last season’s run at the county title in the Greater Newark Tournament. Nutley, seeded fourth, was runner-up in the GNT, losing to No. 3 seed Livingston, 8-3. The Raiders, seeded second, advanced to the semifinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 state tournament where it fell to third-seeded Somerville, 6-1, to end with a 21-9 record.
NHS head coach Bob Harbison, entering his 16th year at the helm, has no doubts about his team’s pitching, led by senior Stony Brook-bound Josh O’Neill and senior Rutgers-bound Johnny Luberto. O’Neill struck out 63 batters in 49 innings pitched to make Second Team All-Super Essex Conference-American Division last year. Luberto made Honorable Mention All-SEC-American a year ago.
The key will lie in clutch hitting. In the GNT final and in the sectional semifinals, Harbison noted that the Raiders were limited offensively against quality pitching.
“These kids have shown that they can pitch at this level,” Harbison said. “Offensively, we still need to prove we get some runs across against some good pitching, and we’re going to see good pitching all year.”
Harbison said limiting their strikeouts, putting the ball in play and running the bases well are the factors that will make the Raiders better offensively.
The Raiders boast one of the top players in the area in Marty Higgins. The senior shortstop, who signed with St. John’s, has been much heralded since his freshman year. Last year, he had 44 hits with five homers and 28 RBIs to make First Team All-Super Essex Conference-American Division.
Higgins’ talent is unquestionable, but it’s his desire to improve that has Harbison extremely delighted.
“Marty does everything well,” said Harbison, noting Higgins also will see time on the mound. “He really did a good job at, not only being a good player, but improving where he need to do improving. He runs very well now.”
The rest of the infield is experienced. Junior first baseman Kevin Hogan made Second Team All-SEC-American last season. Junior second baseman Justin Lucia also returns. Lucia was the starting quarterback for the NHS football team last fall.
Senior third baseman Tyler Genitempo also has improved his hitting, noted Harbison. Sophomore Lou Raffaeli started at catcher last year.
The outfield comprises junior left felder Matt Connor, junior returning center fielder Trevor Santos and senior right fielder Eli Acosta, a standout wide receiver who will play football at Rowan University. Acosta last spring was also a top track and field athlete for NHS who broke the school high jump record.
When they are not in the outfield, Santos and Acosta also will pitch. Santos made First Team Al-SEC-American in 2018.
Joining the team in the outfield is junior transfer Pete Haverick from Paramus Catholic. Haverick must sit out the first 30 days per state transfer rule.
Junior Andrew Budine and sophomore JakeWalsh are other pitchers.
Junior lefty-hitter Dan Jennings will see time in the outfield as well as DH, while junior third baseman Matt Jaworski, senior first baseman Connor Genitempo, Tyler’s twin, and junior catcher Dominick DeNorcia will also contribute.
The Raiders recognize the challenges of competing in the Super Essex Conference-American Division, with the likes of state perennial powerhouses Seton Hall Prep and Millburn. With that in mind, Harbison has stressed the importance of teamwork and taking it one day at a time.
“:In this conference, you have to play baseball the right way. So if everybody plays for each other… then we can do well,” he said. (We have to) take everybody seriously.”
Nutley will open the season April 1 at Livingston in a SEC-American Division game. The other teams in the SEC-American are West Essex, Columbia and Montclair.
April 1, at Livingston, 4 p.m.
April 3, Columbia, 4 p.m.
April 5, at Bloomfield, 4 p.m.
April 6, Montville, 11 a.m.
April 8, at Seton Hall Prep, 4 p.m.
April 10, Montclair, 4 p.m.
April 12, at West Essex, 4 p.m.
April 13, Memorial, 11 a.m.
April 15, at Millburn, 11 a.m.
April 16, at Hasbrouck Heights, 4 p.m.
April 17, Livingston, 4 p.m.
April 20, Rutherford, 11 a.m.
April 22, at Columbia, 4 p.m.
April 26, West Orange, 4 p.m.
April 27, at Kearny, 11 a.m.
April 29, Seton Hall Prep, 4 p.m.
April 30, Bayonne, 4 p.m.
May 2, at Don Bosco Prep, 7 p.m.
May 6, at Montclair, 4 p.m.
May 7, at Pequannock, 4:30 p.m.
May 13, West Essex, 4 p.m.
May 15, Millburn, 4 p.m.
May 16, Pascack Hills, 4:30 p.m.
May 21, at Belleville, 7 p.m.
Photos by Steve Ellmore