By ANDY LOIGU
Veteran coaches Gary Poyer and Jim Haupt have led their Hackettstown and North Warren baseball teams, respectively, to numerous sectional finals and have developed accomplished players who went on to excel at the college level.
Their Tigers and Patriots will meet in an early-season test on Friday afternoon in Blairstown, as another exciting season gets underway.
“The difference for us will be on the mound,” said Poyer of his Tigers’ hopes. “We have veteran hitters and fielders, but young arms.” The Tigers were 14-8 last season.
Senior All-State Group 2 outfielder Jake Hall will be asked to lead the team with his arm, as well as his bat, this season. Jake can rake, as his 10 home runs and 500-plus on-base percentage last season will attest, and his rocket launcher disguised as an arm kept runners from taking liberties on the bases.
This year he will also be counted on as a starting pitcher. Hall has committed to play for County College of Morris for next year and is likely to get many offers down the road when he becomes eligible for transfer.
Joining Jake in the outfield are seniors Matt Arcona in center and Wayne Evans in left. Evans had the clutch game-winning run batted in at Jefferson last spring, against the state ranked Falcons. Arcona and fourth outfielder Chris Pert will also share mound duty. Unlike softball, where one or two consistent pitchers can carry a team through a full season, baseball requires a deep pitching staff. John Melton will also see some outfield and pinch runner pinch hitter duty.
Alex Rodriguez (no, not THAT Alex Rodriguez) will anchor the infield at first base, with Jakob Melton, Peyton Stewart, Dom Desiderio and Mike Danza seeing action scooping up ground balls.
Catcher Joey Rodriguez will also be counted on to be one of the mainstays of the Tigers’ pitching corps.
“Depth is a problem this year,” said North Warren coach Haupt, “but the desire of this team is off the charts.” Senior pitcher, catcher, and third baseman Hunter DePrimo posted a 1.89 ERA and sizzling .392 batting average last season. Senior shortstop and pitcher Jared Vuz and second baseman Ron Lubertazzo batted .319 and .299 last year for the Patriots, who hope to develop varsity talents at the other positions.
Belvidere lost seven starters but coach Aaron Feldman hopes that senior shortstop and outfielder Jake Thornton can lead the team while the young players mature. Thornton batted .438 with 20 RBI and 14 extra-base hits last season.
Terrell Tutka, James Geier, and sophomore Sam Myerchin will pitch and alternate at several defensive positions for Big Red.
The Blue Streaks of Warren Hills have 10 departing players and respected veteran coach Mike Quinto to replace. Among the players who graduated from last year’s group are Anthony Veneziano, who is now pitching for defending college national champion Coastal Carolina.
The new coach is former Blue Streaks player Joe Blackford, who served as a varsity assistant for the past four seasons.
Senior pitcher, infielder and outfielder Peter Warsen leads a pitching staff that includes seniors Kevin Smith, Chris Bell, juniors Tommy Moore, PJ Hanisak, Luke Fournier, sophomores Bryce Kastra, Garrett Koch, Dylan Henderson and freshman Jacob Smith.
Also, Kevin Smith plays second base, Jacob Smith plays the outfield, Bell plays first base, Moore plays third base, Hanisak is a catcher, Kastra is a shortstop, Koch is an outfielder and Henderson plays several outfield and infield positions, which gives him a valuable utility role.
Hackettstown and North Warren play in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference. The Tigers are in the Freedom Division and North Warren is in the Colonial Division.
Warren Hills, scheduled to play Hackettstown at the Somerset Patriots’ minor league stadium on April 29, is a member of the Skyland Conference Valley Division.
Belvidere, which had a 14-10 record last season, plays in the Skyland Conference Mountain Division.
Spring has sprung. PLAY BALL!
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.