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Bloomfield coach Mike Policastro points to strong pitching in the Super Essex Conference-American Division this spring, including for his own Bengals, who reached the North 1, Group 5 final in 2014. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

Max Jacobs is a rare senior on an otherwise young but still talented Millburn squad which should make noise again in both the SEC-American and in N2G4.

Livingston coach Scott Schroeder (left) has an experienced team and solid top of the rotation veteran arms, including UMass-bound senior Tyler Zuppa (31).

Penn-bound senior catcher Matt O'Neill wields one of the potent bats for the 2-time defending GNT champ Seton Hall Prep. (Photo by Richard Morris/SHP)

Weather Or Not, Baseball Here
As Essex Teams Begin Season
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

If you thought the beginning of last spring was a challenge in terms of wet and - at times - still snowy fields, try 2015 as the New Jersey high school baseball season gets underway regardless of how much the month of March has gone out like a lion.

In much of North Jersey, teams without turf have had to scramble to get much of their work done indoors, but that all will change as the start of April brings in some sunnier skies and a bit warmer temperatures.

With the emphasis finally outdoors, the question in Essex County will be who can challenge two-time defending champion Seton Hall Prep in the 83rd Greater Newark Tournament, along with in the Super Essex Conference-American Division title chase?

“I see SHP as a prime title threat because obviously they have talent,” said veteran Bloomfield coach Mike Policastro. “But, Livingston has four really solid pitchers back and most of their lineup; Nutley has some pitching returning although they will have to replace a lot in their lineup like us; and although Millburn lost a lot, they have two solid arms and both their jayvee and freshmen teams were very good so if expect “Chappy” (coach Brian Chapman) to have a super competitive team.

“Montclair will be much improved and although I don’t know much about (new American Division member) Newark Academy, I know they have a very good arm at the top of their rotation (in Mike Gibbons) and (Coach) Frank (Dasti) does a real nice job every season so I’m sure they’ll be competitive.

“Belleville may have a big hill to climb making the 2-division jump into the American, and Caldwell has gotten thrown into the fire since they have lost some pieces and – obviously – the loss of (All-Essex) catcher Hunter Smith (due to a basketball-related knee injury and subsequent ACL surgery) is huge because he was such a great player; but (Coach) Tom (Lamont) does a good job and will have them competing.”

Bloomfield, which was 21-10 last spring and reached the North 1, Group 4 sectional final vs. Roxbury, lost a great deal experience-wise from its every day lineup, but does have solid front-of-rotation pitching with seniors Jordan Guglielmino (2-1, 1.50 ERA and solid outings in the states), Anthony Frascati (4-0, 2.29 ERA) and Jason Aktas (4-2, 2.72 ERA).

A top position player returning is sophomore right fielder Danny Carter (.354 BA, 29 hits, 20 RBI), who was the 2014 Sideline Chatter Essex County "Newcomer of the Year." His big brother Mike is the centerfielder for Rutgers and a former all-state performer for the Bengals.

Livingston is pitching rich with Tyler Zuppa (UMass), Mark Silvestri (Rhode Island) and Omari Beaubien.

“We have 15 seniors on the team this year and 10 of those seniors are returning varsity players,” said Lancers’ coach Scott Schroader. “We have a lot of depth at all positions giving us many options in each game.

“I think the SEC-American is going to be fairly even this season. It looks like every team is going to be competitive and I think with the talent out there in our division that the SEC-American is going to be up for grabs!”

Millburn lost some core pieces with pitcher Evy Ruibal (Notre Dame) and shortstop Milo Freeman (Rutgers) now at the next level, but Chapman’s squad could stay very much in the mix with the return of senior Max Jacobs (right field-pitcher) and a now fully healthy Kevin Czapelski, who pitches and plays first base.

Brian Lannino is another pitcher to watch, while shortstop Ryan Adelman and center fielder Nick Minter are among the other names to keep an eye on among those who will help keep Millers baseball quite relevant in 2015.

SHP may not have an ace hurler to point to quite yet but don’t feel sorry for veteran head coach Mike Sheppard, Jr., who begins his 29 th season at the Prep, or his trusty 25 th-year assistant coach Frank Gately who will put together another deep staff led by the likes of junior Gerald DePhillips (5-0, 2.44 ERA), seniors Eric Kaufman (3-0, 1.58) and Ryan McSherry (4-1, 2.83) and the sophomore brother combo of Jamil and Jermaine Vanheyningen.

The everyday lineup is solid as usual led by Penn-bound catcher Matt O’Neill (4 HR, 21 RBI, .418 BA), UNC-Asheville-bound shortstop Alex Baratta (29 RBI, .414 BA) and Rider-bound first baseman Tyler Sanfilippo (25 RBI, .432 BA).

Newark Academy makes the jump up to the American Division this spring along with Caldwell and Belleville, led by Gibbons, the standout Lehigh-bound right-hander, shortstop Nick Martino, third baseman-pitcher Anthony Giachin, left fielder-pitcher Miles Park and first baseman-OF Brett Luing.

"Moving up to the SEC-American will definitely be challenging," said coach Frank Dasti. "We have 21 players in our entire program and 13 of them are ninth and 10th graders. Having said that, it is a challenge that we are embracing as a program. We realize we will have some growing pains, but we do not believe in making excuses.

"I feel the combination of our league and independent schedule will prepare us for our post-season tournament competition."

Looking at the SEC-Liberty, last year’s standard bearer, Cedar Grove, graduated several top seniors, including SC’s Essex County Player of the Year Paul Rufo (Binghamton) as the Panthers reached their first GNT final since 1991 and gave SHP all it could handle before being edged, 7-6, for the championship.

Reiging SC Essex County Coach Mike Valenzano’s Panthers squad still boasts power hitting first baseman Jack Benson, who had been the team’s closer in the past but can also be used on a more regular basis on the hill, plus another hard hitter in DH Wyatt Gray.

Verona, which had a fine season in 2014 under impressive first-year head coach Joe Phelan, has plenty of pitching with seniors Mike Cifaretto and Luke Connell along with very promising sophomore Colin Kiernan.

Columbia has some real talent to keep an eye on, led by SC’s runner-up as Essex Player of the Year in hard-hitting shortstop Eric Lax, who is also a veteran pitcher to bolster a deep and talented staff. Senior center fielder Ryan Murphy (26 of 29 in stolen base attempts last year) is a top lead-off hitter, while the Cougars’ potentially deep pitching includes senior lefty Jesse Evans, who pitched a gem in Columbia’s tough North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal loss at Millburn in 2014; flame-throwing, up-and-coming sophomore Danny Boehmer and another solid soph, Peter Nolet. Junior Sam Berkley could also boost the mound corps after winning four games a season ago.

West Essex has been moved down from the American Division and 20th-year coach Scott Illiano's Knights (18-9 last year) are always one to be reckoned with led by the senior Magliaro twins, shortstop-pitcher Dom (.329 BA, 20 runs in 2014) and second baseman-pitcher Luke, along with pitchers Chris Pezzuit (3-1, 3.50) and Joe Gonnella (2-1, 2.33). Wessex also has a solid catcher returning in Mike Cesare.

"After losing 13 wins on the mound to graduation, our team will hope to combine different looks," said Illiano. "The most experienced returnees are Gonnella and Pezzuti, who combined for five wins a year ago.

"We will attempt to manage a delicate balance of using everyday middle infielders in relief roles as Dom and Luke Magliaro should expect to log more than the eight innings they combined for last season."

Montclair Kimberley Academy boasts one of the county’s top batteries in Georgetown-bound catcher Joe Amato and terrific junior left-hander Conor Nolan. Hitters to watch in addition to Amato are shortstop Alex Cappitelli and left fielder Rob Wong.

Ralph Pacifico is one of the veteran skippers in Essex County as he enters his 25 th season fully healthy after a serious bout with diverticulitis last spring.

Super Essex Conference 2015 Alignment:

American Division:

Seton Hall Prep

Millburn

Nutley

Newark Academy

Caldwell

Bloomfield

Livingston

Montclair

Belleville

 

Liberty:

West Essex

Cedar Grove

East Side

Verona

North 13th Street Tech

West Orange

Columbia

MKA

Glen Ridge

 

Colonial:

Central

Shabazz

Bloomfield Tech

Weequahic

Science Park

Barringer

Orange

 

Independence:

Newark Tech

Irvington

Arts

University

Technology

Golda Och

East Orange

West Side

 

SIDELINE CHATTER 2014 ESSEX COUNTY FINAL TOP 10:

1-Seton Hall Prep (25-3)

2-Millburn (22-9)

3-Cedar Grove (22-6)

4-Bloomfield (21-10)

5-West Essex (18-9)

6-Caldwelll (20-10)

7-Nutley (17-10)

8-Verona (16-8)

9-Newark Academy (17-10)

10-Newark East Side (18-7)

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Veteran senior Jack Benson wields potent bat for Cedar Grove, which must fill a number of key spots in 2015. (Photos by Bill Allen-NJSportAction.NET)

Sophomore Colin Kiernan is one of the talented arms to watch for Verona

Eric Lax (3, right) wields one of the strongest bats in the SEC and also helps on a deep pitching staff for coach Joe Fischetti's Cougars. (Photo by Rob Lax)

MKA's 25th-year coach Ralph Pacifico is healthy and raring to go after a 2014 season that included a serious bout with diverticulitis. (Photo by Todd Mundt)

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