These North Jersey baseball teams got off to surprise starts in April (2024)

Greg TartagliaNorthJersey.com

The simplest explanation for the rapid improvement of the Passaic baseball team is this: GPAs are up, and ERAs are down.

Third-year coach Matt Patterson guided the Indians to a 12-3 opening month, which included clinching at least a share of their first Big North Liberty title since 2016. The squad finished 10-12 a year ago and was just 6-13 in Patterson’s first season.

“This has been a magical year,” he said. “As far back as I can look, this is the best 15-game start in Passaic High School history.”

The Indians went 9-1 in the Liberty Division, splitting their opening-week series with reigning champ Passaic Tech before sweeping through the rest of their rivals. Tech was 7-1 with two divisional games remaining.

Patterson shares much of the credit with his assistant coaches, as well as Victor Rivera of the Passaic Roberto Clemente Youth Academy, which helps provide scholarships for city residents who play baseball in college.

“It’s just been an all-around approach, from inside the classroom to outside the classroom,” said Patterson, a longtime city resident who played baseball at DePaul Catholic (Class of 2003).

“Since September, we’ve had kids waking up at 6 o’clock in the morning on a daily basis, five days a week, going to tutoring. … Then there’s an indoor facility we have in Passaic that’s run by the recreation [department], where the kids have gone to work out on their own since October.”

One of the on-field payoffs is an offense that has raked, scoring roughly 10 runs per game. Two freshmen, third baseman Randis Rosario (.463 average) and shortstop Franklin Pena (16 runs scored) have helped infuse life to the lineup.

On the mound, senior James DeLaLuz (0.48 ERA) and junior Andy Rodriguez (34 strikeouts in 28 innings) have led the way. Rodriguez is also one of eight Indians to have scored double-digit runs.

“There hasn’t been one day where one person is carrying our team,” Patterson said. “Let’s say our third baseman doesn’t get it done today, he goes 0 for 3 – we have a couple of other guys who go 2 for 3 or 2 for 4 who pick up the slack.”

Here is a look at five other North Jersey teams that finished at or below .500 last year but are off to strong starts (with records through Wednesday, May 1).

Fort Lee (10-7)

Last season: 6-17

The Bridgemen qualified for the Bergen County Tournament championship bracket for the first time in program history. They made the Bergen Invitational two years ago, but an early-season five-game win streak helped them get the No. 23 seed and a first-round visit to Ramapo.

Two sophom*ores have stood out, with IF/P Jacob Greenberg (20 RBI) and C Luke Senatore (12) each batting better than .400. Greenberg also struck out 26 in his first 20 innings pitched, second only to junior Gabriel Garcia (31 IP, 29 K).

Garfield (9-6)

Last year: 6-14

The Boilermakers struggled in coach Pete Santacroce’s first season but have bounced back in a big way. Although they are the No. 24 seed in the Bergen championship bracket, they have pulled first-round upsets in each of their last two tournament appearances (2017, 2022).

Garfield’s two best victories are 6-5 against NJIC Meadowlands leader Becton and 3-1 over Paramus Catholic. Senior SS/P Brenden Baeza started both games, going 6⅓ for the win vs. PC, and he leads the team in both hits (26) and stolen bases (17).

Indian Hills (12-4)

Last season: 9-14-1

True, the Braves brought home the 2023 Bergen Invitational Tournament trophy. They also had not won 12 or more games in a season since before the pandemic, and a No. 6 seed in this spring’s championship bracket is their best in 10 years.

Senior IF/P Brody Diers leads the team in hits (29) and runs batted in (17) and played a key role in their mid-April sweep of Ramsey. Meanwhile, senior P Owen Fadini has had a hand in both Indian Hills’ shutouts this year, including a 1-0 upset of Westwood earlier this week.

Midland Park (11-3)

Last season: 12-12

Again, a .500 record is solid for most teams. In the Panthers’ case, it snapped a string of six consecutive winning seasons. But what makes this year’s start that much more remarkable is the roster.

Midland Park lost two key players to transfers and has just 15 players in the program, meaning no JV this year. Two of its three losses are by one run, and four regulars are batting .390 or better: senior Jimmy Caltabellatta Sr (.435), juniors Anthony Carrea (.444, 17 RBI) and Ryan Fleming (.395, 18 runs) and sophom*ore Ralph Caprio (.450, 2 triples).

Passaic Valley (10-6)

Last season: 12-16-1

Perhaps the Hornets are not the prototypical “surprise” team, since they reached the 2023 Passaic County semifinals. However, their strong start has to be a welcome sight as they seek their first winning record since 2018.

Coach Jay Tiseo’s team has defeated each of its Big North Independence rivals once after finishing 3-7 in the division a year ago. Senior CJ Georgiou (2.29), who pitched four scoreless outings in five county/state tournament games last year, and junior Jake Delaney (2.04) have the staff’s best earned-run averages.

These North Jersey baseball teams got off to surprise starts in April (2024)

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