CEDAR GROVE, NJ — A large contingent of returning players will be Cedar Grove's strong suit as they kick off their 2017 campaign as a team that has the prospects to do some damage in the Super Essex Conference (SEC) Liberty division. 

Coming off of a 14-15 2016 season in which the Panthers fell to Wood-Ridge in the state sectional semifinals under then-first year head coach Randy Nelson, there is much to look forward to in 2017. 

One of the brightest spots will be the arms on the mound.  

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While the Panthers lost several seniors last season, the team restocks with seven key returning players. Of those returners, two are the team’s top pitchers, and pitching something in which the is a Panthers should excel. Nick Picinich and Shane Benson, both juniors, should see plenty of time on the mound this season and contribute strongly to the team’s success. Pitching was strength for Cedar Grove last year, as well. The Panthers allowed an average of just 6.3 runs per game in the 2016 campaign. 

Offensively, it’s a bit of a different story for the Panthers. Cedar Grove graduated 10 seniors last year, including the first six in its batting order. 

“We have to replace a lot of offense, and we graduated 10 seniors including the first 6 batters in our lineup, so guys will have to step up and hit for us to be successful,”  Nelson said.

A senior presence in the batter’s box should be to the Panthers’ benefit. Senior infielder Joe Rufo and senior outfielders Chris Napolitano and Marco Pantusa will look to lead and replenish the offense. Juniors infielder Jake Ferrara and catcher Dennis Mitola are also big bats that will try to provide run support for the Panthers. 

Other players Nelson expects to contribute this season are Nick Ginolfi, Sr. 1B/OF, Bill Capasso, Sr. 1B/P, Ryan Turi, Jr. 3B, Joe Kubu, Jr. P/1B and Ray Williams, So. P/INF

Cedar Grove will see a fair share of strong teams on its schedule this year, which will make for plenty of good tests for the Panther squad. Key games against ranked Essex County powers include two contests (home and road) against Bloomfield Tech and West Orange, in addition to clashes with Verona, West Orange and Newark Academy. 

Cedar Grove’s Opening Day is on Sat., April 1, when the Panthers host West Essex at 11 a.m.