Hills Football: Part 3, Preparing for Paramus; Vigorito and Hogan know what’s on the line

This is the third in a series of blogs leading up to Wayne Hills High School’s big football game on Oct. 24, at home, against Paramus. A win could move the Patriots into the playoffs for a 20th straight year, while a setback most likely eliminates it from post-season consideration.

During the week, we’ll have a series of blogs, highlighting a lot of work, behind the scenes, of the proud program in Wayne, as the Patriots gear for a visit from the Spartans. 

Part 3, Vigs and Hoags getting ready. Oct. 22, 6 p.m.

Anthony Vigorito, a senior at Hills, is one of the nicest young men you’ll ever meet. Respectful, succinct, retrospective and diligent, ‘Vigs’ is one of the more popular kids on the team.

Vigorito put this week into perspective.

vigs2

“Let’s face it, if we’re making the playoffs, we have to win this week,” he said after an indoor practice. “I like the way this team has been preparing the past few weeks. Everyone is bringing an intensity to practice, and the games. We got off a little slow (an 0-2 start), but you can see this team is starting to hit its peak.”

vigs

(Photos courtesy of Allyson Garrone)

Vigorito has been Hills’ very reliable holder on kicks the past few seasons. It’s a vital part of special teams, and often goes unnoticed. But his value to the team, which also includes punt returns and as a receiver, is important.

He’s represented Wayne Hills with class and integrity. And if this team has an identity, it’s clear ‘Vigs’ is the reason why.

Justin Hogan enters a room with a look of fierceness. That same scowl can is evident on the gridiron, where the 6’3″, 240 pound linebacker and fullback, is as intimidating as they come.

hogan

But typical of a hard-nosed, classic looking football player is the ability to smile and make one feel at ease, off the field. And that’s what ‘Hoags’ has been doing at Hills.

hogan 2

Like his friend, Vigorito, Hogan doesn’t need to be reminded what this week’s preparation for Friday’s game means.

“(Paramus) is a good team, we’re a good team,” said Hogan. “It’s a matter of going after them, and they’re probably thinking the same thing. Our preparation has been good. We’re working hard. We want it, and we know we’ll have to work hard to get it.”

In the next diary, a look at the last full day of practice, leading up to Friday’s game.

By mike051893

Hills Football: Part 2, Preparing for Paramus; Adverse Weather

This is the second in a series of blogs leading up to Wayne Hills High School’s big football game on Oct. 24, at home, against Paramus. A win could move the Patriots into the playoffs for a 20th straight year, while a setback most likely eliminates it from post-season consideration.

During the week, we’ll have a series of blogs, highlighting a lot of work, behind the scenes, of the proud program in Wayne, as the Patriots gear for a visit from the Spartans. 

Part 2, Weather frustrations, Oct. 21. 4 p.m.

The usual hooting and hollering in a locker room that accompanies a high school football team as it prepares to practice, was interrupted by the sounds of the outdoor lightning device.

Head coach Wayne Demikoff had noted a few minutes earlier that the skies appeared ominous, but hopefully, the team could get on the field and avoid a delay.

No such luck.

When the detector goes off, it’s automatic that no teams are on the fields at Hills, and at least 30 minutes must pass before anyone steps back on. For that matter, any additional lightning means further delays.

While the players remain in the locker room, Demikoff’s wheels are turning. Down time, on the week his team is scheduled to play Paramus, is unacceptable.

Offensive coordinator John Jacob walks through and says, in somewhat mock anger, ‘it better be this way in Paramus, too!”

Most coaches live with conspiracy/paranoia theories, so while Jacob was somewhat kidding, the gist of his message was far from jovial.

For example, a year ago, while the Patriots were preparing for a game with arch rival Wayne Valley, a helicopter was seen flying over the team’s practice field. Then-assistant coach Jon Goldstein insisted it was a spy from Valley, looking down on his team’s practice. (And bear in mind that the legendary Goldy was a Wayne Valley graduate).

With the weather not showing much sign of improvement, Demikoff has his junior and senior players move to the adjacent cafeteria, to do some walk throughs. The players wear ‘uppers’, mainly shoulder pads, jersey and a helmet, along with a pair of shorts, or sweats.

Demikoff is clearly frustrated by not getting outside.

“What’s the forecast for tomorrow?” he asks.

“Same as today,” was the not-so-popular response.

Oct. 22, 2:35 p.m.

Demikoff decides not to take a chance with the weather. An indoor practice at a local facility, in Wayne, which has field turf and a big enough field, is the place for practice. The team boards busses for a 10-minute trip. There, the team, practicing again in uppers, can have a full practice, and Demikoff is in rare form.

“Good, good”.

“Run it again.”

“Back in the huddle.”

“Trust your keys.”

“We’re in (a certain terminology), Tom. Move over, Tom.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“What are you doing?”

Most of the phrases are in duplicate, or triplicate, but the kids are used to it, and the practice is pretty upbeat. After about two hours, the team boards the bus back to Hills, and from there, it’s onto the field for more work, even though the rain is starting to fall again.

Paramus is two days away, no time to worry about the rain now.

In the next diary, a look at some key players from Hills, and how they hope for maximum preparation leading up to Oct. 24.

By mike051893

Hills Football: Part 1, Preparing for Paramus; Coaches Meeting

This is the first in a series of blogs leading up to Wayne Hills High School’s big football game on Oct. 24, at home, against Paramus. A win could move the Patriots into the playoffs for a 20th straight year, while a setback most likely eliminates it from post-season consideration.

During the week, we’ll have a series of blogs, highlighting a lot of work, behind the scenes, of the proud program in Wayne, as the Patriots gear for a visit from the Spartans. 

Part 1, Coaches Meeting, Oct. 20. 7 p.m.

From September through early December, Monday nights have long been a tradition of coaches meetings in the head coaches office at Wayne Hills.

Chris Olsen held the head coaches job from 1987-2012, and during that tenure, an unprecedented level of success surrounded the program. There were multiple appearances in the state sectional finals, the legendary 55-game winning streak from 2004-2009, and eight state championships from 2002-2011,

Olsen retired following the 2012 season and handed the reigns to long-time assistant, Wayne Demikoff. While the personalities of Olsen and Demikoff are different, the atmosphere is pretty much the same at these Monday meetings during the previous and current tenures.

Demikoff sits at the main desk, eating a sandwich from the local deli. (Gone are the days of the catered Monday night meals from a nearby catering hall, supervised by the late, great, Jon Goldstein). The other coaches, John Jacob, Anthony Vitale, Mike Kelly, Jermain Johnson, Pat Cosgrove, Matthew Bogert, Eric Magrini, Mike Zaccone, Chris Dowling, Anthony Giampapa and Peter Staluppi sit around a large conference room table in the office, as well as some comfortable chairs adjacent to the conference table.

The meeting generally starts around 7:15 p.m., after the players complete a weight training session. Dowling brings in the traditional  large coffee order from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. Demikoff is last to arrive, as he was supervising the weight room training.

“You won’t believe how fired up (Justin) Hogan was in the weight room,” paraphrased Demikoff with a laugh. “He was (ticked) that (one of the players) wasn’t working hard enough in the room, and he let the kid know. It was classic. “

Hogan’s intensity is evident of what the players hope to accomplish at practice this week. The kids all read the websites and follow the all important power points. They know that a loss pretty much ends its hopes of competing for a state championship.

The meeting always starts with Demikoff going over the roster of the upcoming opponent with Cosgrove, the longest-termed coach on the staff. Demikoff will ask a position and Cosgrove replies with the player’s jersey number, height and weight.

While the two discuss that, the other coaches eat, make fun of each other and start talking about Paramus. The brunt of the jokes tonight are directed to Staluppi, who deflects the jib jabs pretty well.

Magrini, a Hills grad and former player, has returned as a coach this year and he fits right in. He gets the usual ribbing from the coaches about his work as a driving instructor.

Demikoff finally gets some semblance of order in the room. While the banter is enjoyable, the staff knows the meeting will last at least four hours, and that there’s no question how tough the assignment will be this week.

“They’re good,” said Jacob of Paramus, and that’s saying something, since Jacob throws compliments around like manhole covers. “They go after it.”

Among the early problems at the meeting is the overhead projector isn’t working. A few phone calls results in Bob Garrone, the father of Hills’ running back Chris Garrone, arriving with an extension cord. It was one of those ‘how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb’ scenario, but in the end, the projector gets the necessary juice and the film work is on.

Paramus has beaten Hills the past two seasons, in close games. Two years ago, the Patriots led at Paramus in week nine, 17-16, having rallied from an early 14-0 deficit on the week after Hurricane Sandy. Paramus would score a late TD and win, 24-17.

Last year, Paramus won in Wayne, 14-10, as Hills’ final rally ended with a key illegal motion penalty. Coming into this game, the 5-1 Spartans will be a slight favorite over the 3-3 Patriots.

Demikoff watches video of last year’s game, since a number of players on Paramus’ roster were key parts of that game, not to mention the 2012 contest.

“They don’t make many mistakes,” Demikoff said, as the meeting heads to 11 p.m. “We gotta get out of here, before the janitors throw us out. Let’s go, tomorrow is another day.”

 

By mike051893

All Essex Softball: McLaughlin, Oh, Olivia Gemma, Cayla Lombardi, Holden, MSD Lions, Huetter, Coaches Roberts and Sarfati among FMTC Honorees in 2014

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: It will be difficult to find another player like Livingston’s Kylie McLaughlin. A natural righthander who bats lefty, just like her father, Dave, himself an All-State baseball player at Livingston High School, and later a professional baseball player, McLaughlin was nearly impossible to strike out, as well as keep off the base paths.

McLaughlin was Livingston’s leadoff batter for the past three seasons. Her power to the opposite field spoke for itself. Her ability to bunt and occasionally slap while beating the throws to first was legendary.

The kid I often called Seattle Slew would fly around the bases at sonic speed. In one game this year, she reached on bunt single, then came around to score, ON A SACRIFICE BUNT. You had to see it to believe it.

In a game against Nutley in 2013, she came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Slew hit a blooper behind third base. As the Nutley player grabbed the ball, McLaughlin was already heading home with what proved to be a grand slam homer.

kylieAlways a menace on the basepaths and never one to dust herself off, Kylie McLaughlin of Livingston was a tremendous high school softball player (Courtesy Elena Lombardi)

Kylie would lead Livingston to three straight 20 win seasons, as well as two straight Super Essex Conference (SEC), Essex County Tournament (ECT) and NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 championships. In 2014, she hit .595 with 50 hits, 31 runs scored along with four doubles, four triples and four homers. In her final at-bat, she hit a long homerun in a state game against Roxbury.

Her athletic skills, in both softball and soccer spoke for themselves, but Slew is also an outstanding  student, and when it came to picking a college, the primary focus was on education, so she’ll probably not play at the next level.

km 4Slew getting yet another hit. She batted .595 this season.

And, good for her. She made that decision a while ago and hasn’t wavered from it. We can appreciate her athletic abilities, but more importantly, her style and charisma. The second of three children born to Jill and Dave McLaughlin, she will leave Livingston having provided a lot of softball fans some great memories.

sea slewThe great Seattle Slew.

Thanks, Slew !

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Mount St. Dominic entered the 2014 season with two established pitchers, but it was a freshman, Kelsey Oh, who would handle the brunt of the pitching chores.

Oh was, in a word, phenomenal. She would guide the Lions to an ECT crown, as well as a SEC American Division title and then, the ultimate, a magical run through the NJSIAA, Non-Public A tourney, culminating with the school’s first-ever Non-Public A state title in 13 grueling innings against Immaculata.

A power pitcher with exceptional control, Oh will most assuredly be one of the state’s top rightys for years to come. Before it’s said and done, she could among the all the time greats in numerous pitching categories.

And, yes, she’s also a very good hitter.

STUD OF THE YEAR: If you follow this blog, you know my penchant for naming certain softball players after stud race horses.

This year, the top stud goes to Mount St. Dominic senior Olivia Gemma, aka Forego. Gemma, a very good pitcher for the Lions from 2011-2013, was the team’s first baseman for 2014. The Stevens Institute-bound Gemma, who is also a tremendous student and president of her senior class, had a great year at the plate for the Lions.

get-attachment.aspxGemma settled in well at first base for the state champion Lions in 2014. (Courtesy of Mike Gemma)

She also hit in the clutch, including a big double that set the stage for a win against Cedar Grove in the county championship game. And she may have saved her best at-bat for the North, Non-Public A final against Immaculate Heart Academy. (More on that, later in the blog).

Forego Willie Shoemaker txtForego in his great days on the track.

Gemma should be back in the circle on the collegiate level at Stevens. In the meantime, let’s just call her a stud among studs.

TEAM OF THE YEAR: Mount St. Dominic was the best team in Essex County, hands down. The Lions won the SEC, ECT and eventually a state title in Non-Public A, as it finished 29-4.

get-attachment.aspxOlivia Gemma and her MSD teammates celebrate a state championship on June 7. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto and courtesy of Sideline Chatter)

It was clearly a team effort for coach Lorenzo Sozio’s team in 2014. The Lions played one of the toughest schedules in the state and also traveled to Ohio in April for a top national tournament.

While there were plenty of talented underclassmen on this team, there’s no question that the senior leadership was the key to its marvelous season. Sam Platt, Bria Bartsch, Olivia Gemma and Ashley Kowalski were incredible, especially in pressure situations for the Lions.

plattSam Platt of Mount St. Dominic had a tremendous high school career. She will play at the College of New Jersey this fall.

Platt and Gemma had monstrous clutch hits in the win over IHA while Kowalski’s defense and speed could never be underestimated. And Bartsch? Well, just read a little further down in this blog to know what she did, if you haven’t already figured it out.

Mount St. Dominic became the first team from Essex County to advance to a state final since Nutley did it in Group 3 four years ago. They were also the first from Essex to win a state championship since Montclair Kimberley won in Non-Public B in 2009 and they are the first team from Essex to win the trifecta of conference, county and state titles since Caldwell, in 2005.

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cayla Lombardi of Caldwell battled back from a serious injury in 2013 to pitch very well for the Chiefs this season.

Lombardi, a junior, gained confidence in the circle as the season progressed and could be one of the top pitchers in Essex County in 2015.

get-attachment.aspxCayla Lombardi of Caldwell had a very good season in 2014. (Courtesy of Elena Lombardi)

A wonderful young lady and a natural team leader, it was good to see No. 7 back where she belonged, playing for head coach Mike Teshkoyan’s Chiefs.

Her compassion was especially noteworthy during a game at Livingston on May 5. Sammi Passeri, Livingston’s starting pitcher, had been injured in a game the previous week and wasn’t playing for the Lancers. Lombardi made it a point to seek out Passeri, who was in street clothes on her team’s bench, during the game, to ask about her injury status.

“(Livingston catcher) Marina (Lombardi) is my cousin, so I know some of their players,” said Cayla. “I had heard that Sammi had gotten hurt and just wanted to check on her.”

BO JACKSON COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nutley’s Emily Holden came back from a serious hip injury to play a key role in Nutley’s excellent 2014 season. She ended up as Nutley’s main pitcher, leading the Raiders to a 17-13 campaign. “What she did was incredible,” said Nutley coach Luann Zullo. “She had a long road back after surgery and I can’t say enough about her work ethic and contributions to this team.”

COACHES OF THE YEAR: The city of Montclair had two excellent high school softball coaches in Dan Roberts and Jess Sarfati.

Roberts guided Montclair to an 11-13 mark in the ultra competitive SEC American Division. In his second year as head coach, he did it by helping to develop some young players while clearly instilling an enjoyment of the game to his kids.

Roberts’ infectious smile and sincere attitude are the very example of why this man understands the role of a coach and mentor to young people.

“Dan did a great job,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “He’s a class act and those kids played hard. They were a really tough team by the end of the season.”

As for Sarfati, the hard-working coach, in her fourth full season as head coach and, really her fifth year in that role, led Montclair Kimberley Academy to the SEC Liberty Division crown. It also had its first winning season in five years, with a 15-8 record.

MKA was long a state power and once dominated in Non-Public B, as well as winning back-to-back ECT titles in 2001 and 2002. However, after winning a state title in 2009, the Cougars had struggled with a young team and some uncertainty in the coaching ranks.

Sarfati alleviated that by providing stability and slowly, but surely, the program began to show signs of improvement, culminated by this year’s success. She is also a kindergarten teacher in the MKA school system.

Hopefully, we’ll see more good things from MKA in the years to come.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Sami Huetter of West Essex quickly became a stud in Canonero II. The freshman righty took over as the starting pitcher for the Knights in mid April and guided coach Andrea Mondadori’s team to a tremendous year.

Huetter has all the intangibles to be a great one, just like Canonero II was on the race track a generation ago.

samiSami Huetter, here pitching for her summer team, was outstanding as a freshman pitcher at West Essex this spring. (Courtesy Elena Lombardi)

GAMES OF THE YEAR: In Essex County, the two best games, I saw, were Mount St. Dominic’s 9-6 victory over Caldwell in the semifinal round of the ECT on May 18, and Livingston’s 2-0 victory over Caldwell in a SEC game..

In the MSD-Caldwell game, the Lions were, deservedly, a heavy favorite, and had easily defeated Caldwell in two SEC games. But Caldwell battled hard, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning and, then after falling behind, 5-2,, cut the deficit to 5-4 before Mount St. Dominic went on to win, 9-6.

Caldwell was paced by Gianna Genello and Casey Ward, each of whom had two hits. Mount St. Dominic’s Sam Platt pitched four solid innings of relief to get the win and also had two hits, including a homer. Helyna Bissell also homered for the Lions while Ashley Kowalski and Bria Bartsch had two hits each for MSDA.

A wonderful pitcher’s dual took place at the Stable in Livingston when Caldwell visited Shangri-La on May 5. Caldwell’s Cayla Lombardi pitched a marvelous game against Livingston’s potent lineup, but Livingston sophomore Sydney McCormack was even better, spinning a no-hitter.

Lombardi threw a complete game, scattering seven hits, striking out three, walking two and not allowing an earned run.

In her second varsity start, McCormack struck out eight and walked none. Just two Caldwell baserunners reached safely against McCormack, with Casey Ward  getting on via a first inning throwing error and Christina Guarino walking with one out in the seventh inning. McCormack struck out eight and walked none. At one point of the game, she retired 18 in a row.

HOT DOG OF THE YEAR: Always a piece of Americana, a hot dog during a ball game is as good as it gets. And when you go to Ivy Hill Park for an ECT, State, or All-Star game, Donny’s Dogs are the best. Belleville native Peter Caggiano not only serves up a great meal, but he’s as nice a man as they come. There’s always a smile on his face and a good word from a gentleman. Often, he’ll ask how the game is going, or if there’s a break in the usual line for food, he’ll take a peak at the game.

Copy of lunch truck sale 001It’s always fun to see Peter Caggiano and get something to eat at Donny’s Dogs, during a game at Ivy Hill Park.

FANS OF THE YEAR: My long time friend, Jerry Ross, battled some health issues this spring, but never missed a softball game, especially when it came to watching his talented daughter, Victoria, play, for Bloomfield High.

Jerry often said that recovering from surgery in March was easier knowing that he would be at softball games. A big fan of the game, in general, he was the picture of positive energy and it was clear that his tremendous recovery was, in part, because of the joy he received watching his daughter catch for the Bengals.

When Victoria begins college in the fall, Jerry should be back at work as a teacher at his alma mater, Belleville High. And you can be assured he’ll be switching his team colors from Bloomfield red to the green of Manhattan College. (Although he’ll always be a Bengals fan, having had three daughters go through that program).

For four years, Mo Altchek watched his daughter Alexa play a big role for Livingston’s softball program. As nice a man as they come, he was always supportive of the team.

  1. get-attachment.aspxHarvard-bound Alexa Altchek (right) along with Livingston teammate Kylie McLaughlin, were both honored by the Men of Essex for their academic and athletic prowess, making their parents quite proud.(Courtesy, Elena Lombardi)

You couldn’t find a bigger smile than Mo’s, when Alexa was accepted to Harvard University, where she will also play softball this fall.

Mo is a very knowledgeable man and respected coach in softball.

alexaMo Altchek’s daughter, Alexa, in her familiar stance at the plate. (Courtesy Elena Lombardi)

And let’s not forget Kylie McLaughlin’s parents, Jill and Dave. They were at just about every game, or would split fan assignments, since their younger son played baseball for the Lancers this spring.

jpiJill McLaughlin, Seattle Slew’s mom (LOL) wearing the red for a game at Nutley earlier this year.

INFIELD DEFENSE: Caldwell’s infield defense showed signs of brilliance this past season. For example, in a game at arch rival West Essex on April 15, second baseman Casey Ward fielded a hard grounder and, without flinching, from the back hand, threw the ball to shortstop Gianna Genello, who tagged second base for the force. But it gets better. Genello, in a single stride after hustling to cover the bag, and a little off-balance, threw the ball to first, where it short hopped in front of first baseman Val Murphy, who made a perfect swipe of the ball. The play almost seemed routine for the three Caldwell players.

PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: No doubt, Elena Lombardi took some tremendous pictures this year, as she has in the past three years. Elena’s daughter, Marina, is Livingston’s outstanding junior catcher. Most importantly, Elena is great with the kids and is so unheralded, but invaluable to the Lancers program.

CATCH OF THE YEAR: Bridget Betley, another in a long line of talented West Essex freshmen, made an outstanding shoe string catch, with a near-perfect slide, in traffic, no less, to take away a possible double in a key moment during a NJSIAA state tournament game in North Caldwell. West Essex would go on to edge Parsippany Hills, 7-6, on May 17 in a North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 contest.

UPSET OF THE YEAR: Cedar Grove stunned two-time defending ECT champion Livingston, 5-4, in the quarterfinal round on May 9, in Livingston. The ninth seeded Panthers had taken a 3-0 lead before Livingston, the top seed, rallied to gain a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning. There, Cedar Grove rallied for two runs and the eventual win. Livingston had swept Cedar Grove in a pair of SEC games earlier in the season.

Cedar Grove would advance to the county final this year before falling to Mount St. Dominic.

HOMER OF THE YEAR: Bria Bartsch of Mount St. Dominic hit the shot heard round Caldwell, if not Toms River, on June 7, in the top of the 13th inning of the Non-Public A championship game against Immaculata.

Bartsch’s three-run homer broke a 1-1 tie and led MSDA to an eventual 5-2 victory. And this was no ordinary homer. It was a bomb, and also one that will be discussed in epic lore, because it came in her final high school at-bat and marked the first homer of her four-year career.

Can’t make that up.

CHAMPIONS! Newark Academy claimed its first-ever conference championship in 2014 as it won the SEC Liberty Division. Coach Sergio Rodriguez’s team was paced by Lauren Catena, who finished her career with a school-record 163 hits, as well as a school-record 120 runs scored. Catena also had 102 RBI for her career. She will attend Boston University this fall.

IS WEST ESSEX THE TEAM TO WATCH IN 2015?: While most will say that Mount St. Dominic will be a quality team in 2015, there’s plenty of talent left in the rest of the county. One team to watch, for sure, next spring will be West Essex.

Coach Andrea Mondadori’s Knights had a solid campaign this year, winning 16 games with a lineup filled with freshmen. Those ninth graders gained a great deal of experience this season and should be a huge force for the North Caldwell-based school next year, and beyond.

Madison Gemma’s first varsity hit came in a big win over Ridgewood last April. Freshman Samantha Huetter was outstanding in the circle. Also excelling for the Knights were Bridget Betley, Monica Onorata, Amanda Garofalo, Kelly Cousoulis, Kate Jencarelli, Rose Pezzuti, Kim Shaw and Jenna Saluce.

Pezzuti, a junior, missed the last few weeks of the season with a foot injury. She should be 100 percent next season.

HUGE MILESTONE FOR COACH TESHKOYAN: Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan won his 600th career game on May 15, as Caldwell downed Synder of Jersey City in a state tournament game, in Caldwell. Teshkoyan became just the fifth high school softball coach in New Jersey history to reach 600 wins, joining Pete Fick, Tom Erbig, Ed Levens and Don Panzarella. Teshkoyan has also enjoyed a tremendous career as Caldwell’s girls soccer coach, amassing 329 wins.tesh1

Mike Teshkoyan addresses his Caldwell team after win number 600 this past May 15.
AT BAT OF THE YEAR: In a battle of studs, Mount St. Dominic’s Olivia Gemma (AKA Forego) won by a nose over Immaculate Heart Academy’s Steph Thomas (Affirmed) during a classic showdown in the seventh inning of the North, Non-Public A final at Ivy Hill Park.

With her team trailing, 1-0, in the top of the seventh, Gemma would foul off numerous pitches against Thomas before hitting a single that tied the game at one.

Mount St. Dominic would go on to win the contest, 2-1 and a few days later, captured the school’s first-ever Non-Public A title in softball.

MARINA CALLS THE PITCHES: Livingston’s junior catcher, Marina Lombardi, was so good behind the dish again in 2014 that people almost forget how talented she is.

marinaMarina  Lombardi had another excellent year for Livingston as the team’s catcher. (Courtesy of Elena Lombardi)

A junior, she spent her first two seasons catching the legendary Secretariat, Jess Peslak. After Peslak was graduated in 2013, Lombardi took the role as leader to a young pitching staff at Livingston this season.

Livingston coach Jason Daily has never hesitated in letting Lombardi call the pitches, which is almost unheard of on the high school level. In fact, she’s been calling the pitches since her freshman year while working with Peslak.

Her defense is incredibly smooth and at the plate, she hit .319 with seven doubles while batting second in the lineup.

OUT OF NETWORK STUD OF YEAR: Steph Thomas of Immaculate Heart Academy. Please, it’s not even close. This kid was amazing.

get-attachment.aspxSteph Thomas’ legacy is clear…#31Affirmed113

Thomas Affirmed her career as the state’s all time winningest pitcher, with 113 victories, not to mention the state leader in shutouts, with 69 for her career. She was 113-7 in four seasons, and led IHA to four Big North titles, three Bergen County championships, three North Non-Public A crowns and one Non-Public A championship, as well as the state’s top ranked team in 2012, when IHA finished undefeated.

grandparentsSteph Thomas, here with her grandparents, following her final high school victory on June 2, 2014. She also set the state record for career victories that day. (Courtesy of Steph Thomas)

Thomas was also named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey this season. A great student, she’ll move on to play on the collegiate level at Lafayette College.

Affirmed was truly a great one.

FINAL FMTC TOP 12

1-Mount St. Dominic (29-4)

2-Livingston (20-6)

3-West Essex (16-8)

4-Cedar Grove (15-14)

5-Nutley (17-13)

6-Montclair (11-13)

7-Caldwell (12-14)

8-Glen Ridge (14-9-1)

9-Columbia (15-11-1)

10-Montclair Kimberley (15-8)

11-Newark Academy (12-13)

12-Bloomfield (13-11)

FMTC FIRST TEAM

Kylie McLaughlin, Livingston

Sammi Rothenberger, Livingston

Kelsey Oh, Mount St. Dominic

Marina Lombardi, Livingston

Sam Platt, Mount St. Dominic

Olivia Gemma, Mount St. Dominic

Alexa Altchek, Livingston

Bria Bartsch, Mount St. Dominic

Gianna Genello, Caldwell

Carly Anderson, Nutley

Victoria Ross, Bloomfield

Sami Huetter, West Essex

Sarah Guy, Belleville

Lauren Catena, Newark Academy

Helyna Bissel, Mount St. Dominic

FMTC SECOND TEAM

Elizabeth Cowell, Mount St. Dominic

Phoebe Labat, Columbia

Ashley Kowalski, Mount St. Dominic

Jahnava Howard, West Orange

Brooke Adams, Cedar Grove

Erin Stacevicz, Cedar Grove

Bridget Betley, West Essex

Gabby Giachin, Newark Academy

Isabella Mendez, Montclair Kimberley

Sam Corio, Bloomfield

Jennie Antonucci, Montclair

Tara Kelly, Glen Ridge

Kate Jencarelli, West Essex

Ally Dabroski, Mount St. Dominic

Sammi Passeri, Livingston

FMTC THIRD TEAM

Jenna Saporito, Nutley

Gabby Lombardi, Mount St. Dominic

Christina Guarino, Caldwell

Cayla Lombardi, Caldwell

Cate Leu, Livingston

Morgan Katona, Montclair Kimberley

Jenna Dembner, Millburn

Zoe Labat, Columbia

Brianna LaFiora, Bloomfield

Olivia Feiger, Verona

Autumn Spinella, Cedar Grove

Kayla Bayard, Caldwell

Erica Robles, Montclair

Daniella Marinaro, Cedar Grove

Elena Garrido, Glen Ridge

Morgan Gualtieri, Nutley

STUDS FOR 2014

Kylie McLaughlin, Seattle Slew. 2014 Essex County Player of the Year. 2013 Stud of the Year. Led Livingston to a 20-6 season this spring.  Versatile enough to switch positions from centerfield, where she was a 2-time All-State player to second base in 2014. Kylie will attend the University of Delaware this fall.

km 2Kyle McLaughlin

Sammi Rothenberger, Riva Ridge. A marvelous athlete who excelled in soccer and basketball as well as softball, she’ll play softball at William Paterson University this fall, joining former LHS teammate and 2013 FMTC Player of the Year, Rachel Wasilak.sammi

Sammi Rothenberger of Livingston. (Courtesy of Elena Lombardi)

Steph Thomas, Affirmed. Headed to Lafayette after a career for the ages at IHA.

Carly Anderson, Spectacular Bid. Just a junior, she battled an arm injury which limited her innings as a pitcher for Nutley, but was still a stud shortstop and one of the best hitters in the county in 2014.

AndersC2_042613_NS_tif_Carly Anderson

Victoria Ross, Sea Biscuit. The youngest of Layne and Gerald’s three daughters, all of whom played for Bloomfield, Ross will continue her softball career at Manhattan College this fall.

bloom-4Victoria Ross collected her 100th career hit during the 2014 season.

Olivia Gemma, Forego. 2014 FMTC Stud of the Year. Headed to Stevens Institute of Technology, where she will continue to play softball, Gemma had a great senior year at Mount St. Dominic Academy. She was also named MVP at the North-South All-Star game on June 17.

get-attachment.aspxOlivia Gemma

Sami Huetter, Canonero II. 2014 FMTC Rookie of the Year. The youngest on the list, she’ll be back for three more years at West Essex. Huetter is a tremendous pitcher and a dangerous batter, as well.

Gianna Genello, Smarty Jones. The junior shortstop at Caldwell might set a lot of records before she’s done playing high school ball next May, or June. She’s the team’s leadoff hitter, with tremendous speed, as well as a stud shortstop. 

sjGianna Genello

 

ALL SEC PLAYERS: (As chosen by the Essex County Coaches)

AMERICAN DIVISION

FIRST TEAM

Kelsey Oh Mount St. Dominic
Marina Lombardi Livingston
Kylie McLaughlin Livingston
Sammi Rothenberger Livingston
Olivia Gemma Mount St. Dominic
Gianna Genello Caldwell
Bria Bartsch Mount St. Dominic
Elizabeth Cowell Mount St. Dominic
Alexa Altchek Livingston
Carly Anderson Nutley
Ally Dabroski Mount St. Dominic
Helyna Bissel Mount St. Dominic
Sami Huetter West Essex

SECOND TEAM

Sammi Passeri Livingston
Jennie Antonucci Montclair
Jenna Saporito Nutley
Gabrielle Lombardi Mount St. Dominic
Jahnava Howard West Orange
Kate Jencarelli West Essex
Brooke Adams Cedar Grove
Erin Stacevicz Cedar Grove
Christina Guarino Caldwell
Sam Platt Mount St. Dominic
Bridget Betley West Essex
Cate Leu Livingston

HONORABLE MENTION

Kayla Bayard Caldwell
Val Murphy Caldwell
Kaitlin Machuca West Orange
Jaime DeAngelis West Orange
Ashley Kowalski MSDA
Alexis Havrilla MSDA
Erica Robles Montclair
Nefertiti Smith Montclair
Ana Chambers Livingston
Yinka Fasehun Livingston
Autumn Spinella Cedar Grove
Daniella Marinaro Cedar Grove
Kelly Cousoulis West Essex
Jenna Salluce West Essex
Brittany Currie Nutley
Morgan Gualtieri Nutley

LIBERTY DIVISION

FIRST TEAM

Tara Kelly Glen Ridge
Victoria Ross Bloomfield
Lauren Catena Newark Academy
Isabella Mendez MKA
Sarah Guy Belleville
Phoebe Labat Columbia
Jalia Santos Bloomfield
Sam Corio Bloomfield
Jenna Dembner Millburn
Rachel Hubertus Millburn
Gabby Giachin Newark Academy
Olivia Feiger Verona

SECOND TEAM

Morgan Katona MKA
Elena Garrido Glen Ridge
Brianna LaFiora Bloomfield
Olivia Haveron Verona
Sophie Silberman MKA
Sophie Rosenberg Newark Academy
Victoria Finlay Glen Ridge
Caroline Chivily Verona
Alisson Samaniego Belleville
Taryn Williams Columbia
Rebecca Mandelbaum Newark Academy
Zoe Labat Columbia


HONORABLE MENTION

Allie Fiorentino Glen Ridge
Emily Marhan Glen Ridge
Jackie Selby Verona
Sam Bass Verona
Nadia Uberoi MKA
Paige Pacifico MKA
Samantha Samaniego Belleville
Jenna Lombardi Belleville
Anna Mandel Millburn
Chloe Radtke Millburn
Hannah Rosenbaum Newark Academy
Chloe Cubbage Newark Academy
Kelly Carter Bloomfield
Alexandra Mercado Bloomfield
Mackenzie Conlon Columbia
Jamie Cutler Columbia

COLONIAL DIVISION

FIRST TEAM

Janay Plaza Bloomfield Tech.
Melissa Budhu Bloomfield Tech.
Mariah McClutcher St. Vincents
Leah Rowan St. Vincents
Shannon Thomas Arts
Amber Hunter Arts
Samantha Sanchez Science Park
Nyasia Sanchez Science Park
Alyssa Morales East Side
Marielis Alicea Bloomfield Tech.
Niajia Belton East Orange
Ayannah Lawrence St. Vincents

SECOND TEAM

Adamaris Cotto Bloomfield Tech.
Karina Ortega Bloomfield Tech.
Diane Cuevas St. Vincents
Hope Meireles St. Vincents
Gabrielle Rosario Arts
Zoe Pozo Science Park
Jaleen Oquendo Science Park
Tiffany Nunez Arts
Yesenia Parada East Side
Ines Caetano East Side
Mercedes Cruz Barringer
Kiara Cruz East Orange

HONORABLE MENTION

Tatiana Gonzalez Arts
Shayla Ware Science Park
Nafeesah Terry East Orange
Alexa Alequin East Side
Selena Santiago Barringer
Yairelis Correa St. Vincents
Tatiyana Sinsletary Bloomfield Tech

INDEPENDENCE DIVISION

FIRST TEAM

Dericka Riley Irvington
Chiquela Dennis Irvington
Tyzhane Lassiter Irvington
Harrell, Jasmine University
Shaquedah Derby Weequahic
Gloria Ekah Orange
Montgomery, Alay Orange
Lansi, Allen Weequahic
Janica, Forde Irvington
Linda Thomas Irvington
Veronica Slater GOA
Ela Urbina Orange

SECOND TEAM

Carleen Villanueva Technology
Karina Gonzalez Technology
Mcgill, Tarrayah Orange
Leanna, Thomas Irvington
Paulina Lagardo Technology
Brooks, Novia Central
Kristan Davis Orange
Ayanna Pettaway University
Kiana Perez Technology
Asia Trutz Central
Ameerah Himes Weequahic

HONORABLE MENTION

Jardon Goa, Central
Ashley Foreman Irvington
Maria Cantallano Orange
Quiyanah, Muse University
Madal Torres Technology
Yazmarry Cespedes Technology

FREEDOM DIVISION
 
FIRST TEAM

Denise Lopez No. 13th Street
Widney Saintil Immaculate
Luz Morales No. 13th Street
Tiffany Maisonave No. 13th Street
Ciarra Rivera No. 13th Street
Talia Lawerence Christ The King
Silvia Chicaiza Newark Tech.
Geonna Moore Immaculate
Carmel Thermezy Christ The King
Jamely Nieves No. 13th Street
Ciara Shabazz
Joelle McLeod Christ The King

SECOND TEAM

Taryn Waynick Immaculate
Rafaela Amancio Newark Tech.
Maritza Perez Christ The King
Jenny Ruiz No. 13th Street
Rachel Colon Immaculate
Anijah Allen Christ The King
Alexa Hart Immaculate
Amethyst Navarro No. 13th Street
Maria Cuevas Newark Tech.
Franchera Martich No. 13th Street
Katherine Montero No. 13th Street
1. Marioly Guzman Newark Tech

HONORABLE MENTION

Eliesha Castro Christ The King
Zane Garris Immaculate
Amber Hichez No. 13th Street
Martina Christie No. 13th Street

By mike051893

Thomas concludes marvelous career as Gatorade Player of the Year

While I didn’t cover Immaculate Heart Academy pitcher Steph Thomas on a regular basis, I did get the chance to watch some of her games over the past four years.

And while Thomas won’t play in a fourth straight Non-Public A championship game this Saturday, what she accomplished in a four-year career at IHA can never be minimized.

She leaves the high school game as New Jersey’s all-time winningest pitcher, with 113 victories.

She graduates as the state leader in shutouts, with 69.

ihaThomas and her coaches celebrated win No. 113 on June 2, 2014.

Her final career record was 113-7.

She led IHA to four conference championships, three Bergen County titles, three North, Non-Public A crowns and one state championship, in 2012.

And in 2014, she garnered the Gatorade Player of the Year award.

gatorade

I liked to call her Affirmed, after the great triple crown winner in 1978. And she was a great winner.

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Steph Thomas signed this ball after winning career game No. 113. #31Affirmed113.  (And she was a ‘throwback’ as the Pepsi bottle behind the ball depicted).

 

Congratulations, Steph. Good luck at Lafayette College.

indexThomas will go from an Eagle to a Leopard this fall.

 

By mike051893

Forego and Affirmed put on a classic show as Mount St. Dominic advances to Non-Public A final

A pair of talented senior stud players put on a classic showdown in the top of the seventh inning of the North Non-Public A softball championship game at Ivy Hill Park on June 4.

Immaculate Heart Academy pitcher Steph Thomas (AKA Affirmed) and Mount St. Dominic Academy’s Olivia Gemma (Forego) had a battle for the ages. To set the stage, IHA led, 1-0, in the top of the seventh inning and were within two outs of advancing to a fourth straight Non-Public A championship game in Toms River.

Forego Willie Shoemaker txtForego had some great races on the track and Olivia Gemma kept that name in the limelight with another tremendous game at Ivy Hill Park.

The Lions of MSDA had been held to two hits by Thomas through six innings, but in the seventh, Kelsey Oh led off with a single and a fielding error put a pair of Lions on base. Eventually, a MSDA base runner was out at the plate on a close play. With a runner still in scoring position, Gemma stepped to the plate.

She would foul off numerous pitches from Thomas, and eventually worked the count to 3-2 before lining a clean single that tied the game at one. Later, a clutch double by another Lions senior, Sam Platt, drove home Gemma with what proved to be the game-winning run as Mount St. Dominic held off an IHA rally in the bottom of the seventh to win, 2-1.

Gemma’s final game at Ivy Hill Park figures to be one she’ll never forget. For that matter, she had four tremendous games there in recent vintage. In the 2013 Essex County Tournament semifinal, she hit a monumental homer to lift MSDA past Cedar Grove. The following night, she pitched well and was a stud at the plate in a close loss to Livingston. In the 2014 ECT final, her big hit in the first inning had the Lions off and running en route to a dominating win over Cedar Grove. And then, last night, in what would very well could have been her final high school at-bat, she got a huge hit against the state’s winningest pitcher.

Mount St. Dominic’s win marks the first time a team from Essex County has advanced to play in a state final at Toms River since Nutley did it in 2010. The Lions will seek its first-ever Non-Public A championship when it plays Saturday against Immaculata, in a 2:30 p.m. start at Toms River East. The last time a team from Essex won a state title was in 2009, when Montclair Kimberley captured the Non-Public B crown.

Gemma, Platt and Thomas will all play softball on the next level, with Gemma attending Stevens Institute, Platt, The College of New Jersey and Thomas, Lafayette College.

Gemma and Platt will have one more game while Thomas’ career ends with numbers that are nothing short of mind-boggling.

Most importantly, all three players have represented their schools with class and grace during an outstanding four years of high school.

 

 

By mike051893

Victory No. 113 ‘Affirms’ IHA’s Thomas as state’s winningest pitcher

She won her first game as a freshman pitcher in early April of 2011, when Steph Thomas of Immaculate Heart Academy defeated Montclair in the IHA Tournament on the Eagles’ home field.

Three years and two months later, Thomas, (aka Affirmed) in her final home game, set a new state record for career victories, surpassing the mark set by Kristen Schindler of Caldwell nine years ago, as IHA downed Lyndhurst, 10-0, in five innings today.

 

grandparentsSteph Thomas of IHA celebrates her historic win with grandparents Diane and Ben Thomas. (Photos courtesy of Steph Thomas)

Thomas’ milestone win was her 113th, as she spun a one-hitter. She also extended her state record for career shutouts with her 69th goose egg. (Schindler had held the state shutout mark of 67, as well, before Thomas broke that record in a 5-0 victory against Paramus Catholic last week).

affirmedThe great Affirmed, after winning the last Triple Crown, to date, in 1978. A triple crown could be won this Saturday, on the same day as the state softball championship games in Toms River.

While the win was nice, especially after a 5-4 loss by IHA to Indian Hills last Saturday in the Bergen County final, Thomas was more reflective on playing her final home game.

“There are some emotions,” she said with a smile. “A lot of memories here, for sure. It’s been an amazing experience.”

ihaIHA head coach Anthony Larezza and assistant Diana Fasano flank Thomas after career win number 113. (#31Affirmed113)

On breaking the record and earning, unofficially a #31Affirmed113 hash tag, marking her uniform number, stud name and new state record, Thomas noted the season is reaching its apex.

 

“We lost in the county final, but with the state tournament, there isn’t much time to think about it,” Thomas said. “We want the chance to win a (Non-Public A) championship. It’s the final week of the season, and we’re excited.”

get-attachment.aspxSteph Thomas and her sisters, Ally (left) and Catherine, celebrate Steph as the state’s all-tine win leader.

IHA improved to 31-1 while Lyndhurst (22-8), which captured a state sectional championship last week, will play High Point tomorrow in a Group 2 semifinal.

iha 4Even the visiting team was proud of Thomas’ accomplishment. That’s Lyndhurst coach Emily Ringen with Thomas after the game. Ringen will lead her team into the Group 2 semifinal today opposite ‘Citation’ (Ally Frei) and High Point.

“This was a good game for us,” said IHA coach Anthony Larezza, who welcomed, among others, legends such as Willie Stargell and Charlie Lau to the ball park, as well as invoking Dan Devine and Rudy when there was actually a question of taking Thomas out after five innings, to rest her for tomorrow’s North Non-Public A final against Mount St. Dominic. (He also, after seeing my Chicago Bears jersey, asked if I was Doug Buffone or Jack Concannon, before settling on Mike Singletary)

rudy-sack-1000wRudy, in his final home game. Larezza felt like Dan Devine in Thomas’ last home game yesterday in deciding when to take her out of the game.

startBaseball greats Willie Stargell and Charlie Lau, whose names were invoked at IHA yesterday. Not easy to get on this list.

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indexDoug Buffone in his Bears jersey and me, in mine at IHA yeserday.

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“I was going to take Steph out after the fifth, but then we scored five in the bottom of the inning to get the 10-run rule. Lyndhurst has some really good players. They wanted the game to get ready for High Point and it was good for us to play after the Indian Hills game last Saturday.”

For Thomas, the talk of the record is now in the past.

“I’m glad it’s out of the way,” she said. “I just want to focus on helping my team win a state championship.”

By mike051893

A tough loss in a classic game means back to work for IHA

His team had just lost an epic contest to Indian Hills in a battle of unbeaten teams in the Bergen County championship game.

With her team trailing, 4-3, Maddie Levine of Indian Hills hit a two-strike, two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning as Indian Hills defeated Immaculate Heart Academy, 5-4, in front of a huge crowd in Saddle Brook.

Head coach Anthony Larezza’s IHA team dealt with its first loss after 30 wins with class, knowing it was within a pitch of beating a 31-0 team for another county title.

It was a game in which Indian Hills (32-0) had built early leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before IHA would rally with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth as Daniella Ibarra hit what appeared to be the clutchest of hits, a two-out, two-run single that put IHA ahead for the first time in the game, 4-3.

“This one is on me,” Larezza said afterward. “I call the pitches. I called for a curve ball and (Levine) hit it. I should have called for the screw ball. I take full responsibility.

“Our kids played great. I told them not to get down. We’ve got a game on Monday (at home, against Lyndhurst, in an independent game) and then we play on Tuesday, at Seton Hall (against Mount St. Dominic for the North, Non-Public A title). We know what it will take to get back to Toms River (for the Non-Public A championship on June 7).

“That’s our focus, and these kids will be fine.”

Just two hours after a one-run game between two teams that were  a combined 61-0, came down to one pitch, Larezza was on twitter.

“We will be home to Lyndhurst on Monday, 4 p.m.,” the tweet read.

Another words, back to work.

 

By mike051893

Thomas ‘Affirms’ greatness, sets new state shutout mark, ties all-time win record

Immaculate Heart Academy coach Anthony Larezza was talking about his star pitcher StephThomas, after another record-breaking performance as IHA continued its quest toward a state championship.

ihaThomas and Affirmed both look good with flowers.

affirmed

For the record, Thomas (AKA Affirmed) led her team to a 5-0 win over Paramus Catholic in the semifinals of the NJSIAA, North, Non-Public A tournament. IHA will face the winner of Friday’s Mount St. Dominic-DePaul game, for the championship next Tuesday, most likely at Ivy Hill Park in Newark.

The shutout was Affirmed’s 68th, setting a new state record. The old mark (of 67, as Larezza reminded reporters afterward) had held for nine years, since Kristen Schindler of Caldwell established it. The win was also Thomas’ 112th, tying Schindler for the state’s all time record for career victories.

iha 3IHA players enjoy post-game celebration.

Larezza hopes that Schindler will be able to attend an IHA game before the season ends.

“Kristen was a great pitcher,” said Larezza, who remembers her well. Schindler’s Caldwell team edged Montclair Kimberley in the 2004 Essex County final, 3-2. Larezza was Montclair Kimberley’s coach that season.

When told that Thomas had passed Schindler’s mark for shutouts, Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan, who has been the team’s head coach for 28 seasons, was very gracious.

“Steph is a great pitcher, on a great team,” said Teshkoyan. “It (the record) is well deserved.”

Affirmed will have an opportunity to break Schindler’s win record on Saturday, when IHA takes on top-seeded Indian Hills in a much-anticipated game, for the Bergen County Tournament title. Thomas will take a 112-5 career mark into Saturday’s contest.

“Steph does so many things well,” said Larezza. “And it’s not just pitching. She’s a tremendous offensive player. She fields her position very well, too. Sometimes, you see her pitch and think she’s not the hardest throwing pitcher, but she has tremendous control, a good riser and excellent movement.”

Thomas kept a very good Paramus Catholic team off balance throughout the game. She gave up just one hit while striking out nine and walking none. At the plate, IHA’s leadoff hitter was 2-for-3, including a triple. She was the catalyst to a 3-run third inning after 2 1/2 scoreless innings.

“Paramus Catholic is a very good team,” said Larezza. “They’re very athletic and they swung the bats. This was a good win for us. Nothing came easy.”

Thomas appreciated the post-game ceremony, where she received flowers for her latest performance. But she admitted that winning a county and ultimately, a state championship, is the only for she and her teammates.

iha 2Thomas and coach Anthony Larezza enjoy a laugh during the post-game.

IHA has a chance to finish as the state’s top-ranked team for a second time during Thomas’ career (it won it all in 2012) and third time since 2009. While winning a pair of state championships and finishing number one, last year’s team was also outstanding before losing in the state final.

“These are the games you play for,” Larezza said. “It’s when the trophies come out. It’s why you play and do all this work. Steph knows that. She’s a leader, she’s been there before and we’re hoping for the opportunity to win it all again. We know it won’t be easy. We’ll be playing some very good teams in the next couple of days.”

In the meantime, congratulations to Affirmed on another milestone. She’s a truly great player, talented, yet humble, determined, yet reserved.

By mike051893

‘Forego’ tames the demons of Ivy Hill Park with a tremendous stretch-run performance

While there may have been a lack of the suspense which defined the last five Essex County Tournament softball finals, don’t tell that to Mount St. Dominic’s Olivia Gemma.

‘Forego’, as I like to call her, had seen her share of disappointing moments at Ivy Hill Park over the past three seasons. In 2011, she had pitched the Lions to the ECT final before MSD lost a 3-0 decision to Nutley. In 2012, Gemma was a key player on a MSD team which returned to the finals and lost a 2-0 decision to an outstanding Livingston squad. In that game, Sam Platt pitched very well for the Lions, but Gemma was still a force in the lineup.

Last year, Gemma put together two tremendous days at the ECT. In the semifinals, she hit a legendary three-run homer in the sixth inning as the Mount rallied for a big win over Cedar Grove. The following day, she hit a two-run single in the first inning as the Mount took an early 3-0 lead over Livingston. Gemma was a force at the plate in that game, so much so that Livingston, after gaining a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning, was trying everything it could to avoid pitching to her. (Many felt Gemma was the best player on the field during those two days).

Forego Willie Shoemaker txtThe great Forego back in his hey day.

In 2014, Gemma’s two-run double in the first got her team off and running and Mount St. Dominic won its first county crown in five years over Cedar Grove, 10-0.

The suspense may have been different in 2014.

For the first time since 2008, when MSD blanked Cedar Grove, 7-0, the title game didn’t, in essence, come down to the final inning. The Mount had edged Cedar Grove in 2009, 3-1, and in 2010, Cedar Grove got by West Essex, 2-0. The 2011 final was a three run game and the two finals between Livingston and the Mount came down to a big play late in the respective 2012 and 2013 contest.

Most fans had expected to see Mount St. Dominic and Livingston play for a third straight season in the final. But Cedar Grove changed all that, when it rallied for a pair of runs in the top of the seventh, to surprise the top-seeded Lancers, 5-4, in the quarterfinal round.

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Gemma pitching for the Lions. The team’s depth in the circle in 2014 made her its starting first baseman this season.

“We really wanted to play Livingston one more time,” said Gemma. “That’s been such a big rivalry for both of our teams. We split two games with them this season, so obviously a third game would have been really good. But it didn’t happen. Cedar Grove was playing some real good ball coming into the final and we knew that they’d be a tough opponent.”

While there have been some tough defeats at Ivy Hill, MSD’s record there since 2011 is a very respectable 5-4, which includes a 1-0 loss to Immaculate Heart Academy in the Non-Public A final in 2013, as well as the two wins there this year in the semifinals and finals. Mount St. Dominic not only won the ECT for the fifth time in its history (all under head coach Lorenzo Sozio) it also won the Super Essex Conference American Division title for the first time in three years, finishing 13-1 in the rugged division.

“Good memories, for sure,” Gemma said. “My first time at Ivy Hill (in 2011), we played Cedar Grove in the semifinals. I was so nervous, I felt like I was shaking. Amanda Paxson was there to calm me down and hopefully, as a senior now, I’ve done that for some of the younger players.”

There was some irony in that 2011 semifinal game against Cedar Grove, since the Panthers started sophomore Gabby Castelli, but later inserted a freshman who had missed most of that season with an ankle injury. That player was Platt.

“I forgot about that,” said Gemma, with a laugh. “Sam pitched for Cedar Grove that year. The next season, she was my teammate.”

Gemma could make one more trip to Ivy Hill if MSD makes it to the North Non-Public A final again this season. The championship game for the North Non-Public A and B sections have been contested there the past few years, but the site may not be guaranteed this year. If last Monday’s game marked her last visit there as a high school player, she’s fine with that, too.

“It feels great to get a county title,” Gemma said. “Everything is winding down, for high school. Hopefully, we can keep winning a little longer.”

Gemma, who is president of her senior class, will graduate this coming Sunday. The eldest daughter of Angela and Mike Gemma, Olivia’s softball career will continue on the next level. A tremendous student, Forego is heading to Stevens Institute of Technology, where she will probably return to the circle and pitch for the Ducks.

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By mike051893