She was also her biggest critic, often downplaying her performance following a game. But that hard work and determination certainly paid off.
Betley was particularly dominant in the Essex County Tournament championship game, finishing 2-for-4, with three runs scored, three RBI, a huge triple and a stolen base, as the Knights brought home its first county title in nine years.
(Click on all photos for larger images)
ESSEX COUNTY PITCHERS OF THE YEAR: Kelsey Oh of Mount St. Dominic and West Essex’s Sami Huetter, both juniors, were incredible this season. Oh, now a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year, was dominant once again for the Lions, who had a very good season in 2016, finishing 26-4. And while Oh was American Pharoah-like in the circle, she’s also a force at the plate.
The sky appears to be the limit for Oh in 2017. She’s already won two Essex County championships, three straight Super Essex Conference titles and a state championship. Since Oh’s arrival in 2014, Mount St. Dominic is 84-10. Her numbers as a pitcher are incredible. This year, she had over a 2 to 1 strikeout to innings pitched ratio and an ERA that’s almost half of what Bob Gibson put up in 1968.
Nutley coach Luann Zullo said of Oh, “Kelsey can throw a fast ball, from 43 feet, into a paper cup. Her control was that good. I remember a game (in 2015), when our best player, Carly Anderson (now a star at Rowan University) came back from an at-bat, and said to me ‘Coach, she’s unhittable today.’
“We had some tremendous battles with Kelsey this year, too.”
Huetter (Canonero II) continued her stud-like effort in leading West Essex to its first Essex County Tournament crown in nine years, as well as the program’s first state sectional title in six years, as the Knights finished 26-3.
Huetter was 18-3, with a 1.10 ERA. In 147 innings, she struck out 143 batters, while giving up just 23 earned runs. At the plate, she had a breakout season, hitting .369 with 11 RBI, four doubles, a triple, a homer and a .508 slugging percentage.
As good as she was in 2016, Huetter never got away from the first premise of playing, which was having fun. Her infectious personality and boundless energy made her a natural-born leader of a team made up mostly of her classmates in a loaded junior class.
She avenged both her conference losses with dominant efforts. After falling to Mount St. Dominic, 6-4, Canonero came back to defeat the Mount for the first time in her career, 5-1. Following a 3-2 setback to Montclair, Huetter was masterful in beating the Mounties, 11-3, in the Essex County final.
Sami Huetter and Bridget Betley of West Essex.
SEC PITCHERS OF THE YEAR: While none of the current crop of players won’t know what 1968 means when it comes to great pitching, this season could be called The Year of the Pitcher, in Essex County, similar to what ’68 was in Major League Baseball.
There was some great pitching this season in the SEC, as Nutley’s Emily Holden, Jessie Masur of Montclair and Sydney McCormack of Livingston were brilliant in 2016.
Montclair’s run to a county final in 2016 was led, in part, by pitcher Jessie Masur, bottom row, third from left, with one of Ed Bates’ pals.
Holden, a real work ‘horse’ (pardon the pun) was Nutley’s best player this season, guiding the Raiders to a 23-7 record. As a pitcher, Genuine Risk was 22-7, with 295 strikeouts in 193 innings of work. She yielded just 42 walks and spun three no-hitters.
Headed to Ithaca College, where she will pursue a degree in Physical Therapy, Holden, as nice a kid as you’ll ever meet, was dominant at the plate, too, hitting .369 with 18 RBI and 32 hits.
Emily Holden, with coach Luann Zullo. Holden will attend Ithaca College this fall and plans to continue playing softball.
Masur, a junior, led Montclair to the Essex County Tournament championship game and pitched some wildly entertaining games this season, including a 20-strikeout game, in 10 innings, over Bloomfield, and a nine-inning, 4-3 win over Mount St. Dominic in the quarterfinals of the ECT. Montclair struggled in the early going, but the Mounties went on a 7-game winning streak over the second half of the season, paced by some marvelous efforts from the player Montclair coach Phil Delgado called ‘Maddux’, comparing Masur to the Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux, who had legendary control around the plate.
Syd The Kid
McCormack (Syd The Kid) saved her best in the circle for the NJSIAA Tournament and helped the Lancers win the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 title for a third time in the last five seasons. She was also outstanding in the Group 4 semifinal, holding a hard-hitting team from Watching Hills, which eventually won the Group 4 title, to a one earned run, as Livingston played well, but dropped a 2-1 decision.
McCormack will attend Penn State University this fall. She was a pleasure to watch play.
SEC PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Erica Robles of Montclair and Cedar Grove’s Rianna Marinelli led their respective teams to outstanding seasons. Montclair and Cedar Grove both have young nucleus’s and will be among the teams to watch in 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Phil Delgado)
Robles, a senior this season, helped her teammates learn how to win. She was a tremendous third baseman, a dangerous power hitter, clutch relief pitcher, and, like so many of the kids who played softball in Essex County, an even better young lady off the field, with her class and leadership skills that will define a successful life in college, and beyond.
Robles hit .400, with a slugging percentage of .829 and an on-base percentage of .512.
Marinelli, a wonderful centerfielder, hit .381 with 11 doubles, two triples, a homer and 25 runs scored. The junior will obviously be a key to next season’s success for head coach Nicole Velardi and the Panthers.
(Photo courtesy of John Kennedy. jkennedyimages.com)
ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: Julia Vardiman (center) of West Essex, Sam Burggraf of Newark Academy (right) and Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta.
Vardiman was West Essex’s leadoff batter, and by season’s end, one of its most dangerous hitters. In the Group 3 semifinal, this future stud tripled and later homered. Her defense, at shortstop, was unflappable.
Burggraf hit .494 with a homer, 23 RBI and a team-leading 41 hits, while batting fifth in the lineup for Newark Academy, which won the SEC Liberty Division title.
Faieta pitched a no-hitter, with 17 strikeouts in an Essex County Tournament contest, and showed tremendous potential all season long. She struck out 140, allowed just 41 hits and pitched to a 1.67 ERA.
Faieta photo courtesy of jkennedyimages.com. Burggraf photo courtesy of Sergio Rodriguez).
ESSEX TEAM OF THE YEAR:
West Essex broke through, in a big way this spring, by finishing 26-3 and winning a conference, county and state sectional championship.
SEC TEAM OF THE YEAR: Mount St. Dominic put together another great season and claimed its third straight championship in the elite SEC American Division.
The Lions were led by standout players Kelsey Oh, Julianna Kocenski, Dani Dabroski and Sara Taffet. Kocenski had a flair for the dramatic, including two HUGE homers that won games against West Essex and Nutley. Mount St. Dominic eclipsed the 25-win mark for a third straight year. The Lions are 84-10 from 2014-2016.
ESSEX COACHES OF THE YEAR: Read more on Montclair coach Phil Delgado and Livingston’s Jason Daily.
ESSEX STUD OF THE YEAR: Read more on Sam Corio’s tremendous season for Bloomfield.
ROBLES, GEMMA LAUNCHED LONG HOMERS:
Madison Gemma (left, with teammate Bridget Betley) hit a long homer in the Essex County Tournament championship game, at Ivy Hill Park, in Newark. The left-handed batter hit a few majestic shots this season, as she recovered from a back injury which curtailed her 2015 season.
Erica Robles of Montclair hit four homers this season, including a blast in a game against West Essex in April that must have traveled 225 feet.
CATCHES OF THE YEAR: There was THE CATCH, which will be hard to match, as Bloomfield’s Samantha Corio brought the crowd at The Pond in Bloomfield to its feet when she hauled in a sure homer in centerfield on Bloomfield’s Senior Night.
Corio made a few other brilliant plays in the field, too, over the course of the season.
(Left: Corio makes the best catch this writer has seen in 40 years of watching high school softball. Right: Corio’s diving catch in a game against Montclair).
But don’t forget Montclair’s Ciarah Minning, who made an incredible play in centerfield, in as clutch a moment as possible, against Livingston in the Essex County Tournament semifinals on May 20, at Ivy Hill Park.
Minning’s catch (top, taken by NJ.com) and Willie Mays’ famous haul in 1954, were similar.
Minning,. who will be among an excellent pool of talent returning to Montclair in 2017, made a Willie Mays-type, (1954 World Series) over-the-head catch of a long drive to dead center. Livingston actually went on to score three runs later in that inning, but Minning’s grab produced a huge out, or Livingston might have scored two more runs in the frame.
GAMES OF THE YEAR: Mount St. Dominic and Nutley played two epic contests, with each team winning once, on its home field. Kelsey Oh and Emily Holden pitched both contests and were incredible. Nutley won the first game, 1-0, and held a 1-0 lead in the top of the 10th inning of the second matchup, before the Mount rallied to win, 4-1.
Bloomfield and Montclair played a beauty, with the Mounties winning, 5-2, in 10 innings, on April 25. There was a little of everything in that game, including tremendous pitching. Montclair’s Jessie Masur pitched the entire game, and fanned 20.
But the game of the year, in my estimation, was the Montclair-Livingston ECT semifinal, on May 20, at Ivy Hill Park in Newark. One of the loudest and enthusiastic crowds in years were on hand for this game, as the underdog Mounties continued a Cinderella run by defeating Livingston, 7-4. It was Montclair’s first win over Livingston since May, 2010, and moved Montclair into the final against the eventual champion, West Essex.
Montclair’s defense was never better than in this game, as a young group of Mounties seemed to thrive in the added pressure of playing at night, in a charged venue.
Despite the loss, Livingston would go on to a great end to its season, capturing a state sectional championship. Livingston coach Jason Daily would say later that the loss to Montclair actually gave him a good vibe that his team was ready for a big-time run in the state tournament.
FINAL FMTC TOP 10:
1-West Essex (26-3)
2-Mount St. Dominic (26-4)
6-Cedar Grove (17-13)
8-Newark Academy (19-9)
FINAL ROUND UP OF 2016 STUDS:
Sami Huetter, Canonero II
Sami and her mom, Mari.
Sydney McCormack, Syd The Kid
Sophie Rosenberg, Arts and Letters
Sophie and her dad, Mike.
Alexa Vardiman, Funny Cide
In addition to being a great player, Alexa Vardiman is also a standout student at West Essex. Here, she’s inducted into the National Honor Society.
Emily Holden, Genuine Risk
Sam Corio, Pleasant Colony
Will be hard to forget THE CATCH, by Sam Corio, in 2016.
Jessie Masur, Nyquist
Out of Network:
Olivia Sprofera, Southpaw Slew
Olivia Sprofera (second from right) and Taylor Kenerson led IHA to a second straight state championship.
Reese Guevarra, Sunday Silence
Emilie Cieslak, Tim Tam
Taylor Kenerson, Point Given
A few more photo moments from 2016, including the nearly famous ‘Faieta Chocolate Chip Cookies’ and good times during Essex softball games.