With IHA on the horizon, Betley (“I played okay”) collects 4 hits, drives in 5 runs and James, Garofalo and Apito also pace West Essex past Montclair

West Essex’s potent lineup was somewhat stymied on April 19 by Mia Faieta and Cedar Grove, but a day later, the Knights were swinging the bats well, collecting 17 hits en route to a 14-1 victory over Montclair.

West Essex and Montclair had played in the 2016 Essex County Tournament championship game and also split two regular season games a year ago, but this game got away from the Mounties early, with a 3-run error, which gave West Essex (11-2) a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning.

The Knights swung the bats well, led by senior Bridget Betley, who was 4-for-5, including a 3-run double in a 6-run sixth inning.

“I played okay,” said Betley afterward, in her typical low-keyed assessment of a good performance. “I had struck out three times against Mia, and needed to get my bat going today.”

Bridget Betley had a big game against Montclair for the second straight time. She was also a standout in last year’s county championship game versus the Mounties.

Betley was actually on base in all five of her plate appearances, since she also reached on a fielder’s choice. The second baseman, who will play at Post University in Connecticut this fall, also pitched an inning in relief of starter Sami Huetter, who was excellent once again in the circle.

Canonero II struck out 11 in five innings while walking none, and giving up two hits and one unearned run.

Alexa Vardiman continued her hot hitting with three more singles, a run scored and RBI. Julia Vardiman hit the ball hard in all five plate appearances and had two hits, including  a double, a run scored and RBI. Madison Gemma had two its, a run scored and RBI, Alex Apito had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run, Amanda Garofalo singled and drove in a pair and the incomparable Lily James hit a pair of doubles and drove in a run.

Of course, afterward, Huetter was pleased with her team’s effort, especially James, the unassuming third baseman who is very popular among her teammates.

“She’s my Bestie,” said Huetter, of James, as the team prepared to board its bus.

Montclair, which had won three straight coming into the game, fell to 4-5 with the setback. The Mounties will play this weekend at the Black and Gold Touranment, in Cedar Grove.

The Knights will have quite the test on Saturday, when it ventures to Saddle Brook to play defending state champion, Immaculate Heart Academy, in a 2 p.m. start.

A veteran West Essex team will now prepare to face Citation and the IHA Eagles (below) on April 22, at Saddle Brook. (Click on photos for larger image)






By mike051893

Essex Softball: Oh and Nelson excel at Ivy Hill; MSDA’s Taffett a tremendous hitter; California Chrome enters the stable; Alexa Vardiman’s 2 RBI lead West Essex past Indian Hills; Bloomfield’s Mayer to enter the Hall of Fame, Bengals pitcher Lexi Corio off to a good start; Montclair starting to come around; Black and Gold Tournament set for April 23; Lions remain No. 1

There were some good games at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University on April 15, with the much-anticipated game between Donovan Catholic and Mount St. Dominic more than living up to the billing.

Donovan Catholic won, 1-0, with both pitchers, Lindsay Nelson of Donovan Catholic and Kelsey Oh (American Pharoah) each throwing the ball very well. Oh struck out 12, walked three and scattered three hits while Nelson spun a 2-hitter, fanned 13 and walked seven.

The game’s intensity was evident from the first pitch, as Oh’s fastball, already one of the best in the state, was popping at an even higher rate.

MSDA’s Sarah Taffett was outstanding at the plate. Her triple, after fouling off at least seven pitches, was a tremendous piece of hitting. Taffett also drew a pair of walks in the game.

The two teams could meet again, in early June, for the Non-Public A championship, and a berth in the inaugural Tournament of Champions. But that’s still seven weeks away and both head coaches know there’s plenty of talent in Non-Public A to navigate through.

Cedar Grove’s Mia Fiaeta has been tremendous in the circle for Panthers. The sophomore righty is averaging nearly 15 strikeouts, per start, with a blistering fastball and tricky change-up. She’s the new California Chrome.

Mia Faieta, above with coach Nicole Velardi and the ‘other’ California Chrome (below). (Click on photos for larger images)

Alexa Vardiman is such an underrated hitter. The senior (aka Funny Cide) drove in a pair of runs in a 3-1 West Essex win over Indian Hills earlier this week. Batting second in a potent Knights lineup, the catcher, who swings the bat well from both sides of the plate, is a tremendous contact hitter, as well as providing power to the alleys.

Alexa Vardiman (left) with (Pre-Colt) coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget and Sami Huetter, is having another good season for West Essex in 2017.

Congratulations to one of the real good guys in Essex softball coaching, Bob Mayer. He’ll be inducted into the Bloomfield High Hall of Fame on April 22. You can read more about Mayer’s legacy, as his colleagues express their praise, in this article.


Speaking of Bloomfield, the Bengals lost two quality pitchers to graduation last spring, but freshman Lexi Corio has done a good job so far this season for the Bengals, who will take a 6-4 record into a big game against Caldwell on April 21.

One of the really nice softball events in North Jersey will be renewed on April 23, with the annual Black and Gold Tournament, which takes place at Panther Park and on the adjacent softball field, L.R. Schools Field.

There will be a tremendous lineup of teams, including Immaculate Heart Academy, DePaul, Livingston, Bloomfield, Lenape Valley, Kittatinny, Pope John, and, of course, the home team. Games start at 9 a.m. and will be ongoing throughout the day.

Here’s the latest FMTC, Top 10, in Essex County.

1-Mount St. Dominic (7-2)

2-West Essex (10-2)

3-Cedar Grove (7-3)

4-Verona (9-1)

5-Caldwell (5-3)

6-Nutley (4-5)

7-Livingston (4-5)

8-Bloomfield (6-4)

9-Montclair (4-4)

10-Columbia (4-4)



Olivia Sprofera, Citation

Sami Huetter, Canonero II

Alexa Vardiman, Funny Cide

Jessie Masur, Nyquist

Reese Guevarra, Sunday Silence

Kelsey Oh, American Pharoah

Mia Faieta, California Chrome








By mike051893

Huetter and Faieta put on a show, West Essex edges Cedar Grove, 1-0, in 9 innings, as Julia Vardiman scores game-winning run off Madison Gemma sac fly

West Essex and Cedar Grove had gone 8 1/2 scoreless innings on a windy and cold afternoon at West Essex, so when the Knights got a rally going in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to a leadoff walk by Julia Vardiman and an infield single from Alexa Vardiman, the anticipation level was amped up.

The Vardiman sisters proceeded to steal a base, putting runners on second and third, with no outs. And as Bridget Betley stepped into the box, Alexa could be seen at second, jumping up and down.

Alexa Vardiman (left) and Bridget Betley, of West Essex, were both outstanding in a huge win over Cedar Grove. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I was fired up and cold at the same time,” said the personable senior catcher. “I just wanted a chance to get a win. It was a tough game. Cedar Grove played hard and (Cedar Grove pitcher) Mia (Faieta) was so good out there. I was glad to get a few walks off her, and then a single in the ninth inning. It was that kind of game. I thought we could have won it a few times earlier, but that’s the way it goes.”

Betley was struck out, but the catcher couldn’t handle the ball and the senior second baseman alertly ran to first, and was safe, loading the bases. Madison Gemma followed with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Julia Vardiman, and West Essex came away with a hard-fought, 1-0, win.

West Essex improved to 10-2 with the win while Cedar Grove fell to 7-3, including heartbreaking losses to Mount St. Dominic and now, West Essex.

West Essex pitcher Sami Huetter and Faieta were both studs in the circle, as Canonero II and California Chrome matched goose eggs for eight full innings, before Huetter retired the Panthers in the top of the ninth.

Huetter, a senior who will play at Stockton University this fall, struck out eight and walked just two while scattering four hits.

Faieta, a sophomore who has become a strikeout phenom in Essex County, fanned 16 while walking a surprising 12, but she gave up just two hits, both infield singles. And Faieta, despite the walks, worked out of some big time jams, including a bases-loaded, no out situation in the fifth inning and a first and second, no outs predicament in the seventh. Fiaeta also struck out the side in the second and sixth innings and had at least one strikeout in every frame.

Mia Faieta, here with head coach Nicole Velardi earlier this season, has averaged over 15 strikeouts a game. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Mia gives you everything you could ever ask for as a coach,” said Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi, whose team was missing five starters. “She works hard, and today, showed the ability to work through some adversity. I was proud of her. I saw a lot of young kids step up and play well against one of the best teams in the state. That was very encouraging.”

In addition to scoring the winning run, Julia Vardiman reached base four times, all by walk, while Alexa Vardiman also reached four times, three by walks and the single in the ninth. Huetter had the other hit, a bunt single in the fourth inning.

Alexa Vardiman, aka Funny Cide, also praised Velardi.

“She’s such a good coach,” said Alexa. “Coach Velardi’s teams are always prepared. But we also found a way to win, and our coaches are great, too. It was a tremendous game.”

The classy Vardiman summed up well a tremendous Super Essex Conference American Division battle, where, other than the score, there were no losers.



By mike051893

As Bob Mayer enters the Bloomfield High Hall of Fame, his colleagues all echo the same attribute: He’s class, all the way

Newark Academy softball coach Sergio Rodriguez had just coached his team to a hard-fought, 5-3 win over Bloomfield High on April 17. And while Rodriguez was happy with the victory, he was just as interested in honoring the man who coached the team his Minutemen had just defeated.

Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer will be inducted into his alma mater’s Hall of Fame on April 22. And while there’s a lot of well-timed fun among the coaches in Essex County softball, there’s also a level of reverence which goes to a certain coach, and Mayer is one of them.

The friendship between Mayer and Rodriguez dates back nearly 20 years. (Click on photos for larger images)

A few years back, Rodriguez’s daughter, Damariz Mercado, played her high school softball at Bloomfield. Now a standout at Rowan University, Mercado’s skills got a boost from Mayer’s tutelage, according to Rodriguez.

“As far as I’m concerned, Bob Mayer made Damariz a better player,” said Rodriguez. “I’ve been a coach for over 20 years, but when I watched Damariz play high school softball, I was a fan who never questioned Bob’s coaching. Damariz could have gone 4-for-4, or 0-for-4, and Bob handled it the same way. He always strived to see his kids play better.”

Bob Mayer, here with standout player Sam Corio in 2016, has coached many All-County and All-State players at Bloomfield High. (Click on photos for larger images)

As far as the kind of man Mayer is, that was easy for Rodriguez.

“He’s never coached for the stipend,” said Rodriguez. “He coaches because he loves it. That man will be at summer league games, or cheering on former players, or going to a game just to watch a game. I hope people realize how special Bob is. He coaches for the right reasons.”

Mayer won his 500th career game at Bloomfield last April. (Click on photos for larger images)

Mayer has always been a Bloomfield Bengal. He graduated BHS, went to college, then returned to be an educator in the town some 42 years ago.

Mayer’s accomplishments on the softball diamond speaks volumes. Last year, he became the third coach in Essex County high school softball history to win 500 games. In 2015, he was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He’s guided Bloomfield to multiple Essex County Tournament championships, as well as conference crowns and state sectional titles.

When Sam Corio made ‘The Catch’ in 2016, she credited Mayer for working on this exact play, in practice, days before she accomplished the feat. (Click on photo for larger image)

When he was named to the state’s Hall of Fame two years ago, one of the legendary coaches in New Jersey provided the following comment.

“If anyone is deserving of a Hall of Fame induction, it is Coach Mayer. I have had the pleasure of knowing Coach Mayer for 20 years. He always got the most out of his players. Whenever you played anyone of his teams, you knew going into that game that they were going to be well-coached, well-disciplined and play hard. Some tremendous players have come out of his programs, and I’m sure they would be the first to tell you that they wouldn’t have been the player or person if it weren’t for Coach Mayer. Congratulations to him and all the people he has influenced.”

Those words came from the late Anthony LaRezza.

The winningest coach in Essex County softball history is Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan, who has well over 600 wins. Teshkoyan’s Chiefs and Mayer’s Bengals have clashed many times over the past 28 years. This year, Caldwell and Bloomfield will be among the teams competing for a Super Essex Conference championship in the Liberty Division.

“Bob runs a class program and it’s been my pleasure to compete against his well-coached teams,” said Teshkoyan. “We’ve been battling each other for nearly 30 years, and both our teams respect and play hard against each other, each time we meet. I congratulate him on the Hall of Fame and wish him nothing but the best. ”

Another long-time rival for Mayer has been Livingston’s coach, Jason Daily, He, too, couldn’t have been happier when learning of Mayer’s upcoming induction.

“Bob is a class act,” said Daily. “He is an absolute gentleman, patient and kind, constantly teaching his players, and always working with them to make them better.”

Belleville coach Chris Cantarella also lauded Mayer. Belleville and Bloomfield have long shared an intense rivalry, dating back to the early 1980’s.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to coach against Mr. Mayer,” said Cantarella. “He is a gentleman and extremely professional. His teams are well coached and he always has them prepared, from how to field, or hit, to how to slide or even the way a bunt will roll down the line. His girls play the game the right way, and that is a credit to him in the way that he coaches. Mr. Mayer, congratulations on your honor, but you were a Hall of Famer well before this.”

Mayer’s 2013 Bengals advanced to the Essex County Tournament semifinals. (Click on photo for larger image)

The ‘Mr. Mayer’ analogy doesn’t come from just Cantarella. Earlier I had written that Mayer became the third coach in Essex County history to win 500 games. Well, the fourth to 500 came just a few days after Mayer did it last year. And it was accomplished my Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio.

As a youngster growing up in Bloomfield in the early 1980’s, one of Sozio’s physical education teachers was Mayer.

And to this day, Sozio famously refers to Bob as Mr. Mayer. Two years ago, Sozio had these comments on his friend being inducted into the NJSIAA Hall of Fame.

“Coach Mayer being inducted into the NJ Scholastic Coaches Hall of Fame does not come as a surprise to me,” said Sozio. “He has been a fixture on the diamond at Bloomfield High for many years. When you talk Essex County softball, Coach Mayer’s name and the tradition at Bloomfield have to be part of the conversation with all the success he has had. Mount St. Dominic Academy has had some great contests over the years with Bloomfield in conference play, as well as in the Essex County Tournament. He is one of the hardest working coaches on and off the field that I have seen in Essex County.”

Accolades galore, for a man who Cantarella accurately portrayed as a Hall of Famer long before an induction ceremony.

Great job, Bob.




By mike051893

White’s long homer, Sprofera’s brilliance in the circle, Dudek defense help IHA edge DePaul, 2-1, in 9 innings; Sharma returns to lineup, Reagan Jones with key hit and run scored; ‘Citation’ vs ‘Whirlaway’ meets up to the billing

IHA’s offense hasn’t found its usual stride, yet, but the Eagles pitching is so good and its defense just as solid.

Nevertheless, IHA needed a big win in a close game against a solid team, and coach Diana Fasano’s team got it on April 13, as the Eagles defeated previously unbeaten DePaul, 2-1, in Washington Township as freshman Ryleigh White blasted a walk-off, solo homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.

IHA (5-2) had lost a pair of 2-1 games last weekend at the Anthony LaRezza Invitational, and while the team isn’t used to losing many games, Fasano didn’t want her team pressing, either.

“It’s been a little frustrating for our kids, but I think they’ll be okay,” said Fasano. “We knew we had a tough game today against a really good team in DePaul. They have excellent pitching and some talented kids in that lineup. We just needed to play hard and get a break.”

White provided the break when she lined a long homer to break a 1-1 tie. In her previous at-bat, she drilled a ball into left center which DePaul’s tremendous outfielder, Amanda Ayala, (stud name, Whirlaway) hauled in.

“I saw the pitch pretty good,” said White of her homer. “I thought I hit it well. It felt good to get a big hit for this team. Hopefully, this will get us started.”

A nice father-daughter moment for Ryleigh White and her dad, David, after Ry launched the game-winning homer to defeat a good DePaul team, 2-1. (Click on photo for larger image)

In the circle, senior lefty Olivia Sprofera was once again marvelous. Sprofera (stud name, Citation) pitched another complete game, striking out 16. She worked out of a few jams along the way, too.

“I felt good,” said the low-keyed Sprofera afterward. “These games are tough. I worked my pitches pretty well and the defense behind me was great.”

Olivia Sprofera (left) and Ryleigh White hope to be celebrating a lot of big wins in 2017. (Courtesy, Melissa White. Click on photo for larger image).

DePaul (4-1), which dealt IHA its only loss in 2016, trailed 1-0 in the sixth when Ayala smacked a triple and later scored on a sacrifice fly.

“Amanda is a tremendous player,” said Fasano. “It’s not easy keeping her off base. She’s so fast and plays great defense.”

IHA scored the game’s first run when senior third baseman Reagan Jones singled and later scored on a passed ball.

Left fielder Ally Dudek made a tremendous over-the-head catch of a line drive to halt a DePaul rally in extra innings. IHA also got a boost when Sonia Sharma, a senior second baseman, who missed the past four games with a thumb injury, was inserted as a pinch hitter late in the game and bunted for a single.

“I saw an opportunity and thought the bunt would work,” said Sharma, who will play at Rowan University this fall. “It’s good to be back.”

DePaul coach Sue Parler was impressed with both teams.

“We played well, they played well,” said Parler. “Ryleigh hit a good pitch and they won. We were wondering where we were as a team, and I think we found out we can play at a high level. It’s great to have Amanda back in our lineup and I thought our pitching was excellent today.”

Ayala, a senior who will play at the University of Tennessee this fall, had suffered a bad leg injury which kept her out of the lineup for the entire 2016 season.

Overall, it was a good game for the Eagles, which won its third straight and sent a determined Ed Bates home quite happy.

“We need to win this game!” Bates implored throughout the contest.

By mike051893

Watch out for Nutley, as Raiders edge Livingston, 2-1, behind Conca (3-for-3, 2 runs scored) and Wilde; Mia Faieta throwing well for Cedar Grove; MSDA and West Essex at top of FMTC Top 10; Lexi Corio spins shutout for Bloomfield; Caldwell and Verona remain unbeaten

There were whispers that Nutley could be in for a rebuilding season in 2017, but the young Raiders don’t want to hear about that. Nutley defeated a big-time nemesis, Livingston, 2-1, in a well-played game at Nutley, on April 12.

The Raiders improved to 3-2 on the season and won its fourth straight game against Livingston, dating back to 2015. Prior to last season, Livingston had dominated Nutley on the Raiders’ home field, winning six straight before Nutley won a 4-0 decision in 2016.

Nutley was led by pitcher Courtney Wilde, who spun a complete game 5-hitter, striking out six and even more importantly, walking none.

On offense, Melanie Conca, the ninth hitter in Nutley’s lineup, was 3-for-3, with a double, and scored both of her team’s runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh on a wild pitch.

In her 19th season, Nutley head coach Luann Zullo knew this year’s team would be a work-in-progress, as a young team learns the intricacies of the varsity game.

A young Nutley team has shown resiliency this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Every game, we get a little better,” said Zullo, whose team improved to 3-2. “We still have a lot to learn, but I like what I’m seeing. We hung in there with West Essex the other day, which was a good test for us.”

Livingston, which won a state championship in 2016, fell to 2-2 on the season, but head coach Jason Daily, like Zullo, has a young team which will get better as the season progresses. Nicolette Luzzi scored her team’s only run in the Nutley game, when she tripled and scored on a single by Ashley Reuter in the sixth inning.

Cedar Grove sophomore right-hander Mia Faieta continues to excel. In back-to-back games last week against Mount St. Dominic and Montclair, Faieta struck out 33 batters. Cedar Grove is 4-2, and will visit Nutley on April 13.

Mia Faieta has been pitching well for the Panthers. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mount St. Dominic and West Essex are the top two teams in the FMTC Top 10, after the Lions defeated the Knights, 12-9, earlier this week, at MSDA. The teams will meet again in a conference matchup later this season and will probably be the top seeds for the always exciting Essex County Tournament, next month.

Bloomfield freshman pitcher Lexi Corio threw a complete game shutout for the Bengals, in a win over Montclair on April 11.

Here is the first FMTC Top 10.

1-Mount St. Dominic (4-1): The Lions are loaded on offense, with Dani Dabroski and Julianna Kocenski among the top hitters, and a tremendous pitcher in senior Kelsey Oh.

2-West Essex (7-1): Perhaps the deepest lineup in the county, the Knights are a senior-oriented team, but two underclassmen, sophomore Julia Vardiman and junior Lily James, have also been big time contributors.

3-Cedar Grove (4-2): An above-average offense is paced by two solid pitchers in Mia Faieta and Kelly Toomey.

Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi (right) has a strong team again this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

4-Nutley (3-2): The Raiders are off to a good start, with senior Sam Echevarria batting third and playing a solid second base.

5-Livingston (2-2): Never count out the Big Green Machine. Freshman second baseman Nicolette Luzzi is playing well and catcher Emma Cooney is tremendous on defense.

6-Caldwell (3-0): The Chiefs will be among the favorites to win the SEC Liberty. Senior catcher Christina Guarino picked up her 100th career hit last week.

Christina Guarino celebrated her 100th career hit with teammates recently. (Click on photo for larger image)

7-Verona (5-0): There are high hopes for the Hillbillies, who have a new field to play on in 2017.

8-Bloomfield (3-3): Senior captains Jalia Santos and Kasey Coury will be key players for the Bengals, as they battle for a league title in the SEC Liberty.

9-Millburn (3-2): The Millers have moved up a level to the SEC Liberty, which should have a spirited race for the championship among three or four teams.

10-Montclair (1-3): After a slow start, the Mounties were a county finalist in 2016, so there’s no reason not to believe they will be a tough out this spring.


Who will join Citation (Olivia Sprofera), Canonero II (Sami Huetter), Funny Cide (Alexa Vardiman), Nyquist (Jessie Masur), Sunday Silence (Reese Guevarra) and American Pharoah (Kelsey Oh) in the FMTC barn in 2017?

Sami Huetter, West Essex.

Some great candidates will be joining soon.





By mike051893

A tremendous weekend at the Anthony LaRezza Invitational Softball Tournament, with good action on the field and a lot of compassion off it; West Essex sweeps its weekend series; Burggraf paces Newark Academy’s offense

The second annual Anthony LaRezza Invitational Softball Tournament on the campus of Immaculate Heart Academy, in Washington Township, provided fans some exciting softball on April 8 and 9, as well as the chance to raise monies for cancer research, while remembering a beloved coach who left us way too soon.

The games spoke for themselves, with most really close, including the first game on April 8, going into extra innings, as Montgomery ended IHA’s 32-game winning streak, dating back a year, with a 2-1 win, in 11 innings.

Essex County teams competing at IHA included West Essex, which rallied from 4-0 down to defeat Robbinsville, on April 8, then won at the EDSAF tourney the next day; Cedar Grove, which played back-to-back games on April 9 at IHA, and split two, and Newark Academy, which battled back from a 4-1 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning, but Jefferson answered with a run and then prevailed, 6-5, in 8 innings, despite a tremendous performance by Newark Academy’s Sam Burggraf, in the final game of the tournament.

Newark Academy’s Sam Burggraf. (Click on photo for larger image)

Burggraf, a sophomore third baseman, hit a long homer for Newark Academy’s first run, then helped spur the seventh inning rally which gave the Minutemen the lead.

As much as the games were compelling, the hard work by the IHA parents and the participation of the IHA players throughout the weekend, when the Eagles weren’t playing on the field, was impressive.

Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez and IHA’s senior second baseman, Sonia Sharma, at the Anthony LaRezza Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)

The overall results were good, in raising some money, as far as the 50-50’s and the always popular snack stand, which was hopping for most of the weekend.

IHA’s Reagan Jones and Coach Rodriguez. (Click on photo for larger image)

While the teams compete hard on the field, there’s a camaraderie which goes with it, too. A lot of the girls play club summer ball together, so while they may be on opposite sides during a high school game, they’re friends and many of the parents enjoy the chance to catch up with old pals at the 2-day event.

For example, when Burggraf was hitting well, a number of the IHA parents were cheering her on.

And if you knew Anthony LaRezza, that’s exactly the way he always wanted the tournament to be played.

One of Anthony’s closest friends, Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez, had his team at the tournament wearing special jerseys, with the name LaRezza affixed on the back, as well as the player’s number.

Sergio’s popular summer team, the Heist, has a number of players who were at the IHA tourney, so when he showed up on Sunday afternoon, it was time to catch up, as well, with good friends.

Perhaps one of the nicest scenes was at what I like to call the Bob Jones Bench, located behind the right field fence, where Anthony LaRezza’s brothers, Allen and Joe, sat together and watched the games on April 9. And joining Allen and Joe for a while on Sunday was the Citation of pitchers, Olivia Sprofera, IHA’s left-handed stud, who shared some stories of her love of the Yankees and Red Sox, to the dismay (kidding) of Allen, but most of all, recalling some nice memories of the man whom the tourney is now memorialized.

“It was so nice of Olivia to come out and talk for a while with us,” said Allen. “She’s such a great kid. I never heard her talk as much. Olivia is pretty quiet. She’s so much fun to watch compete, because she’s always composed.”

Olivia Sprofera is joined by Allen LaRezza (left) and Joe LaRezza, at The Bob Jones Bench, on April 9. (Click on photo for larger image)

It was a special weekend.

Congratulations to all who made it such a nice event.







By mike051893

A tourney near and dear to the Mondadori family’s heart, West Essex to play Demarest in annual EDSAF game on April 9

The side of coaching that any man or woman would like to avoid has also provided solace to an extended softball family.

The 14th annual EDSAF & Emerson Softball Benefit Tournament will be held on April 8 and 9, at Emerson Borough High School.

The final game of the tourney will feature West Essex taking on Northern Valley-Demarest, at 3 p.m., on April 9.

The EDSAF tourney is certainly close to West Essex assistant coach Steve Mondadori and his daughter, West Essex head coach Andrea Mondadori Llauget. The tournament benefits Ari Solimando, a 2004 Emerson High graduate and former catcher for then head coach Steve Mondadori, who was paralyzed in an accident back in 2003.

Ari, with her long-time companion, Nexus.

For many years at EDSAF, Steve’s team would play Andrea’s West Essex squad in the tourney. Steve coached at Emerson, then for a few seasons at St. Mary (Ruth.) before retiring as a coach at the end of the 2013 season.

Steve never misses this event. One year, he had a surgical procedure and was somewhat limited, but he was there, watching as his youngest daughter coached Emerson and his oldest daughter, of course, was leading West Essex.

mondoAndrea Mondadori Llauget and her father, Steve.

Steve decided to come back to coaching as an assistant to Andrea for the 2016 season and West Essex had one of its best seasons, ever, finishing 26-3 and winning an Essex County, Super Essex Conference and state sectional tournament championship.

See link on Steve’s official return. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/father-knows-best-andrea-mondadori-announces-the-hiring-of-a-new-softball-coach-at-west-essex/

The expectations are high again for the Knights in 2017, as Steve is back on the staff.

West Essex has also fared quite well at the EDSAF, winning nine of 12 games and five straight.

The tournament is held over two days and features a number of excellent softball programs in Northern New Jersey.

By mike051893

The Anthony LaRezza Invitational at IHA, set for April 8 and 9, brings back a lot of memories from when Anthony kept the place hopping with his humor and candor

We’re only a week into the 2017 softball season, but some interesting tournaments are set for this weekend, and hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Among those are the Anthony LaRezza Invitational Softball Tournament, at Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, on April 8 and 9. This is the second year that the tourney will bear the name of IHA’s late head softball coach. The event, of course, has been long-standing, and Anthony was a big part of the two days. When he wasn’t coaching, he’d be running around between the snack stand and the field, and in between greeting hundreds of fans and handing out softballs to the MVP’s of the other games.

The man never missed a beat. One year, as I walked into the IHA complex, a man, who said he was a certified umpire, handed me a softball, said to give to Anthony, and to make sure that ball was thrown out of play, because it was worn.

When I gave Anthony the message and the ball, he smiled with that wheels-turning smirk, looked at me, and said, about the certified ump, “who is he, Nestor Chylak?”, referring to the legendary MLB umpire.

Anthony, sitting in the rain and watching a Bergen County Tournament game at IHA a few years back. (Click on all photos for a larger image).

LaRezza often enjoyed talking about the Chicken and the Pig, and sacrifice needed by players to form a great team.

When Stef Thomas (third from left) won her 113th career game, which set a state record, back in 2014, Anthony was there, at IHA, leading the post-game celebration.

Stef, with her sisters, after winning a state-record 113th career game in 2014. At right is youngest sister Cat, who is now a freshman at IHA.

Of course, no IHA tourney was complete without a visit from Nestor Chylak.

And for years, we’d constantly kid about Nestor and get a few laughs.

In 2010, after his team lost to Livingston, 1-0, in the tournament, an obviously annoyed LaRezza gave what he and I later called “The Memorial Day Speech.” Anthony was talking to a close friend, behind the backstop while another tournament game was going on. He proceeded to say to his friend, “We’re not any good this year. These kids don’t care. They’ll go 22-6, and their season will be done around Memorial Day. Good, go down the shore, enjoy. Memorial Day weekend is just seven weeks away.”

The emotions obviously ran high last year, when the tournament was played without Anthony. Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez, a dear friend of Anthony’s, gave a good speech to the IHA players after the tournament concluded in 2016. It seemed to help the team focus on the season, and IHA went on to win a state title.

He said it while a few key IHA players, who were sitting nearby, would get the point. And he kept repeating the same line, about Memorial Day.

You had to see it to believe it, and it was hard to keep a straight face, as he’d glance over once in a while to see if I was hearing him. Great stuff.

So, this year, the IHA community will come together to remember a great guy, while seeing two days of good softball. The snack stand alone makes it worthwhile, trust me.

Here’s the schedule. It will be good to see some Essex County schools there, including West Essex, Cedar Grove and Newark Academy.



                9:00 AM: IHA VS. MONTGOMERY

                                  11:00 AM: WEST ESSEX VS. ROBBINSVILLE

                                          1:00 PM: ROBBINSVILLE VS. WEST MILFORD

                                  3:00 PM: SADDLE BROOK VS. CRANFORD


  SUNDAY, April 9

                                    9:00 AM: IHA VS. JOHNSON REGIONAL

                                                11:00 AM: ST. JOHN VIANNEY VS. CEDAR GROVE

                                           1:00 PM: CEDAR GROVE VS. ST JOSEPH (CT)

                                                3:00 PM: NEWARK ACADEMY VS. JEFFERSON





By mike051893

Huetter dominant, as West Essex defeats Livingston on Lily James’ birthday; Caldwell’s Guarino attains 100-hit milestone, as Chiefs edge Millburn; Montclair stops Nutley in extra innings

Sami Huetter had just finished a marvelous afternoon, both in the circle and at the plate. And as usual, the senior righty preferred to acknowledge a teammate and couldn’t stop talking about her new puppy.

Batting fifth in the lineup, Huetter was 3-for-4 at the plate, with a double, two runs scored and a pair of RBI. She was equally dominant as a pitcher, hurling a complete game 3-hitter, with seven strikeouts, as West Essex defeated Livingston, 10-1, at Panther Park, in Cedar Grove, in a home game for the Knights.

Sami Huetter, here kidding with batterymate Alexa Vardiman after a win last season, had another solid game for the Knights in a win over Livingston.  (Click on photo for larger image).

West Essex improved to 3-0 this season while Livingston fell to 1-1. Afterward, Huetter was eager to talk about another good game for her teammate, Lily James, a junior third baseman.

“I just love her,” said Huetter of James, whose bat has really perked up in 2017, including a 2-for-4 game with an RBI and run scored against Livingston. “And it’s Lily’s birthday today, too, which makes it even better.”

The number 5 through 9 batters in the West Essex lineup finished a combined 11-for-19, as Amanda Schwartz and Amanda Garofalo, the eighth and ninth batters in the lineup, each had two hits and drove in a run.

Alexa Vardiman had a big three-run double in the fifth inning when West Essex opened a 9-0 lead.

“No lead is safe against Livingston,” said West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget. “(Livingston head coach) Jason (Daily) is an incredible coach and his teams are always prepared. It was good to see so many of our kids swing the bats well today.”

Livingston’s Emma Cooney had two hits, including an RBI double in the sixth inning, which plated Ashley Reuter, who had also doubled.  On defense, Jill Gibbon made a tremendous catch in centerfield for the Lancers.

“We have a way to go,” said Daily afterward. “We’ve got new kids who are still learning the kind of game we play well, and it will take some time. But these kids work hard, and we’ll correct our mistakes.”

Christina Guarino collected her 100th career hit on April 5, as Caldwell edged Millburn, 6-5, in a Super Essex Conference Liberty Division matchup.

Christina Guarino celebrates her 100th hit with her teammates on April 5. (Click on photo for larger image).

Guarino, a senior catcher has put together a tremendous career for the Chiefs, who are off to a 2-0 start. Guarino plans to play softball at Rowan University this fall, as well.








By mike051893