Mondadori Llauget calls West Essex’s softball success over the years a tribute to Coach ‘Jay’ Ahmed

West Essex has enjoyed a level of success under head coach Andrea Mondadori Llauget over the last 13 seasons, including multiple state sectional championships, a pair of Essex County Tournament crowns, a few titles in the ultra competitive Super Essex Conference and over 230 victories.

While ‘Mondo’ is the head coach, she is quick to credit her long-time assistant, and good friend, Jason Ahmed, known as ‘Jay’ to his friends and West Essex players, past and present.

Jason Ahmed (back row center) has been a big part of West Essex’s success over the past 13 seasons. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mondadori also credited other assistant softball coaches in the Super Essex Conference, including Nutley’s Mike DiPiano.

“Those guys don’t get nearly the credit, outside of their teams,” said Mondadori Llauget. “Jay and Mike are highly respected within their teams, for sure. The parents and kids know the hard work they do. And I’m not just mentioning them. There are some tremendous softball programs in the SEC, with some outstanding head coaches, and most will say they all have had success because of a great coaching staff.”

When Coach Mondadori won her 200th career game in 2016 (Jay is in the background) she called all the wins “Jay’s and mine”.

For Mondadori Llauget, the camaraderie with Ahmed goes back two decades.

“Jay and I both went to Rutherford High School,” said Mondo. “He graduated in 1999, me, two years earlier. He played baseball and I played softball. Our fields were opposite each other. We had a mutual friend, Mike Anderson, who comes to most of our games now. I was friends with Mike growing up, because our moms played in a woman’s softball league together.

“When I got approved as head coach (at West Essex) in the Fall of 2004, I asked Mike to coach with me. He couldn’t so I asked Jay. I was 24, he was 22. I’ll never forget the first game we had. Mind you, we had a stud pitcher, Danielle Bertscha. but a very young team. We went to play Morris Knolls and were 10-run ruled so fast that we didn’t know what hit us. We sat down and said ‘what the heck are we doing’?

“We needed to figure it out. We had a parent on the team, Mr. Disanti, who was probably the best guy we’ve ever met and his daughter (Jackie) was the starting shortstop. We were spoiled with him because not every parent is like that. He was so helpful and supportive. Every step of the way, Jay and I made decisions together. But my name is always in the paper, and my name is always the one getting the credit, but every win and loss we had was together, so all of the success we had, was not to my credit only. We’ve made incredible friendships along the way with past and former players, and I can honestly say Jay is the brother I never had.” (Mondo is the oldest of three girls).

West Essex celebrated its second ECT title under Mondadori, and fourth overall, in 2016 at Ivy Hill Park. Jay stands back row, center, in this photo. (Click on photo for larger image)

As the years progressed, Jay and Andrea’s lives made a natural change.

“A few years ago my husband (Mike) and I wanted to start a family,’ Andrea said. “And I never knew what the timing had in store, so if Jay ever had to take over, he would have to coach third base. After Bridget Betley hit about 12 foul balls ripped down the left field side, I knew my days were numbered over there. So, we made the switch. (Andrea and Mike welcomed their first son, Colt, in September of 2016).

“But we have the perfect arrangement in the way we run this program. We have so many responsibilities that we each do. I can’t even imagine being a head coach and not having someone like that. I give all the credit in the world to the people who do it all themselves. Jay calls the pitches, coaches third base and breaks down scouting.

“But the people who have gone through the program know what Jay is all about. He is the most genuine, caring person I’ve ever met and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Nice words from a head coach who will forever cherish a great friendship.

By mike051893

Amanda Garofalo’s decision to attend MIT was as simple as 2 x Pi

When a student finds his or her dream college, there is usually a message attached.

It could be innuendo, or something as simple as a bird flying by, or just a feeling of ‘this is where I belong.’

For Amanda Garofalo, a recent graduate of West Essex High School and a brilliant student, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, also known as Pi, convinced her that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Mass, was the place for her.

Seriously.

Garofalo made her official announcement that MIT was her college choice three months ago. She’ll begin classes this fall, while also playing field hockey there.

While enjoying the moment at school last winter, with her mother, Michele, dad, Bill, along with Amanda’s field hockey coach Jill Cosse and West Essex athletic director Anthony Minnella, Garofalo, with that ever-present smile on her face, politely explained why Pi was so relevant.

In February, Amanda was joined by her parents, Michele (front row, left) and Bill (front row, right), along with West Essex field hockey coach Jill Cosse (back row, left) and athletic director Anthony Minnella (center) when she made her official announcement that she’ll be attending MIT. And that’s me, far right, back row. (Click on photos for larger images)

“It’s pretty simple,” she said, as Cosse delivered a subtle elbow to my ribs, which was code for ‘wait for it’. “It was 6:28 p.m. when I found out I was accepted (on Dec. 15, 2016). 628 is Pi x 2.”

Oh, sure. (LOL)

But, as usual, Amanda was right.

And even I know that 3.1416 x 2 = 6.28. (Or thereabouts).

Amanda on Senior Day. (Click on photos for larger images)

See? You learn something new every day.

But Garofalo, who clearly loves Mathematics and Science, and will major in Engineering in college, is also a tremendous athlete. In the fall, she was a team captain of West Essex’s marvelous run to the Tournament of Champions crown, as the Knights stunned perennial powerhouse Eastern, 2-1, in the championship game, to cap a 24-1 season.

In the spring, she was the speedy centerfielder of a very good softball team, which won a second straight Super Essex Conference title in 2017. A year ago, the Knights also won an SEC crown, as well as an Essex County championship and the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 championship.

Garofalo (right) and one of her best friends, Alexa Vardiman, celebrated an Essex County championship in 2016. Alexa lends a helping hand to Amanda in a 2017 game. (Click on photos for larger images)

Amanda was considering MIT, along with Stanford and a number of other top quality schools.

“I was so excited when I was accepted at MIT,” she said. “The coaches there have been great to me. I went to MIT in April for an overnight, and it was incredible. Boston is such a great city, too. I can’t wait.”

Cosse, who throws compliments around with the ease of a manhole cover, bubbles when it comes to Garofalo, the athlete and more importantly, the person.

Amanda always made her parents, Michele and Bill, proud during her high school days. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Amanda blows you away with her energy and hard work,” said Cosse. “She’s such a great girl. You look at the difficult courses she took in school, and then see how she performs as an athlete, for field hockey and softball. She’s just amazing.”

Amanda’s parents are both successful accountants, yet her father kids that he doesn’t understand where his daughter gets her incredible aptitude.

“It’s not from me,” said Bill Garofalo, with a laugh. “No way. Has to be from her mother.”

Amanda (far left) joins teammates, l to r, Alexa Vardiman, Sami Huetter and Bridget Betley after a 2017 game. The four look slightly different, as they look forward to a graduation gathering. (Click on photos for larger images)

The four team captains for West Essex field hockey are all headed to outstanding colleges. Lia Sinisi will attend Michigan State, Lizzy Cimilluca is off to Iowa and Jordyn Thies will attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Amanda proudly showed off her Tournament of Champions field hockey jacket in early February.

“Obviously, a very special class,” said Cosse of the 2016 Knights run to history.

MIT field hockey coach Cheryl Silva was also pleased that Garofalo will be playing for the Engineers this fall.

“We are very excited to have Amanda joining our program, this coming fall at MIT,” said Silva. “She has had an outstanding high school career both on and off the field, and we are lucky to have a scholar-athlete of her caliber joining our squad.”

West Essex softball coach Andrea Mondadori echoed Cosse’s sentiments on Garofalo.

“Amanda is an incredible young woman,” said Mondadori. “She has a tremendous future in store. Amanda was part of a very special senior class, that did so many great things for our program.”

In the long history of West Essex as a dynamic academic school, Amanda is one of the first to be attending MIT.

“It means a lot,” said Amanda. “It’s been such a rewarding experience going to West Essex. My family has always been there for me, and now, I’m ready for the next step.”

And that, along with a simple Pi equation, says it all about a very talented and classy young woman.

Congrats, Amanda ! All the best.

 

By mike051893

A Daughter’s Love on Father’s Day: Remembering a classic dad, husband and grandfather in Joe D’Ambola

When Joe D’Ambola passed away on Dec. 23, 2016, his daughter, Michele D’Ambola Topolski shared a beautiful poem about her dad.

On this Father’s Day, it’s only appropriate to share her words on a wonderful guy.

Happy Father’s Day, Joe !!! Indeed, A Special Man.

 

“A Special Man”

Sometimes we all lose focus of what life is all about…

An age is just a number without a shadow of a doubt!

It’s what you do with the life you lead…

That surely you should see…

And yours you’ve led with nothing less than honor, pride and dignity!

A son, a husband, father…

A teacher and a friend…

A coach and a leader…

The roles never seem to end!

Each memory has added to the richness of your life…

Moments that you’ll treasure forever…

With your friends, family and your wife!

To know you is to love you…

At any age that you are…

Each passing day you become brighter…

Brighter than the highest star!

Treasure every minute…

Embrace life every day…

And know that we all love you more than words can ever say!

(I wrote this for my dad when he turned 60.  Every word of this is true! He showed me how to be a better person!  I will love him forever & I hope that I always will always make him proud!

Be good, Dad!)

 

By mike051893

Naturally: The tale of 2 Mias, as good friends from Cedar Grove prepare for the biggest stage, while playing for different teams

Mia Recenello and Mia Faieta grew up in Cedar Grove, NJ.

They played youth softball together.

They live about a 5 minute drive from each other’s home.

Their families are close friends.

They have the same first name.

They each have a younger sibling.

They’re both high school sophomores.

Long time friends, Mia Faieta (left) and Mia Recenello, in their high school softball garb. A few years earlier, braces and all, they both wore the same uniform. (Click on photos for larger images)

And when the inaugural NJSIAA Tournament of Champions for softball begins on June 6, at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University, both will have the honor of playing on the grandest of stages.

But, they won’t be playing for the same team.

Mia Faieta (top photo, back row, third from left) and Mia Recenello (bottom photo, top row, third from right) both celebrated state championships at Kean University on June 3 and 4. (Click on photos for larger images)

Huh?

It’s true. Recenello, dubbed ‘The Natural‘ for a walk-off homer that hit the scoreboard during a game this season, plays at Immaculate Heart Academy, in Bergen County’s Washington Township. Faieta, AKA California Chrome‘ for her stud work in the circle, pitches for her home town team, Cedar Grove High.

They’ve both been integral to their team’s incredible seasons. Despite battling a virus, Recenello, the team’s catcher, homered in the second inning of the Non-Public A championship game to give IHA a 1-0 lead. She also made three tremendous grabs of tough pop ups to secure key outs, as IHA defeated powerful Donovan Catholic, 5-1, for its third straight group championship.

The following day, it was Faieta’s turn. ‘Chrome’ was untouchable again, with that wicked riser. She struck out 13 and spun a perfect game as the Panthers defeated a tough Metuchen team, 4-0, for the program’s second Group 1 championship in the last three years.

Faieta’s run in the state tournament has been legendary. She’s pitched three perfect games, including the 21-for-21 game in the sectional semifinal, when Faieta fanned every batter she faced, over seven innings. She also leads the state in strikeouts.

And now, with the advent of the Tournament of Champions, both ‘Mias’ (as Faieta’s mom, Fran likes to call them) will continue their season this week. IHA earned a first-round bye while Cedar Grove will play in the first round of the T of C, opposite a really good Robbinsville team, which won the Group 2 title. If Cedar Grove prevails, it would play IHA in the semifinals on June 7.

And the batterymates that never were, on the high school level, could get a chance to meet up. The teams have scrimmaged, but haven’t played each other in the regular season.

Recenello, the daughter of Kristen and Sam Recenello and older sister to Talia, herself a rising softball talent on the Suburban level, speaks fondly of a long-term friendship with Faieta.

Mia, with her mom, dad and younger sister after hitting the now famous homer off the scoreboard earlier this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Well I’ve known Mia since forever now, like 9 or 10 years old,” said Mia Recenello. “We both tried out for softball together and we were the only ones who didn’t make the ‘good’ team. As we got older, we continued playing together, we were quite the duo, and buddies to say the least.”

The camaraderie between the two was evident.

“Everyone knew how we played together, we had a chemistry and it always worked so well in games,”said Recenello. “Mia’s mom (Fran) is one of my biggest fans. She always had us working together, she would train me in catching and have me catch Mia as frequently as possible. The older we got, the better we got, to the point where we both were unstoppable together.”

Fate would intervene, when Mia Recenello met legendary IHA coach, Anthony LaRezza, while still in middle school. The chance to play for LaRezza in high school was difficult for Mia to turn down.

Anthony LaRezza, here with IHA head coach Diana Fasano, then LaRezza’s assistant, was a big influence on Recenello’s decision to attend IHA.

“If I didn’t meet Anthony, there was a chance Mia and I could be playing together today,” said Recenello. “But instead, we may play against each other. I miss catching for her, and I’m so proud of what she has made her pitching career into today.”

(Sadly, Mia didn’t get the chance to play for LaRezza, as Anthony died in Feb., 2016. But Mia, like all her teammates will say, plays for Anthony, every time out).

And Mia Faieta, the daughter of Fran and Paul Faieta and older sister to Alex, himself a freshman at Cedar Grove, speaks volumes of ‘The Natural’.

Mia, with her mom and dad, after leading Cedar Grove to the state sectional championship, in a hard-fought win over Verona. (Click on photo for larger image)

“We went to different elementary schools, so Mia and I didn’t really get to know each other until the fifth or sixth grade,” said Faieta. ” By the time we were in middle school, we were pretty close. Mia was always a catcher. I actually started as a shortstop, then became a pitcher the following year.”

Similar to Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team, Faieta chuckles when she recalled that both she and Recenello were cut from their first softball team, in sixth grade.

“Yeah, we both got cut,” she said. “A year later, we made the team.”

As close as the two are, they’re also competitors. Asked if they speak often during the high school softball season, Recenello noted “we barely speak during the season. Sometimes, I’ll shoot her a text, and when my team plays in Cedar Grove (in the annual Black and Gold Tournament), we always find each other and talk for a little while.”

Faieta agreed.

“We catch up a little during the season, but it’s hectic for both of us. She has a commute every day to and from school, and she has practice, and I have my stuff going on with softball. The days fly by.”

While they both were part of a state championship last weekend, they haven’t had a chance to congratulate each other. Yet.

“I know people are saying we could play them in the semifinals,” said Faieta of Cedar Grove taking on IHA. “But we have a big game coming up, first, against Robbinsville, and they’re very good. I am friends with a lot of the girls on IHA. They’re really good people, too.

“But right now, my only thought is pitching well against Robbinsville.”

The families are always supportive. Recenello’s success is constantly echoed on Fran Faieta’s Facebook page, as is Faieta’s pitching on Kristen’s social media.

“We love Mia, we love Fran and Paul,” said Kristen. “The Faietas are the best. It’s been so exciting to see Mia pitching the way she has this year. We’re so happy that both kids are getting this chance.”

And Fran Faieta was quick to reply.

“Kristen is wonderful,” said Fran. “Sam is a tremendous dad and Talia is such a sweet girl. When I heard Mia had homered to get IHA off and running in the state championship, I was going crazy. I was so happy.”

Long after the games are played, the friendships will remain intact.

It’s what growing up together and being a part of wonderful families will do.

 

 

 

 

 

By mike051893

K-CHROME! A PERFECT 21-FOR-21, as Mia Faieta strikes out the side 7 straight times and Cedar Grove advances to sectional final, where it will face Verona

The smile never seems to waver, whether it’s a win, or a loss.

Mia Faieta of Cedar Grove has learned to love playing softball for the simple joy of competition. But even she had to be surprised by what happened on May 26, in a state sectional semifinal win over North Warren.

Faieta struck out every batter she faced in a seven inning perfect game, as Cedar Grove (19-7) advanced to the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 championship game, at Verona, scheduled for May 30, after a 4-0 win over a tough North Warren squad.

After throwing the gem, Faieta was greeted by her mother, Fran, as well as Cedar Grove fans who kidded she wasn’t throwing the ball hard enough. Typically, the sophomore just smiled, as she soaked in the accomplishment in what was Cedar Grove’s last home game of the 2017 season.

Mia Faieta (right) was all smiles after a big win in the sectional semifinals. (Click on photo for larger image)

“My ball was moving pretty well,” ‘California Chrome‘ said. “I used about four different pitches. Sometimes you have to adjust to a home plate umpire’s zone, but today, everything I threw was in the strike zone and the umpire seemed to recognize that. I started feeling more and more comfortable as the game went on.”

North Warren, which won its conference in 2017, played a solid game after a tough first inning.

“They were tough,” said Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi of North Warren. “They played good defense and their pitcher was on. But, obviously, Mia was tremendous.”

Fans raved about Faieta’s velocity and control.

“You won’t see anything like that again,” one fan said. “Twenty one straight strikeouts? No walks? Think about that.”

Mia and her mom, Fran, enjoyed a nice moment after the incredible pitching performance. (Click on photo for larger image)

“It’s a good win for our team,” she said. “We get to move on and play for a sectional championship against Verona, who has a really good team this year. Our goal is to win a state title.”

Fran Faieta, Mia’s mother, couldn’t have been prouder, both with the pitching and her daughter preparing her own breakfast the morning of the game.

“Yeah, she made her own breakfast, I was surprised,” said Fran with a laugh, as she hugged her daughter after the game. “Mia was something else today. Most importantly, it was a good win for her team, especially at home.”

The other California Chrome

 

By mike051893

As Derby Day nears, Oh fans 16 and No. 1 Mount St. Dominic dominates, with 2 shutout wins; Faieta continues her run; IHA’s Dudek excels in the clutch, again; Masur comes up big; Teshkoyans in rarefied air, reach 1,000 wins

With the Kentucky Derby set for May 6, the studs are taking center stage. In Essex County softball, that’s always the case, but last week, it was very apparent.

Mount St. Dominic won both its games at its tournament on April 29, blanking Red Bank Catholic, 9-0, and St. Anthony (NY), 4-0.

Kelsey Oh (American Pharoah) was brilliant, pitching a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts in the win over St. Anthony after Julianna Kocenski spun a shutout in the opening game.

Mount St. Dominic’s pitching is tremendous. Oh is Oh, and she’s incredible, but Kocenski and freshman Ali Winters will continue the winning tradition next year for the Lions. Winters, just a freshman, pitched an excellent game on May 1 against West Essex.

Head coach Lorenzo Sozio’s Lions have a big game scheduled on May 4, at Ivy Hill Park, opposite a strong Notre Dame team, starting at 7 p.m. Could be a preview of the Non-Public A championship, in what is a very talented state bracket.

Mia Faieta (California Chrome) had another big week in the circle, as the Cedar Grove sophomore struck out 15 and threw a 1-hitter in a win over Columbia. Faieta is averaging nearly 15 strikeouts a game.

Mia Faieta (right) is pitching lights out for Cedar Grove. (Click on photos for larger images)

Immaculate Heart Academy’s Ally Dudek made a Sam Corio-type catch in her teams win over Newark Academy on April 29, at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, in Park Ridge. Dudek reached over the left field fence to deny a homer by Sam Burggraf. Ironically, in May, 2016, Corio leaped at the fence, in Bloomfield, to rob the talented Burggraf of a homer. (And if you’ve seen Burggraf play, you know there will be a lot more balls hit way over the fence, as there already have been, that won’t be caught. That kid can flat out hit).

The unassuming Dudek is the new ‘Alysheba‘. She just makes plays, both in left field, and at the plate. It was Dudek’s single that scored Reagan Jones with the winning run two weeks ago in a marvelous game against West Essex, as the Eagles won, 2-1, at the Black and Gold Tournament. And don’t forget, on June 6, 2015, as a sophomore, Dudek also singled home Jones with the game-winning run, and this time, it was for a state championship, as IHA defeated Notre Dame, 1-0, at Kean University.

The new ‘Alysheba’, Ally Dudek, of IHA, here with Coach Fasano. (Click on photos for larger images)

“She’s so underrated,” said IHA coach Diana Fasano of Dudek. “Ally always seems to make a big play and is in the right place, at the right time.”

Dudek plans to attend the University of Dayton this fall.

Another stud is back in form at Montclair, as Jess Masur (Nyquist) spun a shutout against Cedar Grove on May 1, 2-0. Masur led Montclair to the Essex County Tournament championship game in 2016 and now appears to be hitting her dominant form, as the Mounties look to repeat last year’s heroics, as well as earning a berth in the NJSIAA Tournament, which eluded the team a year ago.

What more can you say about Caldwell coaches Mike Teshkoyan and his brother, Mark Teshkoyan? The all time winningest coach in Essex County softball (644 wins, and counting) garnered his 1,000th career win as a varsity head coach, all at Caldwell, last week as the Chiefs downed Montclair Kimberley, on April 28.

The Teshkoyans also coach the girls soccer team at Caldwell, where the duo has accounted for 356 victories.

The Teshkoyans, Mike (left) and Mark.

Photo taken by Steve Tober of http://www.sidelinechatter.com

“Sharing this milestone with Mark is at the top of the list for me, we’ve been together for 63 seasons, and I couldn’t run our two programs without his loyalty, dedication and passion for trying to make our teams the best they can be,” said Mike Teshkoyan of his brother.
Will have much more on the milestone in an upcoming blog.
Here is the updated FMTC, Top 10. Montclair moves up and Millburn jumps in.

FMTC TOP 10

1-Mount St. Dominic (13-4)

2-West Essex (13-3)

3-Cedar Grove (11-5)

4-Verona (13-2)

5-Montclair (6-7)

6-Nutley (7-7)

7-Livingston (7-8)

8-Bloomfield (10-7)

9-Caldwell (8-5)

10-Milburn (8-7)

 

STUD WATCH

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

Ally Dudek, Alysheba

By mike051893

The Big Guy is smiling, as Reese Guevarra sets a new IHA record; Recenello swinging the bat well for Eagles, who appear to be finding its stride; Sprofera, White both dominant in circle

Anything associated with the Immaculate Heart Academy softball program was second nature to its legendary coach, Anthony LaRezza. When records were set, LaRezza was the first to acknowledge it.

So, when Reese Guevarra (Sunday Silence) became IHA’s all-time leader for career hits on May 2, in a game at Paramus Catholic, there was the thought that Anthony was indeed smiling.

Reese Guevarra (partially obstructed) and Taylor Kenerson (16) helped douse LaRezza after a state championship in 2015. (Click on photos for larger images)

Guevarra, a senior who will play at the University of Connecticut this fall, surpassed the great Carly Piccinich as her school’s hit leader, with two singles, as IHA won, 5-1. She now has 187 hits and her hot bat of late has helped IHA (15-2) win 13 straight games, after a pair of 2-1 setbacks in early April.

Guevarra and head coach Diana Fasano are joined by other IHA players to celebrate Reese’s new record.

“This is all about my teammates,” said Guevarra, who was joined by head coach Diana Fasano and a bunch of Eagles for a post-game photo. “It means so much to get this record, but it’s only because of these great players around me.”

Only thing missing in the post-game celebration was a recording of Neil Diamond’sSweet Caroline’. So, here it is, if you want to listen while reading.

IHA catcher Mia Recenello had another two hits in the Paramus Catholic game, after a big game against Pequannock, which included a ‘Natural’ like homer which hit the scoreboard and wrapped up a victory, on April 30, in Rutherford.

Recenello’s homer hitting the scoreboard reminded IHA fans of a moment from ‘The Natural.’

Recenello also had the chance to celebrate a nice win with her grandmother, Joan, and Joan’s close friend, George, as well as Mia’s parents, Kristen and Sam, younger sister, Talia, and family pet.

Mia and her family celebrate a nice win on April 30. (Click on photos for large images)

The IHA pitching has been tremendous all season, as senior lefty Olivia Sprofera continues to be the ‘Citation-esque‘ pitcher which makes her perhaps the best in the state. And the play of freshman Ryleigh White has really stepped up.

White is beginning to dominate in the circle and the righthander also leads IHA in homers, with five, including one against Paramus Catholic.

The Bergen County Tournament will begin play this weekend, and IHA will be hosting games on May 6 and 7. The defending champion Eagles could be either the first or second seed.

 

 

 

By mike051893

5 years later and ‘The Game That Never Was’: Who would have won between IHA and Livingston, ‘Secretariat’ and ‘Affirmed’? Here’s one guess

It was May 8, 2012, and two undefeated New Jersey high school softball teams were scheduled to play a 7 p.m. game at Ivy Hill Park.

Immaculate Heart Academy was ranked first in the state while Livingston was second. Both teams had standout pitchers and a marvelous lineup.

Unfortunately, the game never happened. Light rain at 4 p.m., which didn’t affect a nearby game as Columbia played Caldwell that afternoon, somehow forced a cancellation of a 7 p.m. game, when there was no rain and, in fact, the sun was out.

Since it was not a conference game, the contest could not be made up. But, five years later, it’s an interesting time to look back at what may have been, in The Game That Never Was.

Kylie McLaughlin (left) and Alexa Altchek were key players for the 2012 Lancers. (Click on photos for larger images)

Anthony LaRezza was IHA’s coach while Jason Daily led Livingston. LaRezza and Daily were friends and had high respect for each other’s program.

LaRezza would always have kind words for the opposition, but he particularly liked Livingston. Quite often, he’d be seen in the stands, watching Livingston play, on days when IHA was off.

“They were really good,” LaRezza would say of Livingston, in 2014, in looking back at that game. “We didn’t play Livingston, a lot, but it was fun when we did. And it was always a tough game. Jason is a great guy, and his teams are always prepared.

“I’m not sure who would have won that (2012) game. (Junior pitcher) Jess (Peslak) was incredible that season. She was unhittable.”

Jess Peslak was 26-1 in 2012.

Peslak, dubbed Secretariat, would finish the 2012 season with some incredible numbers, including a 26-1 record, with a 0.32 ERA while leading Livingston to arguably its best season in the program’s history. Peslak fanned 307 in 175 2/3 innings of work while walking 37. She also had  19 shutouts, including five-no hitters and nine one-hitters. She fanned a season high 17 in a win over West Essex in the Essex County Tournament semifinals and recorded double figures in strikeouts 20 times.

Livingston coach Jason Daily, with All-State players Kylie McLaughlin (left) and Jess Peslak in 2012. (Click on photos for larger images)

Peslak, now a senior at Hofstra University and still pitching, opened the 2012 season by not allowing an earned run in her first 73 innings. She wound down the year by not yielding a run, earned, or unearned, from April 27 to June 5, a span of 82 1/3 innings during which she threw 11 straight shutouts while also making a few relief appearances. Ultimately, Peslak gave up one earned run in her final 88 2/3 innings.

I often said that LaRezza’s famous 2010 ‘Memorial Day speech’ was a classic, and it came on the heals a 1-0 loss to Livingston, at the IHA Tournament. In that game, Peslak, then a freshman, didn’t pitch, but she drove in the winning run.

Daily had equal respect for LaRezza.

“A great guy,” Daily would often say. “Anthony’s teams are very talented. They play hard and play with class. They learned from the best.”

IHA had a marvelous pitcher, too, in Steph Thomas, who was a sophomore in 2012. Thomas, of course, would go on to win a state-record 113 career games and is now a standout pitcher at Lafayette College. The eventual Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014, Thomas (aka Affirmed) would not only lead the state in career wins, but her 68 shutouts was also a state record.

Steph Thomas (center) with then assistant coach Diana Fasano and head coach Anthony LaRezza, in 2014.

In 2014, alone, Thomas was 31-2 with 285 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 193 innings, while pitching to an earned run average of 0.47. She also hit .532 with 11 doubles and 23 RBI. For her career, Thomas had 951 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.54. And she could flat-out hit, too.

LaRezza, a tough grader for his own players, said this to NorthJerseySports.com in 2014 about Thomas.

Steph Thomas celebrated win number 113 with her grandparents three years ago.

“I have said this before, but she might be the best player to come out of New Jersey in the history of New Jersey. There might have been better pitchers and there might have been better hitters, but there has never been a player that I know of that does that combination better and she does even more than that,” said LaRezza. “She hits, she runs, you see the way she fields her position. She takes hits away from leadoff batters that hit the ball hard up the middle. She just grabs it and throws them out. As far a pitcher that can do it all, I don’t know if there has ever been anybody better.’

So, who would have won that game in 2012? We’ll obviously never know. But here’s a look at the lineups from that season, as both teams had tremendous hitters, but it’s hard to tell how much offense would have been generated that night, with the quality of the pitching.

LIVINGSTON                                                                                                        IHA        

Kylie McLaughlin, CF                                                                                      Angelina McGuire, CF

Sammi Rothenberger, SS                                                                               Danielle Ibarra, SS

Alexa Altchek, RF                                                                                              Rachel Pollard, RF

Jazzy Pignatello, 1B                                                                                          Abby Holmes, 1B

Jess Peslak, P                                                                                                      Steph Thomas, P

Marina Lombardi, C                                                                                         Ally Vergona, C

Rachel Wasilak, 2B                                                                                           Carly Piccinich, 2B

Reid Singer, LF                                                                                                  Emily Walter, LF

Carly LaGrotta, 3B                                                                                                 Cassidy Trause, 3B

Kaitlyn Reilly, DH                                                                                                   Erica Correa, DH

Sammi Passeri, Runner                                                                                       Steph Schulz, Runner

 

It should be noted that IHA and Livingston did play in 2013, at an early season tournament at Mount St. Dominic, and IHA won, 5-2.

“Different teams in 2013,” LaRezza once said. “The core players were still there, but Jess was injured when we played them that year and she wasn’t her usual dominant self. I’m still not sure if we would have won in 2012, but I would have liked our chances. We had great kids that year, too.”

IHA would finish 32-0 in 2012 and be ranked the state’s best team. Livingston would win a conference, county and state sectional title, but were defeated in the Group 4 semifinal by Hunterdon Central. The Lancers finished 29-1 that year.

After meeting in 2013, Livingston and IHA would go on to excellent seasons. The Lancers would win the conference, county and state sectional titles again, before losing in the Group 4 semifinal to Watchung Hills.

Always influential coaches, Anthony LaRezza and Jason Daily helped younger coaches. Phil Delgado (standing next to Anthony) was very close to LaRezza and always respected Daily.

IHA would win another Bergen County and conference championship, before losing to St. John Vianney in the 2013 Non-Public A final.

Two years later, LaRezza would lead IHA to another state championship, with the famous Sean Reilly photo of LaRezza jumping for joy after the win. Two hundred forty three days after that title, LaRezza passed away, but his legacy remained strong, as IHA went on to another state championship in 2016.

Sean Reilly’s 2015 photo of Anthony LaRezza celebrating a state title says it all about Anthony’s love of the game. (And Diana Fasano was fired up, too)

Livingston would also win a third state sectional championship in five seasons in 2016, under Daily’s guidance. He remains one of the best coaches in North Jersey.

As for The Game That Never Was?

I’ll go with Livingston, 2-1, in 8 innings.

 

By mike051893

Moresco’s 2-out single drives in Kelly with winning run as Livingston rallies past determined Nutley, 7-6; Reuter, Cooney, Luzzi, Saperstein, Moresco and Williamson also star

Livingston won a big Super Essex Conference American Division game, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to edge a feisty Nutley team, 7-6, in Livingston.

The Lancers (7-8) appeared to have the game under control, holding a 5-0 lead in the top of the sixth, before Nutley (7-7) answered with four  runs, then took the lead in the seventh with two more. Livingston responded, scoring two in the last of the seventh, capped off by an RBI single from Alex Moresco.

Livingston snapped a four game losing streak to Nutley and defeated the Raiders, at the Shangri La home field, for the first time since Jess Peslak was pitching for the team, in 2013.

“We found a way, against a good team,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “We’re getting there, but we’re not playing at the level we’re capable of, yet.”

Livingston hopes to make another run in the state sectional in 2017. (Click on photos for larger image)

Livingston and Nutley are almost mirror images of each other. They’re both young teams, learning the game, while playing a rugged schedule, with strong veteran head coaches. Luann Zullo has been at the helm in Nutley for 19 seasons now while Daily is in his 17th season.

“It’s always a good game with Livingston,” said Zullo. “I’ve always had the highest respect for the way Jason coaches that team. It’s a battle, every time.”

Both teams have talented youngsters in the lineup. Nutley pitcher Courtney Wilde, a sophomore, gets better with each game, and she’s also a force at the plate, batting third in the lineup.Wilde was 2-for-4 against Livingston.

Junior shortstop Melanie Conca is a force at the plate and senior Sam Echevarria is a tremendous second baseman who started Nutley’s sixth inning rally with a lead off single. Another senior, Lauren Hogan, plays a solid first base and has an effective bat.

Nutley coach Luann Zullo, here with Lauren Hogan (left) and Sam Echevarria.

Livingston shortstop Ashley Reuter, a junior, and freshman second baseman Nicolette Luzzi give the Lancers a tremendous middle infield defense, and both are excellent hitters.

“Ashley is a tremendous athlete,” said Daily. “And Nicolette is quickly learning the varsity game.”

Jaclyn Williamson had three hits in the win over Nutley and started the winning rally in the seventh with a single. Kaitlyn Kelly, who drove in two runs, followed with a single, and a throwing error allowed Wiliamson to score the tying run. After a ground out, a key two-out walk by Chloe Saperstein set the stage for Moresco, the number nine hitter in the lineup, and she came through, with an opposite-field single which plated Kelly with the winning run.

“Kaitlyn’s hit was big for us,” said Daily of Kelly. “And give Chloe a lot of credit. That walk was huge. She’s a freshman and learning the game. Chloe had a tough first three at bats in the game, but she didn’t get down, she worked hard and got a walk which extended the inning and set up Alex’s hit.”

Livingston’s Emma Cooney, one of the best defensive catchers in the county, scored two runs and Lancers pitcher Jess Gorman pitched well. She didn’t allow a baserunner through 3 2/3 innings and had a shutout into the sixth.

“Jess pitched well,” said Daily. “She gave us a quality start.”

 

 

 

By mike051893

It’s a special day for Rianna Marinelli, as Stockton-bound Cedar Grove Panther collects 3 hits, including a homer, and surpasses 100 hits for her career, as Cedar Grove downs Columbia

Rianna Marinelli celebrated her 100th career hit on April 27 with a tremendous day at the plate. The senior was 3-for-4, with a homer and two RBI, as Cedar Grove pulled away from Columbia to win a 10-0 decision, at Panther Park.

Marinelli, who will play at Stockton University this fall, collected her 100th hit in her first plate appearance and drove in a run, as Cedar Grove (11-4) opened a 2-0 lead after one inning. Jules Cicala also had an RBI single in the first.

Left to right, Cedar Grove assistant coach Pete Velardi, head coach Nicole Velardi, Rianna Marinelli and assistant coach Sara Lipman following a big day for Marinelli, at Panther Park. 

A two run lead with Mia Faieta pitching is usually more than enough, and that was the case, as Faieta, who left her last start early with stiffness in her shoulder, was back in her usual form. The sophomore righty (AKA California Chrome) fanned 15 in six innings while giving up one hit. Faieta did work out of a jam in the second inning, when Columbia loaded the bases with one out, but California Chrome fanned the next two hitters to get out of it unscathed.

Rianna recently made her college choice official. She’ll play at Stockton University in the fall.

But the story of the game was Marinelli, who continues to play well for the Panthers.

“Rianna does so much for our team,” said Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi. “This is a nice day for her.”

Marinelli’s homer came in the sixth, a solo blast well over the left centerfield fence. She will join former Cedar Grove teammate Daniela Marinaro at Stockton. One-time Cedar Grove stars Gianna Cuffari and Nicole Tomo also played softball at Stockton.

Marinelli will have an Essex County teammate at Stockton this fall, too, as West Essex’s Sami Huetter plans to play at the Atlantic County school, as well.

Columbia coach Cliff Smith kept his sense of humor following the game. When he caught a glance of the score book, he smiled and said, “that’s a lot of K’s.”

Smith is optimistic about his team’s future.

“We’re a young team,” said Smith. “Mia was really tough today, but we’ve been hitting the ball pretty well. We had a good win against Bloomfield the other day, gave Livingston a tough game and we’re getting better. I’m optimistic about the future.”

 

 

 

 

 

By mike051893