From Kim Fitzgerald to Briana and Chloe Weinstein; Francene Ricciardi to Mia Faieta, coupled with Cheryl Marion, Cedar Grove High’s Mother-Daughter-Coach history highlighted by 2018 ECT crown

Eight years before its current head coach was born, Cedar Grove and Belleville met in the 1984 Essex County Tournament softball championship. Belleville had won the previous two titles, impressively, and were a favorite to make it three straight, behind a talented senior battery of Dina DeAquino and Tracy Buono.

In the early 80’s, Cedar Grove and Belleville were the top teams in Essex County softball. The Panthers had beaten an upstart Belleville team in the 1980 final, behind its stalwart pitcher, Laurel VanDerMay, the younger sister of head coach Ray VanDerMay. In 1982, Belleville would win its first title, defeating Livingston, and the following year, head coach Carl Corino’s team won a second straight crown, downing Bloomfield. And en route to the ’82 championship, Belleville defeated Cedar Grove in the ECT quarterfinals.

Now, Cedar Grove and Belleville would meet in the 1984 final, and Cedar Grove pulled off what was then an upset, defeating the Bucs, 8-5. Among the players on the field that night, at Pulaski Park, in Bloomfield, were Francene Ricciardi of Cedar Grove and Belleville’s Cheryl Marion.

Fran Faieta, here with her daugher Mia earlier this season, was part of the 1984 ECT championship team at Cedar Grove. (Click on photo for larger image)

Fast forward some 34 years and Marion (now Cheryl Marion Zenobi) is in her first year as an assistant coach to Nicole Velardi. Like Marion, Velardi also played softball at Belleville High. Meanwhile Ricciardi would marry Paul Faieta in 1999 in a royal wedding similar to last Saturday’s event in London (Kidding, somewhat, but the Plaza in NYC is a neat place). Over a year later, around Thanksgiving, the couple would welcome their first child, a daughter, named Mia.

Fran Faieta was part of the 1984 Cedar Grove team, which defeated Belleville in the finals, 8-5. (Click on photo for larger image)

Last Sunday, Mia pitched a complete game, as Cedar Grove won its first county championship in eight years and fifth overall. And Fran, the softball junkie who played shortstop in 1984, can now join her daughter as a county champion from Cedar Grove High. (And it should be noted that before Mia discovered pitching, she was a shortstop in her younger days on the youth level).

Gabby Castelli was a freshman in 2010 when Cedar Grove won its first county title in 26 years. Castelli also has a Belleville connection, as her father, Jim, was a standout athlete for the Bucs in the early 1980’s.

They’re not the first mother-daughter to accomplish the ECT championship feat for the Panthers. One of Fran’s teammates on that 1984 team was the former Kim Fitzgerald. In 2010, Kim’s daughter, Briana Weinstein, starred on coach Rob Stern’s team, which won Cedar Grove’s first county championship since 1984, defeating West Essex, 2-0. Kim and Brianna were both second basemen for the Panthers.

Mia Faieta, here with mom and dad after leading her team to a state sectional title in 2017.

And now, another Weinstein, Kim’s daughter, Chloe Weinstein, a sophomore, is also playing well for the Panthers.

Marion’s roots are also deep. As a player, she would be a part of two county champions at Belleville, in 1982 and 1983, and played in the championship game in 1984 and 1985. (Belleville lost the 1985 final to Livingston. All tolled, Belleville was in nine ECT finals in the 1980’s).

Four years after graduating high school, Cheryl returned to her alma mater as an educator and coach, and was an assistant to Corino, on the 1989 BHS team which defeated Livingston, 1-0, in 10 innings for the school’s last county title, to date, in softball.

Nearly 30 years after that ’89 title, Marion was proudly holding a championship plaque, last Sunday at Ivy Hill Park. And who was standing next to her? Carl Corino.

Cedar Grove assistant coach Cheryl Marion and her high school coach at Belleville, Carl Corino, after Cedar Grove won the 2018 championship on May 20, at Ivy Hill Park. (Courtesy of Cheryl Marion Zenobi. Click on photo for larger image).

From Fitzgerald, to Weinstein, to Riccardi and Faieta, along with a Corino and Marion, the history of the Essex County Tournament is certainly a proud one.




By mike051893

Passaic Valley drops a heartbreaker in PCT final, but receives a brilliant pitching effort from Bernardo and some good at-bats by Donnelly, Hill and Sol

On a softball diamond in Little Falls, the present met the future, and while the more experienced team found a way to win, the upstarts made a statement of its own, as well.

DePaul won its record seventh straight Passaic County Tournament championship in an exciting game, in Little Falls, 3-2, on May 14, but Passaic Valley’s young core showed it’s ready to not only contend for, but win the crown in the years to come.

It was DePaul’s 12th county championship, also a record, while PV was looking for its first title in 30 years, when current head coach Kathy Hill (nee May) had paced the Hornets to back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988.

While PV’s youth made a statement with some exceptional at bats and good fielding plays, senior pitcher Alyssa Bernardo was also marvelous. She pitched a complete game, four hitter, got stronger as the game went on, didn’t walk a batter and also didn’t allow an earned run.

“You can’t do much better,” said a disappointed but proud Hill afterward. “Alyssa was tremendous. We made a few mistakes in the field, and we’ll need to learn from that. I also know these kids will bounce back from this. They love playing this game, I love coaching them, and we’ll be back to work tomorrow.”

Passaic Valley’s softball future looks good, especially with freshmen (l to r) Taylor Hill, Devyn DiPasquale and Brianna DeLuccia. (Click on photo for larger image)

The game was supposed to be played at Back Beach Park on the evening of May 14. But the field at Back Beach wasn’t going to be ready for play by game time, due to last weekend’s rain, so it looked like the game would be pushed back a few more days.

Passaic Valley’s athletic director, Rob Carcich, offered his field for the championship game, since last Monday’s weather was beautiful, and scheduling a game later in the week, with the state tournament nearing and questionable weather coming up, could have been tenuous.

If there was any trepidation about playing in a big game, the Hornets quickly dispelled that in the top of the first when Bernardo gave up a one-out single, but then got out of the frame when freshman shortstop Taylor Hill caught a line drive and threw back to first for a double play.

The game was scoreless until the fourth, when DePaul scored twice. The Spartans added a run in the top of the sixth, but PV would answer with a rally as the home crowd roared its approval.

With one out, Alex Ward hit a single, which was just the second hit off eventual winning pitcher Summer Ramundo. Rachel Sol had one of the game’s best at-bats, fouling off nine pitches before drawing a walk. Devyn DiPasquale singled to the load the bases and Shana  Donnelly followed with a huge two-run single, cutting the deficit to 3-2.

Ramundo would work out of further damage in the sixth, but in the seventh, PV would put the potential winning runs on base as Hill and Jada Rodriguez each singled with one out. But again, Ramundo, a senior, showed her mettle, by retiring the final two hitters to end the game.

Passaic Valley (13-6) won’t have time to dwell on the setback. The Hornets are the third seed in the NJSIAA tournament, in North 1, Group 3, and will host Morris Hills, in the first round on May 17.

“We look ahead,” said Kathy Hill. “That’s what we do. I was proud of the way this team battled back, down 3-0. They gave a good effort.”

By mike051893

DePaul wins a 7th straight softball crown, ‘befitting’ a classic final, as Ramundo, Cavanagh, Coiro and Juchniewicz star in 3-2 win over feisty Passaic Valley

DePaul softball coach Sue Parler has long gone by the theory that winning a county championship is always a new experience, regardless of how many consecutive titles her Spartans have won.

So when the final out was recorded in a scintillating 3-2 win by DePaul over Passaic Valley, on May 14, in Little Falls before a large and enthusiastic crowd, Parler wasn’t diverting from her original thought.

“We have seven seniors who are experiencing their last (county) championship,” said Parler. “And we have four freshmen who are seeing this for the first time. I’ll say it over and over, there’s always a player who will be experiencing this for the first time.”

DePaul won its record seventh straight PCT title and 12th overall, in a game that was scheduled to be played at Back Beach Park, in Wanaque, but was moved to Passaic Valley’s home field, after it was determined Back Beach wasn’t playable on May 14.

Passaic Valley athletic director Rob Carcich and his staff worked quickly to make sure the Hornets home field could accommodate the game.

“They were going to push it back to later this week,” said Carcich. “And with the state tournament about to start, and the weather not looking too good, I thought it would be good to get the game in on Monday. The weather was nice and our field was playable. I said we could host it, the county officials said okay, and here we are.”

DePaul (11-11) would need all its championship mettle to pull this game out, as a young and feisty Passaic Valley team, which was seeking its first county championship in 30 years, played well.

“This game was befitting of a final,” said Parler. “This had a little bit of everything. Good pitching, defense and tough at bats. Passaic Valley is very young, and very good.”

DePaul coach Sue Parler takes in the moment, watching her team celebrate a 7th straight PCT championship. (Click on photo for larger image)

DePaul took advantage of a few PV errors to score all three of its runs, en route to a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Spartans scored twice in the top of the fourth when Dominique Coiro hit a ball to right field, which was misplayed and the speedy Coiro ended up at third. After a pop up, Kaitlin Cavanagh laced a clean single to plate Coiro and Cavanagh raced to second on a fielding miscue. Gianna DiPiano later singled Cavanagh home to make it 2-0.

Coiro would be the catalyst to DePaul’s third run in the sixth when she singled and went to second when Laila Aponte’s grounder was misplayed, putting runners on first and second. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third and winning pitcher Summer Ramundo grounded out, scoring Coiro.

DePaul players enjoy a moment with the championship trophy. (Click on photo for larger image)

Ramundo was dominant through the first five innings. She had 10 strikeouts through four, and had yielded just one hit through through five, but in the bottom of the sixth, PV broke through with two runs on three hits, including a two-run single by Shana Donnelly, which cut DePaul’s lead to 3-2. Ramundo worked out of further damage by recording a strikeout and inducing a pop up to end the frame.

In the bottom of the seventh, DePaul’s junior second baseman Alexa Juchniewicz made the defensive play of the game, when she dove to grab a hard grounder and threw the runner out by a step for a crucial first out. Jucniewicz’s play was even more noteworthy after PV got the next two runners on base, with singles.

“I thought I had a good jump on the ball,” said Juchniewicz. “It’s the seventh inning of a championship game and we all knew it was going to be tough. I’m just glad I was able to get to it.”

Ramundo would retire the final two batters, on a fly to center and a pop to short, to secure the win. For Ramundo, a senior, it was her fourth straight title.

“We’ve been here before,” said Ramundo. “I knew I had to make some adjustments in my pitching in that seventh inning. Alexa made a great play to start the inning and I was confident our defense could get the job done.”

By mike051893

Anthony Gennarelli, a star on and off the gridiron, will play football at Montclair State University this fall

(A note: Just a few days after this was written, Anthony and his family were riding in a car, when a young child ran onto a street. Anthony reacted quickly, and with the help of another good Samaritan, made sure the youngster was safe and brought back to the side-walk. Just another example of what a tremendous young man this is).

Anthony Gennarelli made quite an impact in his one season playing football at Passaic Valley. A 6’0″, 260 pound fullback, Gennarelli transferred to PV from Passaic Tech and starred for a good Hornets team that finished 6-3 last fall.

Now, the senior has made his college decision. Gennarelli, a resident of Totowa, will attend Montclair State University and play football for the Red Hawks, in 2018.

“I’m very happy about the opportunity to play at Montclair State,” said Anthony, the son of Michelle and Steve Gennarelli. “They have an excellent football program, with great coaches. It’s close to home, and has the major I’m interested in pursuing.”

Gennarelli rushed for over 500 yards as a Hornet in 2017. His most impressive run probably came in a home game against Wayne Hills, on Oct. 21. There, he scored on a 52 yard run in the second quarter, running over a number of Patriots en route to the end zone. He was also a standout defensive player, last season.

A proud Anthony Gennarelli, here on Senior Day last October, holding his niece and taking a moment with his family before a Passaic Valley football game. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Anthony is probably the toughest fullback I’ve ever coached,” said Passaic Valley head football coach Chet Parlavecchio. “He had some incredible blocks and pancake hits. I don’t think I ever saw him go backwards, either on offense, or defense. This young man can play fullback on the college level. There’s no doubt about it. Not only does he block incredibly, but he can move, too. His open field speed is deceptive.”

Gennarelli was also 26-for-26 on third and short situations in picking up a valuable first down last season.

Gennarelli enjoyed the experience of playing for Parlavecchio.

“Coach Parlavecchio taught me so much about football in one year,” said Anthony. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. I wish I had played for him longer. He made me into the player I am today.”

Gennarelli’s long run against Wayne Hills wasn’t forgotten when it came to the Patriots head coach, Wayne Demikoff.

“That kid can flat out play,” said Demikoff. “He’s a hard-nosed kid who only knows one way on the football field, and that’s to go forward. I’m glad we don’t have to face him anymore.”

Off the field, Gennarelli will pursue a degree in Education and hopes to teach history one day.

Gennarelli has an older brother, Steve, and sister, Gianna, as well as a younger sister, Danielle. He is also a proud uncle.

As far as preparing for college football, Gennarelli will continue the routine that has made him a successful player thus far.

Don Sellari has been my trainer for a while now, and I’ll continue working out with him, in getting ready to play in college,” said Gennarelli. “I’m going to work hard, to be ready for what the college game will bring. I know speed and agility are important at that level.”

By mike051893

Passaic Valley’s Tom Marretta, a 2-time All-Passaic County athlete, will wrestle at The College of New Jersey starting this fall

Tom Marretta of Passaic Valley has always handled himself with class. So, when the multi star athlete made his college decision, he announced it in front of family and friends, at the annual Passaic Valley wrestling dinner, in a suit and tie.

Marretta will attend The College of New Jersey this fall, where he will wrestle for the Lions. The choice is indeed ideal for the senior, who is a top student in the classroom, with a 3.7 GPA, and the first All-County male athlete, in two sports (football and wrestling) at PV, in eight years.

Tom admitted the decision on which sport he’d participate in on the collegiate level was a tough one, but as he got closer to deciding on a school, he knew wrestling was his best option.

“I’ve been playing football all my life,” said Marretta. “And I love the sport. I enjoyed playing it in high school. But the more I participated in wrestling, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t start until my freshman year, but (Passaic Valley head coach) Joe Ben (Benvenuti) really prepared me for the next level. Those 6 a.m. weight lifting sessions and the hard work really made me love the sport.

“And then, to win a medal in my senior year really convinced me that wrestling at the next level is something I want to do.”

Marretta finished seventh in the state at 220 pounds this season and stood on the championship podium at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, on March 4.

Marretta’s discipline on the mat also resulted in his dropping about 30 pounds, after football season, so he could compete at 220 pounds. He did that for two straight years, after qualifying for the state tournament as a heavyweight in 2016.

“Tommy’s work ethic speaks for itself,” said Benvenuti. “Think about what it takes to diet properly and maintain, if not increase your strength at a very tough weight class. He never hesitated, either, to make us a better team. That’s why, to see him win his final bout, in Atlantic City, then stand on the championship podium as one of the best wrestlers in the state, is something I’ll never forget. He was an All-County football player and wrestler. People don’t realize how difficult it is to qualify for the states, in Atlantic City, much less medal.

“I’m so happy he has chosen TCNJ for college. It’s a great academic institution and to know he’ll wrestle there makes it even more special.”

In college, the upper weight classes go from 197 pounds to heavyweight.

Passaic Valley’s Tom Marretta, here with head coach Joe Benvenuti, after Tom won a state medal at the NJSIAA championships on March 4, 2018.

“I’ll be wrestling heavyweight,” said Marretta, with a laugh. “I don’t think I would cut that much weight to get down to 197.”

Marretta is excited about the opportunity to learn more about the sport, in college.

“I’ve learned so much about wrestling in high school,” said Marretta. “Now I get the chance to go to a tremendous school and get even better on the mat. It will take a lot of work, both in the classroom and competing on the mat, but I can’t wait to get started. What’s so special about wrestling is that it’s both a team and individual sport. In high school, we went out to win matches. As a sophomore, I was a part of a state sectional championship team, and that was incredible. And then, I had the chance to win a medal in Atlantic City. It’s an incredible sport.”

Tom was accepted into TCNJ’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“When I first started looking at colleges, I remember my mother (Jennifer) loved TCNJ, and wanted me to go there,” said Tom. “And as I met with different schools, I realized that TCNJ would be perfect for me. It’s a beautiful campus, with a tremendous student body and great coaches.”

Remaining the class young man that has defined him for many years, Tom, the son of Jennifer and Gaetano Marretta, also thanked the other schools who had reached out to him.

“I tried to speak to all the coaches that expressed an interest in my going there, and to thank them,” said Marretta. “This is a once in a lifetime experience, and I enjoyed the entire process. When I told the other coaches that I was going to attend The College of New Jersey, they were all very happy for me. It means a lot.”

While the college choice is finalized, the hard work will continue.

“I’ll be lifting weights and getting prepared (over the summer),” said Marretta. “It goes by quickly. Before you know it, school starts in September, classes begin, then there’s captain’s practices in October, and the season starts. I’ll always have great memories of attending Passaic Valley, and I’d like to thank my teachers, coaches and teammates.”

By mike051893

Belleville football coach Jermain Johnson announces his new coaching staff for 2018

He’s had the job now for about two months, and Jermain Johnson is very pleased with the way things are going now that he’s the head football coach at Belleville High.

Johnson recently named his coaching staff, which includes some familiar names.

“I’m really happy with the coaching staff,” said Johnson, a Bloomfield native who was the defensive coordinator the past five seasons at Wayne Hills. “I did all the interviews and am very confident with my choices. They’re great guys, hard working, and most of all, are all-in when it comes to Belleville, these kids and what I want to accomplish.”

Jermain Johnson (left), here with Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly during a 2013 football clinic at Belleville High, is now the new head coach at BHS.

Eric Magrini, who most recently worked with Johnson at Wayne Hills will be the offensive coordinator. Magrini was a standout player at Wayne Hills and later played at Montclair State. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Montclair State Hall of Fame. Magrini and Johnson both played at Montclair State.

“Eric and I obviously go back a while,” said Johnson. “He was a dynamic player in high school, and college, knows the offensive side of the ball really well and will do a great job.”

Joe DiGiacomo, who worked with Johnson when the latter was head coach at Paterson Eastside, will coach middle linebackers and the offensive line this season.

“Joe recently coached the offensive line at Paterson Kennedy,” said Johnson ,”He’s another guy I have a lot of trust in. We’ve worked together in the past and he’s excited about coming here.”

Belleville High head wrestling coach Joe Pizzi is also on the staff. Pizzi, who was an assistant coach on the previous football staff for the Bucs, will lead the special teams.

“Joe is a great young coach, already, in wrestling and he knows these kids well,” said Johnson. “He teaches in the school system and when I met with him, it was an easy decision to bring him on board.”

The staff also features familiar names in Chris Balz, Dan Giangrande and Nick Giangrande.

“Dan and Nick both played at Belleville,” said Johnson. “They’re tremendous young men, and hard working. Our kids will relate to both well. Chris is a good young coach, who can do a lot for this team.”

Belleville opens the regular season in early September, but there’s plenty of work to do before that.

“We can begin working with the kids on June 11,” said Johnson. “There’s a busy summer coming up, with 7-on-7’s in July, then before you know it, we put the pads on, in August. In the meantime, the kids are working hard in the weight room. We had over 30 kids in the other day. I had my first parents meeting and I couldn’t be happier with the support I received from them.

“Our Booster Club is excited about the team, as well. I’ve gotten nothing but tremendous encouragement from everyone in town. There’s a lot to do, but I’ll tell you this much, with the coaching staff in place, and with a good work ethic, we have a chance to do some good things this coming season.”


By mike051893

Gilchrist spins a shutout and hits her first varsity homer, as IHA wins 11th straight; Fernandez ‘Justifies’ her marvelous talent, with 100th career hit; Mount St. Dominic continues to roll; Nutley defeats Bloomfield, as Fogle stars; Bengals’ Jones a stalwart behind plate; Columbia’s Jordan Stephan and Bloomfield’s Collins each collect their 100th hits

Lindsay Gilchrist has quietly put together a solid season for Immaculate Heart Academy. The junior added to that success with an outstanding all-around game, pitching a complete-game shutout and hitting a homer, as IHA downed Ridgewood, 7-0, on May 8, in Ridgewood.

Gilchrist struck out eight, walked one and gave up just five hits. Her homer, over the left centerfield fence, was her first varsity round tripper.

The win was the 11th straight for IHA (15-5). During that run, IHA pitching has accounted for nine shutouts. Ryleigh White, playing her first varsity game in right field, hit two more homers, and a double. Citation also drove in three runs for the Eagles. Sophomores Ashlynn Corra and Cat Thomas each had a pair of hits and second baseman Emily Gyongiosi hit a double for the Eagles.

Lindsay Gilchrist, here with her mother, Jeanine and dad, Geoffrey, along with the family’s best friend, after a big time performance on May 8, at Ridgewood. (Click on photo for larger image)

Congratulations to Cedar Grove’s Ava Fernandez, who got her 100th career hit in a game at Mount St. Dominic, on May 8. Fernandez, a senior who missed a lot of the 2017 season with an illness, has been a catalyst to Cedar Grove’s solid season this year. Her return to the lineup down the stretch of last season helped the Panthers to qualify for the first-ever NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, after winning the Group 1 title. Fernandez, along with fellow Cedar Grove senior Kelly Toomey hope to be a part of three state championship teams at Cedar Grove, sometime next month.

As far as a softball ‘stud’, call Ava ‘Justify.’

Ava Fernandez celebrates an impressive milestone. She will play at Springfield College beginning this fall. Photo courtesy of the Fernandez family. (Click on photo for larger image).

The other ‘Justify’.

Mount St. Dominic is certainly the hottest team in Essex County softball. The Lions won its ninth straight game on May 8, downing arch rival Cedar Grove, 6-2, in Caldwell, to improve to 15-5. The win also avenged an earlier loss to the Panthers. Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic are tied for first in the Super Essex Conference’s elite American Division.

Dani Dabroski had a huge game for Mount St. Dominic, with two hits, including a triple, and three RBI and Sarah Taffett homered and drove in a pair of runs.

Mount St. Dominic is looking to repeat as Essex County Tournament champions, for the third time, as well as winning the eighth county crown in the program’s history, later this month. MSDA has won seven titles in the last 22 seasons. Only Caldwell has repeated as a county champion on three different occasions.

Nutley got back on the winning track with an impressive 9-1 win, at Bloomfield, in a night game on May 7. The Raiders improved to 9-10 on the season. Brianna Cruz and Alexa Hergenhan each had two hits for Nutley, which opened a 5-0 lead after one inning. Isabella Fogle was outstanding the circle, pitching a complete game for the Raiders. Fogle struck out six and walked three while scattering five hits.

Bloomfield’s Lexi Corio hit a homer in the bottom of the sixth inning while Corio’s batterymate, Rachel Jones, played an excellent defensive game behind the plate. At one point, Nutley assistant coach Mike DiPiano turned around and said, from the dugout, “She (Jones) is tremendous. She makes all the plays.”

Speaking of Bloomfield, centerfielder and team captain Kristina Collins picked her 100th career hit, on May 8, at North Bergen. Collins, a senior, had three hits against North Bergen and has 101 for her career. Melissa Marte pitched a complete game for the Bengals, allowing just one hit and Corio and Jamell Quiles, both sophomores had three hits each.

Bloomfield players congratulate teammate Kristina Colllins on her 100th career hit. (Photo courtesy of Joe Corio. Click on photo for larger image)

May 8 was also a big day for Columbia High senior Jordan Stephan, who collected her 100th career hit for the Cougars.





By mike051893

Essex Softball: HUGE weekend nears, as ECT quarters return to one site for first time since 2009, at Verona; Cedar Grove, MSDA remain atop rankings; ‘Serging’ Newark Academy cracks Top 10; Big Green Machine, Millburn, West Essex, Verona and Columbia making a move

For the first time since 2009, the quarterfinal round of the Essex County Tournament will be held at one venue, on Saturday May 12.

The last time that happened, Bloomfield’s Pulaski Park was the host. Now, it will be Verona’s turn, on its turf field, right by Verona High. Fans can come to Verona at 9 a.m., and spend the entire day watching four excellent games. It should be a real exciting day of softball, beginning with fourth-seeded Verona taking on fifth seeded Columbia. These two generally play very close, low-scoring games.

The other games on May 12 will feature top-seeded Cedar Grove against ninth-seeded Livingston, second-seeded and defending champion Mount St. Dominic taking on 10th-seeded Millburn and third-seeded West Essex facing a ‘Serging‘ Newark Academy squad, which is seeded 11th.

Here is the updated FMTC Top 10.

1-Cedar Grove (13-4) Panthers got a tremendous game from Mia Faieta, who fanned all 15 batters she faced in a first round ECT game, on May 5. Kelly Toomey is also a marvelous pitcher, giving Cedar Grove two tremendous options in the circle.

Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta pitched a no-hitter against Verona, on May 1, then fanned all 15 hitters she faced on May 5. (Click on photo for larger image)

2-Mount St. Dominic (13-5) Lions are on a major roll, with seven straight wins through May 6, all by double digits, including a win over last year’s TOC finalist, Lodi Immaculate.

3-West Essex (7-7) Never count this team out, as long as Julia Vardiman is pitching and Lily James’ intensity burns brightly.

West Essex captains Lily James (left) and Julia Vardiman. (Click on photo for larger image)

4-Verona (8-8) Hillbillies are one of those teams no one wants to face in a tournament game. Christina Colon is pitching beautifully. If the bats come around, watch out.

The imposing delivery of junior righty Christina Colon makes Verona a very tough team for the rest of the season. (Photo courtesy of Angela Salisbury. Click on photo for larger image)

5-Millburn (15-4) The 10th seeded Millers won an exciting game over seventh seeded Caldwell in an ECT game last weekend. Millburn gaining a lot of confidence with each game.

6-Columbia (10-5) A marvelous defensive team, especially in the infield, makes the Cougars a dangerous team. Sophomore shortstop Hudson Hassler is a stud. #hudthestud

A talented Columbia infield, made up of all sophomores, gives coach Cliff Smith a lot of optimism for now and the future. (Click on photo for larger image)

7-Newark Academy (7-7) Typical of a Sergio Rodriguez-coached team, the Minutemen are getting hot at the right time. Sam Burggraf hit a 3-run homer for the Minutemen in a huge win over Livingston last week.

Newark Academy’s Maddy Mudrick, here with assistant coach Damariz Mercado, after collecting her 100th career hit last week. (Click on photo for larger image)

8-Livingston (8-9) In the words of Phil Delgado, never, ever, count out a Jason Daily-coached team. Livingston is back in the county quarterfinals and is starting to amp up its game. Jess Gorman has pitched well all season while batterymate Emma Cooney is a joy to watch play. Freshman pitcher Jess Bullion had a tremendous debut in a win over Caldwell.

Livingston’s Emma Cooney, here with her dad, Jim, after a 3-for-4 effort in a win over Caldwell, on May 4. (Click on photo for larger image)

9-Caldwell (11-5) The Chiefs may be out of the ECT, but they’ll be a force in the state tournament, and are vying for another conference championship. Nicolette Luzzi spurs the offense at the top of the lineup.

10-Nutley (8-10) Raiders have been a little inconsistent, which happens with a young team, but with a few weeks before the state tourney begins, they’ll look to right the ship.

By mike051893

Joseph Norton: Husband, Father, Grandfather, Coach and a wonderful man

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time re-written every line?

It was indeed a different time. Playing little league baseball in Belleville, at Marotti Field, back in the summer of 1971 epitomized an era of innocence.

Playing night games there, with a great scoreboard, those tremendous dugouts, the PA system, large crowds and, of course, the hot dogs after the game, made playing ball in Belleville something really special.

Wearing that green and gray flannel uniform, with the green hat, symbolic of playing for Biancardi, made me feel like I was in the major leagues. I often called Marotti Field was ‘Shea Stadium’, because I was (and still am) a St. Louis Cardinals fan, thus the National League favoritism.

The 1971 Biancardi little league team. That’s me, back row, second from right, next to Mr. Norton. (Click on photo for larger image)

But what made those days so nice was the great coaching we had, from ‘Red’ Clenighan, our manager, and Joe Norton, the assistant manager.

Last week, Mr. Norton passed away. He was 81.

If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?

Like so many who raised families in Belleville ‘back in the day, Mr. Norton was a working man. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know, for sure, his first name was Joe, until recently, because I never called him anything but Mr. Norton. And for that matter, I just learned Joe’s beloved wife’s first name is Lillian. That’s just the way things were, growing up in town.

Anyway, I can still remember the scores of each game I played for Biancardi in 1971. I still remember my batting average, I remember every big game we won that year, and the tough losses, too.

Memories, may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget

I often reminded George Zanfini, many years ago, that the influence coaches had on us kids remain for a lifetime. And when I posted on social media the other day the news of Mr. Norton’s passing, the outpouring of affection from men now ages 45-60 was noteworthy.

It speaks of a life well lived. It speaks of Mr. Norton being a wonderful husband, dad and later on, proud grandfather. It speaks of respect and pride

And it’s why men like Mike Marotti, Doug Cantarella, Red Clenighan, Joe Norton, Mike Limongelli and Chick Puleo provided the next generation of kids, now middle aged men, memories for a life time.

When Dave Norton, Joe’s son, wrote me a note the other day, thanking me for a few words I wrote on his dad, I essentially said thank you, to him, for sharing his dad with so many kids.

Life goes on, but I’ll never forget those days. Thank you, Coach Norton.

So it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were.

By mike051893

As Derby Day nears, a ‘Charismatic’ Cooney leads Livingston past Caldwell; Bullion outstanding in Big Green Machine debut; Caldwell’s Stafford makes incredible catch at first base

Emma Cooney has been the model of consistency all season for a young Livingston squad, which has struggled to find an identity. But the Lancers’ performance against Caldwell on May 4, in Shangri La (Livingston’s home field) may have signified the start of a turnaround for the proud program.

Cooney, a senior and an incredible catcher, is also Livingston’s leadoff batter. And against Caldwell, she set the one quickly, lining a single in the bottom of the first, stealing second and third and coming around to score on Ashley Reuter’s hit. Livingston would go on to win, 8-2, to improve to 7-9 on the season. It was also Livingston’s fourth win it its last five games.

Cooney (AKA Charismatic) finished 3-for-4 at the plate, with three runs scored. The one time she was retired came on a wicked line drive which was knocked down by the pitcher and thrown to first for the put out.

Livingston catcher Emma Cooney, here with her dad, Jim after a big Livingston win on May 4. (Click on photo for larger image)

The game also marked the varsity debut of freshman pitcher Jess Bullion, who threw six outstanding innings, yielding two runs on just three hits. She struck out the first two batters she faced and also showed good control, walking two batters.

Jess Gorman (Livingston’s durable starting pitcher) has thrown a lot of innings,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “We’re playing a county game tomorrow (at Nutley), so we wanted to give Jess some down time. Jess Bullion has been doing a good job on the junior varsity. Her control has improved and I felt she was ready for this opportunity. She did a really good job.”

Gorman came in to pitch a scoreless seventh inning to seal the victory.

The other Charismatic.

Livingston scored its second run in the bottom of the third, again with Cooney as the catalyst. Charismatic singled, was sacrificed to second and went to third on a single by Reuter, who promptly stole second. Julie Moresco then singled home two runs to make it 3-0. Livingston would score once in the fourth, on a run scoring hit by Hailey Reuter, twice in the fifth on a two-run single by pinch hitter Briana Melucci, and again in the sixth, when Cooney laced a long triple into the gap and eventually scored on a throwing error.

Caldwell’s first baseman Taylor Stafford made the defensive play of the game, in the bottom of the sixth, diving to make a tremendous catch of a line drive which would have easily been a double. Also playing well in the field for Caldwell was sophomore shortstop Nicolette Luzzi.

Livingston’s performance was reminiscent of the games played by some outstanding Lancers teams of the past, which included consistent hitting, effective base running and solid pitching.

“We’re getting better,” said Daily, in his usual black attire, despite the 85 degree heat. “This was encouraging today. Let’s hope we can carry it into the next few games, and beyond.”




By mike051893