Get your popcorn ready, Essex County softball starts on Monday with Livingston, Mount St. Dominic among the favorites

A defending county champion with the majority of its roster in place from last season will be challenged by some talented teams in the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) American Division this spring.

So says most of the coaches, who feel that Livingston is the favorite, but it’s hard to discount Mount St. Dominic, who made a serious run to the county title last May, always-feisty West Essex, Caldwell and Nutley, among others in Essex County softball.

A number of coaches have also pointed toward Bloomfield, which will play in the SEC’s Liberty Division this season, as an up-and-coming team. Hard to argue that, especially with Bob Mayer, as respected a coach as there is, leading the way for the Bengals.

Let’s start with Livingston, which returns its top pitcher, Jess Peslak, this season for her senior campaign. Peslak is already committed to Hofstra for this fall, which takes that burden off her plate. The 5’11” power pitcher was beyond outstanding last spring in leading Livingston to 28 straight victories, including the county and sectional crowns, before falling to Hunterdon Central in the NJSIAA Group 4 semifinals. (One of the most God-awful home plate umpiring jobs was turned in that day, but believe me, there’s plenty more to come on that, and soon).

Livingston was 29-1 in 2012, with Peslak earning first team, All State honors for her 26-1 record, along with 307 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings while walking a scant 37. She had a 0.32 ERA, 19 shutouts, five no-hitters and nine one-hitters.

Peslak opened the season by not allowing an earned run in her first 73 innings. She wound down the year by not yielding a run 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.

Livingston also returns All State outfielder Kylie McLauglin, as well as Rachel Wasilak and Samantha Rothenberger among a very deep roster for coach Jason Daily.

Mount St. Dominic’s deep pitching will feature juniors Olivia Gemma and Sam Platt, as well as a first team all county third baseman in Ashley Kowalski. The Mount has been playing an aggressive pre-season schedule, including a recent trip to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse and a weekend of tough games in Delaware. After losing three games, all by shutout to Livingston last year, including a tremendous county final, Lorenzo Sozio’s group is more than hungry.

Never count out West Essex, Caldwell and Nutley. West Essex returns just about every key player outside of all county outfielder Val Tully, including two strong pitchers and with the always-vibrant Andrea Mondadori at the reigns, anything can happen in West Caldwell.

Caldwell, which was moved up to the American Division after a year of dominating the SEC’s Liberty, has a coach in Mike Teshkoyan who knows how to win. He’s Essex County’s all time winningest coach and has a young, aggressive team ready to go.

Nutley? They lost one of the best players I’ve ever seen in Eileen Purcell to graduation last spring, but Victoria Malanga, a talented catcher, is back, and any team coached by Luann Zullo will be a problem in the SEC. Look for the Raiders to make some noise in both the league and county races.

Over to Cedar Grove, which has a new coaching situation, the early prognosis is pretty good for a program whose numbers were down the past few years. Senior pitcher Gabby Castelli is back, and that’s a good starting point, even though some outstanding players like Gianna Cuffari and Nicole Tomo were graduated last spring.

West Orange being West Orange, no one quite knows what to expect after the surprise decision not to retain coach Jamie Galioto after seven solid seasons. Galioto took a down-trodden program and revived it to a point where it was promoted to the American Division after a tremendous 2012 season. (Not to mention Galioto being named the County’s Coach of the Year).

But for reasons known to an administration which will say nothing about the change, West Orange could be the wildcard in the SEC’s American Division.

The same could be said of Montclair, which has a new coach and a lot of question marks heading into a tough SEC American Division schedule.

I’ll get more into the Liberty Division soon, but with Bloomfield and Belleville now playing in that division, it looks wide open, along with Columbia, Glen Ridge, Verona and Montclair Kimberley.

Oh well, like I always say when softball season begins, Get Your Popcorn Ready. It should be fun.

By mike051893

Nutley’s Trombetta: “The Kid’s a Winner”, says coach DiPiano

Long after Bob Trombetta is finished wrestling, he will always carry a special label, given him by a man who is not prone to dishing out compliments.

“The kid’s a winner,” Nutley High wrestling coach Frank DiPiano said of Trombetta after his prized 120-pound senior had grappled his last bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on March 10 in the NJSIAA championships.

“Simple as that.”

Is Trombetta a winner because he’s Nutley’s all time winningest wrestler? Maybe.

Is he a winner because he’s one of the few in Essex County history to win four straight county championships? Could be.

Is he a winner because he’s just the second wrestler in school history to garner three NJSIAA medals, with the only other to accomplish the feat the marvelous Anthony Montes? Quite possibly.

But DiPiano, who is cut from the mold of his legendary father, Michael Sr., a National Hall of Fame wrestling coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, is not known to distribute compliments freely. While very supportive of his program and the young men who devote countless hours to a very difficult craft, the coach knows that ultimate success rests in results, and Trombetta achieved said results in his senior year when it would have been just as easy to hang up the gear back in January.

Trombetta wrestled the last 11 weeks of the season with a torn labrum. The injury requires surgery, but instead of having the procedure done when the injury occurred, he opted to gut through the season. It was clearly obvious that Trombetta favored the arm in matches, but he never backed down.

When he lost a match on the first night of the state championships, (a match he honestly should have won), Trombetta needed to win three times the following day to assure himself that elusive third state medal. A loss in any of those bouts would have eliminated him from a place on the podium and that special walk onto the floor on the final day of competition.

Could he have wrapped it up then? Of course, and no one would have thought any worse of a young man who left it out on the mat his entire career. The injury was too much and the way he had lost on that Friday night, in overtime, would have exasperated most.

But he went out and won all three matches the following day to guarantee that medal, and when he won that third tilt while the state semis were concurrently proceeding around him, a competition he could have easily been a part of, Trombetta gave a proud smile and DiPiano turned to the Nutley contingent in the near sold out venue and gave a victory fist to the cheering crowd.

It’s what makes high school athletics special.

No words were needed. Actions spoke much louder.

The could-have, would-have, should-haves will long be contemplated. Would a healthy Trombetta be a state champion today?

Just ask DiPiano.

“The kid’s a winner.”

End of statement.



By mike051893

Bergen Catholic’s Sebastian: A 2-time state champ with double the humility

I’ve always thought that when it comes to interviewing high school athletes, the wrestler is as analytical as they come. And that’s not to say that student-athletes in other scholastic sports don’t get it, because there are plenty who are great to speak with, super intelligent and sharp as a tack.

So with those thoughts, here’s some perspective on Bergen Catholic’s Johnny Sebastian, who won his second straight NJSIAA wrestling title last Sunday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Sebastian, the 160-pound winner in 2012, added the 182-pound championship this season, but it wasn’t easy. He defeated previously undefeated David Williams of Hammonton, 4-3, in as physical a match as you can imagine.

Afterward, a classy Sebastian wasted little time in praising Williams.

“I didn’t know alot about him before this weekend,” Sebastian said. “But I watched him throughout the tournament and knew he was good. I didn’t realize how good until I got on the mat with him, but that’s what winning a state title is all about. It feels great to win it a second time, and to do it against a wrestler like him makes it all the more worthwhile.”

Sebastian’s coach, Dave Bell, who’s about as low-keyed as they come, admitted some trepidation.

“We figured he’d come out quickly and press the action against Johnny,” Bell said. “And that was pretty much what happened. Give Williams a lot of credit for his approach, and give Johnny his due for finding ways to score and then using his defense to finish the match.”

Williams got an early takedown to start the match, but Sebastian escaped for a point to end the first period. Sebastian scored three points in the second, including two on a take down, to lead 4-2 heading into the third.

Sebastian’s second title under the bright lights of a huge venue at sold out Boardwalk Hall didn’t phase him as much as winning a hard-fought match.

“It’s all about adjustments and being mentally tough,” Sebastian said. “He was really strong, so I had to take that into the way I wrestled. I pushed the pace after the first period and got some opportunities.”

Sebastian will now concentrate on a third state title in his senior year next winter.

“He’s a light 182 pounder,” Bell said. “I’m not sure at what weight class he’ll go next year, but he seemed very comfortable at 182. We’ll see. This was a great way to end his junior year, that’s for sure.”

By mike051893

NJSIAA wrestling finals: My choices for the 14 state champs

So, finally, the 2012-2013 high school wrestling season in New Jersey reaches its apex at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this weekend.

The state championships begin tomorrow at Boardwalk Hall, continue with a very busy Saturday which includes the quarterfinals and semifinals, along with numerous rounds of wrestlebacks and concludes on Sunday with two rounds of wrestlebacks and the 14 championship matches, which should begin around 3 p.m. Unlike previous years, this season’s tournament allows for an extra round of wrestlebacks, thus moving the finals back an hour from the traditional 2 p.m. start.

Locally, Nutley will send four wrestlers to the states, and based on the seeding, a few of them have an excellent chance to leave Boardwalk Hall on Sunday with state medals.

Let’s take a look at the 14 weight classes and make some predictions.

106: Absolutley loaded class this year. Many say it may be the deepest, with a pool of incredibly talented wrestlers vying for gold. Nick Suriano of Bergen Catholic is the early favorite, but watch for his Don Bosco Prep rival, Kyle Bierdumphel to be in the mix, too. Suriano has won three straight against Bierdumphel. This time, the choice will be the Don Bosco Prep wrestler.

113: Luis Gonzalez of Don Bosco Prep came close the past two years in AC, losing in 2011 in the state final and in 2012 in the state semi, both times to Brenden Calas of Seton Hall Prep, when Gonzalez was wrestling at North Bergen. This time, Gonzalez wins his state title, making Don Bosco 2-for-2. Locally, Nutley’s Joe Ferinde will seek a medal in this division.

120: Tough class, for sure. Calas seeks a third straight state title and is the top seed. Until someone beats him in A.C., have to believe he won’t do it again. Nutley’s Bob Trombetta will go after a third state medal in this class.

126: Would like to see Dave McFadden of Wayne-based DePaul win here.

132: A final between South Plainfield’s Scott DelVecchio and Jason Estevez of Livingston would have the crowd on its feet. The choice: Estevez.

138: Barring a strange turn of events, the coronation of South Plainfield’s Anthony Ashnault should be complete. He’ll finish as the first four-time, unbeaten state champion in state history.

145: A tough weight class features Bryant Clagon of Toms River South, T.J. Miller of Camden Catholic and South Plainfield‘s Troy Heilmann. The choice: Clagon.

152: This one is wide open. The choice: Chad Walsh, Camden Catholic.

160: There isn’t one that really stands out. Let’s go with the top seed, Jonathan Schleiferof East Brunswick. Nutley’s Brandon Keena could make some noise in this weight class.

170: Will go on a limb and predict Ethan Ramos of Hawthorne to take gold.

182: Difficult not to go with Johnny Sebastian of Bergen Catholic. Nutley’s Vin Mainiero could get a medal here.

195: Defending state champion Razhonn Gross could be the third state champion from Don Bosco Prep this Sunday.

220: Troy Russell of South Plainfield will be among the favorites.

HWT: Roy Lucas of St. Joseph (Hamm) is the pick.

By mike051893

Weekend in AC: Wrestling, a few trips to Hooters and Michelle, the new voice of AC

It’s more like a trip to Mecca for me at this point. Atlantic City on the first, or second weekend of March, for the NJSIAA wrestling championships.

Most of my Facebook pals know I like to go to Hooters for my Marathon Weekend of wings, steamed shrimp, burgers, fried pickles and whatever else I can think of. But there’s a lot of quality high school wrestling here, and that’s where I should start.

Well, let’s start with trip 1 to Hooters on Friday afternoon….10 drums, tater tots and iced tea. Then a trip across the way to get my favorite molasses pops. (Okay, I said it !)

Back to wrestling. I’m here covering mostly Essex County kids, as well as some favorites from Passaic Valley, DePaul and Wayne Valley. The crowd was introduced to Michelle DiPiano, who is the new Voice of Boardwalk Hall. She’s doing a great job, but those of us who know her from Essex County, we’re not surprised.

Onto the mat, Livingston’s Jason Estevez, my choice to win the 132-pound state championship, got off to a good start on Friday night and will be competing in the quarterfinals shortly. Another Essex guy, 2-time state champ Brenden Calas, won his first match last night and will be in the quarters today as he battles that nagging elbow injury. Let’s hope he’ll be okay.

DePaul’s Dave McFadden, who lost a close match to Calas in last year’s 113-pound state final, is the top seed at 126 pounds and a favorite of mine to win the weight class in 2013.

By the way, here are my choices for the state championships in each weight class.


Will talk again soon..time to get out of the hotel and back to Boardwalk Hall, then off to Hooters for Round 3 !

And by the way, it’s just 11 weeks until Memorial Day Weekend. Can’t wait to get to Margate, my favorite beach.

By mike051893

The final countdown to Atlantic City begins for wrestlers

The seeding meeting is completed, uncle Eddie Roselle is back at practice, and now, the final few days of preparation begins for the 336 New Jersey high school wrestlers who will venture to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the final weekend of the 2012-2013 season.

When the tourney concludes on Sunday, 112 of those 336 will wear state medals, including 14 eventual state champs. With the addition of an extra round of wrestling this year, the final wrestlebacks for third, fifth and seventh place will be held a little later on Sunday morning than the usual 9 a.m. start. In essence, the round of wrestlebacks that are normally held on Saturday night, after the semifinals, are now on Sunday morning.

With the logistics pretty much set, the seeds in place, the wrestlers are back to work, getting in the final days of practice. I was at Passaic Valley High this afternoon, watching kids from P.V., West Essex, Wayne Valley, DePaul, West Orange and Becton working out. It’s funny, in a way. One moment, a lot of these kids are competing against each other for a district and/or region crown, and now they’re in the room, helping each other out.

It’s not only the current wrestlers, but it’s seeing the coaches, many of whom were accomplished grapplers themselves at one time. Steve Martell, a 2004 NJSIAA champion, was there, in his police uniform, since he’s not only a PV assistant coach, but also a Little Falls police officer. When Martell won the Region 4 title in 2004, he defeated Belleville’s Marc D’Elia. D’Elia is a teacher today in the West Orange school system and was at PV today, since he’s also an assistant coach at West Orange.

Mike Markey was there, too. He was a state medal winner in 2000 for Caldwell and today coaches at West Essex. PV coach Joe Benvenuti and West Essex head coach Greg Ruggiero were working with their kids. A generation ago, those two were direct competitors on the mat.

Wayne Valley and Passaic Valley have about as intense a rivarly as there is in Northern New Jersey, but on this day, their remaining wrestlers (each school is sending 2 to AC), all worked together. Same for another Passaic County rival in DePaul.

Caldwell has one wrestler heading to AC in freshman Dean Caravela.

“He’s something else,” said Caravela’s coach Gary Garamela. “Nothing rattles Dean. He works hard, never gets down, and I think he’ll go to Atlantic City and have a good time.”

With that said, Caravela approached us.

“I like where I’m at in the bracket,” Caravela said.

And before he could comment further, he headed to the locker room to get his bracket.

“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Garamela said with a laugh. “He’ll be studying that bracket for the next three days.”

Yes, it’s the final week of the season.



By mike051893

State wrestling seeding meeting: A ride with Uncle Eddie, Mikey Benz and Frankie Dip

6:50 a.m. Frankie DiPiano has pulled up to my house on Grove Street in Belleville. After a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, we take a quick ride to Mike Benvenuti’s (aka Mikey Benz) home, where Uncle Eddie Roselle is waiting in his high-powered vehicle for the express ride to Robinsville for the NJSIAA wrestling seeding meeting.

Mike Benz asks Eddie where his truck is. “Gone, my man,” Eddie says. “We got this car now. Shut the (heck) up and get in the car.”

7:10 a.m. Uncle Eddie is in the cockpit, and we’re on Route 21, heading to Route 3 and eventually, the New Jersey Turnpike. The insults are already in high gear, and since this is a family blog, they’ll stay off the record, but you get the point.

7:30 a.m., on….Mikey Benz is checking the results from all 8 regions in today’s newspaper. “(So in so) beat (so in so),” Mikey says, (leaving out the real names). “My kid beat that kid earlier in the season,” Frankie replies. “Hey, St. Peter’s is taking 9, BABY, to A.C.,” replies Uncle Eddie, talking about St. Peter’s Prep and its dominance at Region 4 in West Orange.

The three talk about the quality of officiating at Region 4.

Uncle Eddie is moving at a good clip. “This car flies,” Eddie exclaims. “We’re making record time.”

Delbarton coach Bryan Stoll calls Frankie. “Tell him for me that he’s a (blankety blank),” Uncle Eddie says (kiddingly), as Frank relays the message to Stoll.

The car (or small Cesna, whatever you prefer) lands at Exit 7A, but Frankie Dip tells Eddie to make a left, instead of a right on Route 195. After catching his mistake, Frank tells Ed to turn around and get back on 195 going the other way.

“Now, we’re off schedule,” Eddie snaps about the 2 minute snafu. “Come on Frank !”

Uncle Eddie pulls into the NJSIAA parking lot at 8:15 a.m. “We’re early,” he says. “Let’s go for breakfast.”

We drive down 195, but there’s no diner in sight. One place, the Clairmont Diner, appears to be closed, and it’s almost time to go to McDonald’s on the other side of the road when Eddie spots what appears to be a diner coming up on the right.

“That’s our place,” Eddie shouts. “Let’s go, I’m buying !”

As we get out of the car at the Americana Diner in East Windsor, Eddie tells the story of sending a new spread of food to Mikey Benz, then seeing Mike at a local eatery in Fairfield. “You think he’d send over a beer?” Eddie says in mock horror. “No way.”

Mikey is quick to say “short arms, long pockets,” as we enter the diner.

Once there, we’re offered a booth, but ask for a table instead. “Big guys,” Uncle Eddie tells the guy at the diner. “A booth won’t work.”

This diner was INCREDIBLE….Fresh squeezed orange juice, and the waiter would come by every few minutes and pour from a small carafe into our glass. We got some nice raisin bread, too, on the side.

The food was phenomenal. I ordered silver dollar pancakes, there was plenty of taylor ham and eggs, too.

“I love this place,” Uncle Eddie said. “I don’t know if I brought enough money to buy, however.” (LOL).

Uncle Eddie’s dream of buying breakfast is intercepted by Frank, who pays the bill. “Now I gotta keep quiet,” Eddie says.

At the meeting, the seeding is going on at a good pace. There’s a 106 pounder named Calo, which immediately has me turning around to catch Frankie D’s eye, who is thinking the same thing. (My Cousin Vinnie, ‘Calo, not Gallo’ !!!)

When we get to 120 pounds, Brenden Calas of Seton Hall Prep is listed as a top seed. “Why Calas?”, Uncle Eddie says with a straight face. (This is the norm for Eddie when it comes to a wrestler who’s a lock for the top seed. It started with Frank Cagnina back in 2010). This happens again at 138 pounds when Anthony Ashnault of South Plainfield is the top seed.

Lots more to come, stay tuned…









By mike051893

Region 4 recap: Marotti, Estevez, Keena and Greco prevail in Essex; PV in Cruz Control heading to AC

A very competitive weekend at Region 4 yielded four champions from Essex County as well as 19 different schools which will send at least one wrestler to the NJSIAA championships this coming weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The final weekend of the 2012-2013 high school wrestling season in New Jersey begins on Friday, March 8 with the preliminary and pre-quarterfinal rounds. On Saturday, the quarterfinals, wrestlebacks and the  most exciting part of the weekend, the semifinals, will be held. The tourney concludes on Sunday with wrestlebacks, the March of Champions and finally, the 14 championship bouts, starting around 2 p.m.

St. Peter’s Prep was the dominant team in the region, sending nine to A.C., including eight regional finalists and six eventual Region 4 champs. Nutley advanced four to the states while Livingston and Becton will send three each. Eight schools advanced two grapplers while another seven will send one each. (That will probably change after a serious injury to Passaic Tech’s lone representantive, Emmanuel Soriano, that will more than likely advance Sean Griffin of Cliffside Park into the 220 pound slot, giving Cliffside Park two in A.C. while PCT will not have a wrestler there).

Here are some highlights, from what I saw.

Being an Essex County guy, it was great to see Mike Marotti win his first regional championship as a senior. Marotti had my vote as the tourney’s Outstanding Wrestler, as well, although the coaches voted for Marc Mastropietro of Hasbrouck Heights, who edged top seeded Bob Trombetta of Nutley in the 120-pound final.

Marotti’s dad, Ralph, was once a standout wrestler at Belleville High while his older brother, Frank, was a 2011 Region 4 champ at West Essex who went on to win a state medal that season. Mike Marotti was also a state qualifier in 2011, as a sophomore.

Jason Estevez, who is my choice to be Livingston’s first state champion since 1999, won the 132-pound title for his second region crown. Estevez, who was third in the state last year at 132, was a region champ at 125 pounds in 2011.

Nutley, which overcame a ton of early season injuries, advanced three to the finals and had one champion in Brandon Keena, who captured gold at 160 pounds.

Verona’s Frank Greco won a thriller at 182 pounds and will enter the state tourney undefeated. Greco edged Nutley’s Vin Mainiero, 4-2, in triple overtime.

North Bergen’s Anthony Giraldo moved a step closer to joining an elite fraternity when he won a third straight regional championship. Giraldo will attempt to win a fourth straight region title next season. Not many have done that in Region 4. Bobby Dabal, Frank Dugan, Donnie Pritzlaff, Pat Trabucco and David Greenwald come to mind right away.

On to Passaic Valley, where the story of Anthony Cruz has come full circle. A senior at 106 pounds, Cruz was noticeably struggling early in the season, but he’s come around over the past seven weeks and last Saturday, punched his first ticket to Atlantic City by finishing third.

It couldn’t happen to a better young man, which is why I always like to say the PV Hornets are in Cruz Control with their 106 pounder.

By mike051893

Region 4: 19 schools will send at least one wrestler to Boardwalk Hall

Parity reigns at Region 4.

With the finals set to start at 5 p.m. (ridiculous!), it gave me time to tally up the overall results of athletes who will represent the region at Boardwalk Hall, beginning on March 8.

Remember, this year, all wrestlers are assured at least two bouts at the states. Gone are the days when a wrestler would go to AC, lose his 5 p.m. bout on that Friday, then be eliminated from the tournament. Now, if a wrestler loses his preliminary bout on Friday night, he’ll get at least one more match the following morning.

Anyway, with that said, 19 schools from Region 4 have at least one wrestler qualifying for the states.

Congratulations to St. Peter’s Prep, which has eight wrestlers in the finals and nine overall, heading to Atlantic City. Nutley, which battled injuries all season long, ended up finishing its usual strong self and will take four wrestlers to the states. Livingston and Becton have three each going while West Essex, Passaic Valley, Newark Academy, West Orange, Verona, Clifton, Hasbrouck Heights and North Bergen will each have two wrestlers represented.

Seven other schools, Cedar Grove, Cliffside Park, Secaucus, Passaic Tech, Union City, Rutherford and Caldwell are sending one each.

By mike051893

Region 4: Best round of the day, the third place bouts, are up next !

It’s without question the best part of the regional wrestling weekend.

The third place bouts will commence in about two hours, and if you’ve ever seen them before, you’ll know what I mean.

Unlike the finals, where both wrestlers are assured a berth in the NJSIAA championships next weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the third place bouts are indeed the ultimate competition.

The winner will also go to Boardwalk Hall to continue that pursuit of a state medal. The vanquished will have to buy a ticket next weekend and watch from the stands.

Talk about night and day?

At 2:30 p.m., or so, I’ll begin reporting on the 14 third-place bouts here at Region 4 in West Orange. The place is usually hopping for those matches, and the range of emotions from parents, fans and the wrestlers themselves truly runs the gamut.

Stay tuned.


By mike051893