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.