Gotta give credit where it’s due.
As the onion peeled off layers of the great players which helped Nutley win a state sectional championship and appear in the 2010 Group 3 final, as well as win the 2011 Essex County title, the naysayers were quick to predict the Raiders’ demise.
Kristen Mattia, Kayla Huegel, Tina DeFalco and Lauren Irardi left after the ’11 campaign and when the greatest Raider I ever saw, Eileen Purcell, was graduated last spring after a so-so- 12-11 season, the jury was out, and appeared to make a quick return, on Nutley’s chances to compete in the SEC’s American Division this spring.
Well, if the season opening 5-2 victory over Caldwell today was any indication, the 2013 Raiders could have a say in the balance of power within the top of one of the toughest conferences in Northern New Jersey.
These Raiders are young, no question. But they play defense, swing the bats and don’t make many mistakes, three prerequisites to winning softball games in these parts.
Head coach Luann Zullo knows what’s at the top of the conference. It’s Livingston, possibly Mount St. Dominic, and then a group of teams in the middle of the pack which could include her team, as well as West Essex, Cedar Grove and Caldwell.
“We’re really young, babies for that matter,” said Zullo, in her 15th season at her alma mater after leading West Essex to a pair of county titles in 1997 and ’98. “We know how good Livingston is. They can flat out play. But this division has a lot of good teams. Every game will be a grind. That’s why when these kids can get a weekend tournament that is fun, and takes the pressure off a little, I think it’s good for them to play in it.”
Carly Anderson is a hard throwing righthanded pitcher, who also serves as the leadoff batter in the lineup. Heather Williams is a reliable first baseman while Morgan Gualtieri plays right and hits third.
Nutley has one of the best catchers in the area in senior Victoria Malanga, the cleanup hitter with a cannon for a throwing arm. Jenna Saporito plays a mean second base and Stefanie Ziemer has taken well to shortstop. Third baseman Danielle Pomponio, Brittany Currie, the centerfielder, designated player Breanna DeMaio and leftfielder Alanis Concepcion round out a very balanced lineup.