It was a build up, a crescendo for the ultimate state championship game, which was going to be played about a month before the state titles would be decided.
It was so anticipated that the Star-Ledger posted the starting lineups in advance of the game, with constant blogs and predictions as to who would win. There were even fan surveys.
On May 8, 2012, Immaculate Heart Academy, the consensus No. 1 team in New Jersey for high school softball was supposed to play No. 2 Livingston in a battle of unbeaten teams at Ivy Hill Park in Newark in a 7 p.m. game that would almost assuredly pack the ball park.
But it never happened.
The Game That Never Was became the victim of athletic directors becoming meteorologists instead of being, well, just AD’s. With a steady, but not heavy rain falling at 4 p.m., the decision was made to postpone the game. Bear in mind, there were multiple Super Essex Conference games being played at 4, which were never delayed, much less postponed, that day, but despite forecasts which were consistent in the weather being fine at 7, the decision was made to postpone it to another day.
It was a day which never happened. While the sun was shining at 7 p.m. on May 8, there was talk that the game would be pushed to May 23, or 25, or one of those dates. But with the state tournament already underway by then, the chances of this mega game interfering with the post-season made the contest almost nill.
Now, 341 days after it was supposed to be played, Livingston and IHA are slated to finally face each other, this time at the Mount St. Dominic Tournament on Sunday, April 14, after today’s rain assured tomorrow’s field conditions would be sloppy, thus pushing the tourney back a day. Game time is still at the ‘Dunkin’ Donuts large coffee’ time of 8:30 a.m. (For you Lancers fans, forget the popcorn and get your frosted donuts ready !)
“Let me tell you something,” said IHA coach Anthony LaRezza. “Livingston is the most complete team I’ve seen. (Livingston coach) Jason Daily does a great job with that team. Those kids can hit, they play defense, and can they ever pitch.”
And while this is The Game That Never Was, it isn’t quite 2012, either.
Plenty has happened in 341 days. Both teams won their county titles and respective state sectional crowns.
Livingston got royally shafted by a clueless home plate umpire in the Group 4 semifinal and finished 29-1. (Trust me, there is much more to come on the incompetent behind the plate that day and the NJSIAA’s sticking its proverbial head in the sand following that game).
IHA’s dream season ended the way it should, with a state title and undefeated record, assuring it the No. 1 ranking in the state for the second time in three years. We all went through a terrible storm called Sandy, followed by the winter from you-know-where and, oh yes, both teams graduated some key players from last season.
Livingston lost starting LF Reid Singer, 3B Carly LaGrotta and 1B/DP Katelyn Reilly. IHA bade farewell to Carly Piccinich, who now plays at Notre Dame, Abby Holmes, who is at Rhode Island and Erica Correa, who plays at Trinity College.
But now those familiar uniforms are back. The Black and Green of Livingston to face the Sky Blue and White of IHA. The key players are certainly in place, starting in the circle where Jess Peslak, a senior, will match her high risers and crazy drop curves against the hard-throwing and scintillating arm of junior Steph Thomas. For you horse racing fans, this is Secretariat (Peslak) against Affirmed (Thomas), triple crown winners finally on the same field.
Both pitchers can also hit, and both teams have plenty of offense to go around.
IHA’s Ally Vergona has power and speed. Angelina McGuire had two big hits when IHA defeated a good DePaul Catholic team. Cassidy Trause, Rachel Pollard and Daniella Ibarra are outstanding players on both sides of the ball.
Livingston’s leadoff batter, Kylie McLaughlin, a first team, All State player in 2012 as a sophomore, hit two homers against Mount St. Dominic on April 8 and is finding her swing again from the left side of the plate. The Lancers’ shortstop, Sammi Rothenberger can also hit with power and her defense at shortstop is outstanding.
Livingston has also gotten good hitting from Rachel Wasilak, Alexa Altcheck and Marina Lombardi.
Scheduling tough teams is nothing new to LaRezza, or Daily. IHA has already defeated Hillsborough and High Point in 2013 while Livingston blanked St. John Vianney at the IHA Tournament, and stopped previously unbeaten Mount St. Dominic earlier this week.
IHA will come in unbeaten and ranked first in the Sideline Chatter Top 20 while Livingston is 6-1 and ranked third, as well as first in Essex County in the FMTC poll. The Lancers lost an early season encounter to Cedar Grove despite 13 strikeouts by Peslak. It’s won five straight since that setback, which includes dealing Nutley, St. John Vianney and Mount St. Dominic (ranked #11 by SC and second in FMTC) its only losses thus far.
These two schools haven’t met on a softball diamond since April 3, 2010. That day, Livingston defeated IHA, 1-0, at the IHA Tournament as Alex Pizzoli spun a three-hitter. At the time, Daily had a freshman pitcher named Jess Peslak who he was doing a decent job of keeping under wraps. But LaRezza knew better.
“Jess had the winning hit that day against us,” LaRezza recalled. “She drove in the only run. We had heard she could pitch, but Pizzoli, who was a lefty, did a great job against us. We found out that day that Peslak can hit, and now we all know what she can do as a pitcher. Livingston has given us more than our share of problems before. And their current team is really good.”
Daily shares the same respect for IHA as his counterpart does his team.
“Anthony runs a first-class program,” Daily said. “I’ve always had the highest regard for the way his teams compete. We’ve enjoyed a good rivalry with them for quite some time. Last year, we were scheduled to play and then the game took a whole new turn with the rankings and everything. When we scheduled it, it was an independent game and that’s the way we look at it.
“We’re looking forward to the Mount St. Dominic Tournament and would like to thank Lorenzo (Sozio, the Mount St. Dominic coach) for inviting us to to play. We feel fortunate that we have a team who can play with IHA, but we know how tough an assignment this will be for us. Our kids are looking forward to it. You only get better by playing this kind of competition.”
Sunday’s game, believe it or not, is the first of two games for each team at the MSD Tournament. After playing The Game That Never Was, Livingston takes on powerful Caravel Academy of Delaware later on Sunday while IHA faces Toms River East.
“You don’t get better unless you schedule tough teams,” LaRezza said .”We enjoy these kind of games.”
As for this game being played rather early in the season, LaRezza was fine with that.
“I’m glad we’re playing it early in the season,” the coach said. “Last year, it was scheduled in May, it got rained out, and we couldn’t come up with a make up date. It’s better to play these kind of games now.”