While at the Linden Softball Tournament last weekend, the subject of the upcoming seeding meeting for the 36th Essex County Tournament came up among some of the Essex coaches and fans who were there.
It’s fun to speculate on what school will get what seed for the tourney, which certainly invokes passion from the adults while the players are like ‘whatever, just tell me who we’re playing and what time the game starts.’
Here are 7 questions, along with the up-to-date FMTC Top 10 for this week.
1-How are the seeds decided?
Generally, a committee of Essex County coaches will vote on the seeds. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for this Tuesday, April 23.
2-Are there parameters in deciding a seed?
Good question. For the most part, there seems to be a weighted respect toward the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) American Division, which comprises the ‘stronger’ teams in the league. There is also credence toward teams that play a more rugged out-of-conference schedule.
The head-to-head matchups are always discussed and usually are a deciding factor in seedings.
3-What about Bloomfield?
Without question, Bloomfield has long enjoyed one of the most successful softball programs in ECT history. The Bengals have been to 10 ECT finals, winning 3, the last of which was in 2000. It last made the semifinals in 2008. There is no more respected coach, and for that matter, respected person in Essex County than Bloomfield’s Bob Mayer.
Bloomfield was moved from the American to the Liberty in 2013 after a few ‘down’ seasons, but this year, the Bengals are thriving again, holding an 8-1 record. There are some who feel Bloomfield’s seed should not be lowered simply because it plays in the Liberty. Some of those questions may be answered before Tuesday’s meeting because Bloomfield plays No. 1 Livingston on April 22, then faces Glen Ridge in a key Liberty Division battle on April 23.
Should Bloomfield upset Livingston, or stay close, then defeat Glen Ridge, will the committee feel Bloomfield should be seeded as high as third? Again, interesting.
4-The Mount St. Dominic-type factor.
Mount St. Dominic’s excellence in the ECT speaks for itself. The Lions are tied for second, all time, in county championships with four crowns, the last coming on a back-to-back feat in 2009. It has won all of its championships since Lorenzo Sozio was named coach in 1996. The Mount has been to 10 finals, including the past two and five of the last six.
With that kind of success comes additional respect. For example, last season, the Lions gained the third seed over West Essex, even though West Essex had beaten MSD in a head-to-head matchup and both schools had similar records. Since form held in the first two rounds, it meant West Essex ended up playing Livingston in the semifinals, where it was shutout while Mount St. Dominic gained the final, after beating upstart Newark Academy in the semis, which had stunned second-seeded and defending champion Nutley in the first round. Livingston eventually blanked The Mount in the final, as well.
I don’t think there’s any question where Mount St. Dominic will be seeded this year, they seem locked in at number 2. But the point to this is good programs generally gain additional respect from the committee members and that could be a factor this year since so many teams are close in record and level-of-competition.
5-Will there be another Newark Academy in 2013?
Why not? Newark Academy’s rise from a team which had to play-in just to qualify for last year’s tourney, to beating Nutley and Caldwell to gain the ECT semis, represented a marvelous coaching job by Sergio Rodriguez.
It doesn’t happen often. In fact, last year’s run by the Minutemen was the first time a team in the play-in round made it to the quarters, much less the semis. But that also means there could be a team out there, not necessarily in the play-in round, but a double-digit seeded school, who could surprise someone, especially this season where so many teams are very young.
As for the 2013 version of Newark Academy, there won’t be any need for play-in games this time. Rodriguez’s team could be anywhere from the 7th to the 10th seed.
6-Will we see another ECT contest like the 2011 semifinal between Nutley and Livingston?
It sure would be fun. The quality of the Final Four is certainly good every year, but there was something special about that game in 2011 at Ivy Hill Park, between Nutley and Livingston in the ECT semis. Peslak, a sophomore, struck out 14 for Livingston, but Kristen Mattia hit a 3-run homer in the fifth inning for Nutley after Livingston had gained a 4-0 lead. The Lancers appeared to have it under control in the bottom of the seventh, especially after Peslak fanned Mattia for the second out, but Lauren Iradi hit a seeing-eye, two-out, two-run single as Nutley won, 5-4. A day later, it captured the county final over MSD, 3-0. (Peslak has often said it was one of the best games she ever played in).
7-Where and when are the semifinals and finals?
The semis are set for Friday, May 17 while the finals are the following night. Seton Hall University’s field at Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will be the site for the semis and finals.
Here are the updated FMTC rankings, along with some seeding comments. (The rank and the seed is pretty much the same this week).
Even if it loses to Bloomfield on Monday, the Lancers are clearly the top seed and best team in Essex. They’ve beaten Mount St. Dominic and Nutley, avenged its only conference loss to Cedar Grove, swept West Essex and blanked St. John Vianney. It lost to top ranked IHA and dropped a game to Caravel of Delaware, that state’s top ranked team.
That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to win the ECT again, but it does mean there should be no question as to their validity as the top seed. They’ve got the best pitcher (Jess Peslak) best centerfielder (Kylie McLaughlin) best shortstop (Sammi Rothenberger) and many will now say, best catcher (Marina Lombardi) in the county. End of statement there.
2-Mount St. Dominic (10-3)
Clearly the second seed. The Lions’ only loss in the SEC American Division came to Livingston while it has lost twice to excellent out-of-conference foes. No one plays a tougher slate of independent games than these guys, and, as mentioned, they’re a seasoned team, and still somewhat young. Gabby Lombardi is an up-and-coming shortstop, Ashley Kowalski is a hard-nosed outfielder and a pest at the plate while the pitching of Sam Platt and Olivia Gemma could take this team back to a final.
Depending on what Bloomfield does on April 22 and 23, the third seed could start a little debate. Right now, based on games through April 20, Luann Zullo’s team should be the third seed. They gave the Mount a great game last week, losing in extra innings, and have wins against West Essex and Cedar Grove, not to mention a 1-0 loss to Livingston where it had the bases loaded, with no outs, in the seventh. If the usual seeding parameters are discussed, this is a lock. But again, the BF (Bloomfield Factor) comes into play.
4-West Essex (6-5)
Never have I seen a team lose by the 10-run rule, as West Essex did against Livingston, yet seemed to have control of the game as the Knights appeared to have against the Lancers. Coach Andrea Mondadori’s team, which is really young, missed out on opportunities to keep Livingston on its heels and in the end, the Lancers took advantage. This team can hit and they play good defense. They also had impressive wins against Morris Knolls and Chatham, recently. Let’s see if the BF plays a hand here.
5-Cedar Grove (6-4)
The Panthers can hit and their pitcher (Gabby Castelli) led her team to a county championship in 2010, pitching a shutout in the final as a freshman. Anything can happen with this team, but again, the BF might be huge for the fifth seed, maybe moving Cedar Grove to the 6.
They could move from the 6 to 4 seed, in my opinion, if they win on Monday and Tuesday, but could also drop to 7 if it loses to Glen Ridge. It really comes down to strength of schedule, because there won’t be many head-to-head matchups, as far as seeding is concerned, to compare at the meeting. Big question will be, would Bloomfield be 8-1 in the SEC American? The Bengals can swing the bats, they’ve got a D-1 shortstop in Jenna Orlando (who will attend Lafayette) Rowan-bound Damiriz Mercado, as well as junior catcher Victoria Ross.
Right now, (in my opinion) the Chiefs have a slight edge on the seventh seed, but I would have liked to see them play West Essex at least once before affirming that thought. (The game with the Knights was rained out last week, for the second time. Perhaps they’ll play a rescheduled game on April 23, before the meeting?)
Caldwell is without its starting pitcher, Cayla Lombardi, who was hit by a line drive a few weeks back. Let’s hope she’s feeling better soon. Their infield is really talented and the Chiefs stay in every game, but can’t seem to break through.
This ranking could change quickly. Caldwell plays Newark Academy on April 22, and if the Minutemen win, they should jump to the seventh, or eighth seed for the ECT, bumping Caldwell to perhaps the 9 or 10 seed.
8-Glen Ridge (7-2)
A few factors to consider here. Newark Academy could jump over Glen Ridge into the seventh spot if it beats an American Division team (Caldwell) in its cross over game on Monday. But bear in mind, Glen Ridge defeated Newark Academy, but lost to MKA and its American Division cross over game on Monday is against West Orange, which is probably the 10th, or 11th seed. Glen Ridge can totally dispel the BF if it beats the Bengals on April 23. If that happens, Glen Ridge can lay claim to the 6 seed, moving Bloomfield to 7 and so on and so forth.
9-Newark Academy (7-4)
As mentioned, it should move up to the 8 seed, and maybe jump past Glen Ridge for 7, with a win over Caldwell on April 22. Lauren Catena, Gabby Giachin and Becca Butler make this team dangerous. And don’t forget, Newark Academy has 8 of its 9 starters back from last year’s team, which played in a county semi.
It will play Nutley on April 22, and that should be a good test for Pete Foster’s team. Not saying they’ll win, but a good performance there could lock a 10-seed for this team.
NOTES: If Verona falters, look for West Orange to possibly get the 10th seed. Their win over Morris Knolls has to carry some merit and the Mountaineers, at 4-9, have been playing better, of late. Montclair Kimberley is tough to figure, but that’s because they’re so young. It has a quality win over Glen Ridge which could factor it into a seed from 10-12.
Belleville, Millburn, Columbia and Montclair will probably be seeded from 13-16.
There’s also a question as to Bloomfield Tech’s status. They were 10-1 through games of April 19.
In any event, get your popcorn ready, because it’s going to be fun.