Always questions when it comes to seeding the ECT softball tournament and this year the BF could be key

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).

ihp 5Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will host the ECT semifinals and finals on May 17 and 18.

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).

1-Livingston (9-3)

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.

BBBW0131Jess Peslak’s screaming fastballs will be tough to handle.

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.

plattSam Platt is an outstanding pitcher and first baseman for Mount St. Dominic. She pitched a gem in last year’s ECT final.

3-Nutley (9-3)

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.

Cedar%20Grove%20Gabby%20Castelli%20delivers%20BuzzGabby Castelli of Cedar Grove pitched a shutout in the 2010 ECT final.

6-Bloomfield (8-1)

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.

7-Caldwell (3-7)

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.

10-Verona (6-5)

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.


By mike051893

Nutley and Bloomfield Play For a Cure and get some wins at Linden Tourney

With the seedings for the 36th Essex County Tournament to be announced this coming Tuesday, Nutley and Bloomfield made their annual trek to the Linden Tournament for a day of softball against a pair of Union County opponents.

Both Essex schools prevailed, defeating their counterparts from Elizabeth and Linden on a day with Play for a Cure theme, focusing on breast cancer. (Thanks to Nutley assistant coach Mike DiPiano for the photos !)

nut 1nut 2

Nutley coach Luann Zullo has long enjoyed this tournament, which she feels gives her team a few games to have fun and get away from the grind of a conference schedule.

“You see the schedule we play,” Zullo said of the Super Essex Conference’s American Division. “Every game is crazy in our league. I enjoy coming here. The people at the Linden Tournament are great to us every year. They treat our kids very well and it’s a fun day of playing softball. I don’t have to make excuses for our schedule, so if we play two games against some good kids who play hard, that’s what competing is all about.”

At first glance, Nutley (9-3) appears a solid pick for the third seed in the upcoming ECT, but the human element of coaches choosing seeds always makes for interesting debate. Nutley will take on Verona on Monday for its final game before the seeds are announced.

Bloomfield (8-1) has played well all season, with its only setback coming last Sunday at the Mount St. Dominic Tournament when it lost a 6-5 contest to Raritan after holding a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning. There are some who feel Bloomfield could garner a seed from third to sixth, but Bloomfield has two key games prior to the seeding meeting.

Bob Mayer’s Bengals were slated to face Livingston, the probable top seed in the ECT, on April 22, then take on Glen Ridge on the 23rd in a game that will count toward seedings.

“We have some big games coming up,” Mayer said. “Livingston will obviously be a huge test and Glen Ridge is playing really well, too. If we do well in those games, I’d like to think we’d get a pretty good seed. We’ll see.”

The FMTC rankings will come out on Sunday night, with a look at the possible seedings on Tuesday. The county tournament begins later this week, with play in games, then continues with first round games on the weekend of May 4. The quarterfinals will be on May 11 at the home of the higher seed before the tourney moves to Ivy Hill Park for the semifinals on Friday, May 17 and the championship game the following night.

By mike051893

Peslak’s 15 strikeouts, 3-hitter, McLaughlin’s bat lead Livingston past Cedar Grove, 7-1

There’s that distinctive sound which even an untrained ear can quickly interpret as a softball traveling at a frantic pace.

Such was the case on April 19 at Panther Park in Cedar Grove, and that sound was evident during Jess Peslak’s warm up session in the visitor’s bullpen.

It sounds something like this.


And then THWACK into the glove of catcher Marina Lombardi.


Having battled a series of injuries, which included sore hamstrings in both legs, along with a hip flexor, Peslak had struggled (at least for her) in some of her earlier games. For a pitcher who relies on her legs for power, some felt her velocity wasn’t at its usual clip, especially in the colder-weather games that have permeated most of April.

Not tonight, where the weather was warm and it was evident when the first batter struck out that this would be one THOSE nights. She struck out the side in the second, third and sixth innings, along with fanning the first two batters in the seventh before snaring a line drive to end the game.

Peslak struck out a season high 15, yielded three hits and walked one.

“We wanted this one,” Peslak said afterward. “They beat us (3-0, on April 3), but that wasn’t us that day. We’re coming around now.”

Offensively, Livingston (9-3) was paced by junior leadoff batter Kylie McLaughlin, who had three hits and was a menace on the base paths.

“We’re hitting a lot better now,” Peslak said as the team headed out of Panther Park. “This was a nice win.”







By mike051893

Sarfati excited about Montclair Kimberley’s future

In terms of stability, Jess Sarfati’s tenure with the Montclair Kimberley Academy (MKA) softball program is more than noteworthy.

Sarfati, in her third official year as the head coach, also assumed those duties for a good part of the 2010 season and helped lead that team to the North Non-Public B finals. She was also an assistant coach to John Odell in 2009 when MKA won its last state championship to date behind the pitching of Molly Herforth and catcher Andrea Huelsenbeck, who now plays at UConn.

A native of Montclair where she was a standout for the Mounties from 2001-2003, Sarfati has an ambitious group of youngsters this spring who seemingly love the game.

mkaMKA players listening to coaching staff after recent game.

“I really enjoy working with these kids,” said Sarfati, who is a kindergarten teacher at MKA. “I’ve watched some of them grow up in the Montclair Kimberley school system and they enjoy being a part of the school. They’re aware of some of the tremendous teams that have been here in the past and want to bring that back.”

MKA dominated the Non-Public B, or Parochial B (whichever you prefer) landscape for most of the last decade. It also won a pair of Essex County titles in 2001 and 2002. A number of coaching changes seemed to affect the program’s equilibrium, but Sarfati has settled in well to the job.

“We’re really young,” the coach said. “And with that, we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like, but we’re getting there.”

mka 2The MKA Cougars take the field at The Pond in Bloomfield.

MKA was 5-3 following an 11-1 setback to Bloomfield on April 17. The Cougars had won five of its first six, including a 1-0 win over Glen Ridge before dropping a 6-2 decision to Newark Academy and the aforementioned Bloomfield game.

The lone senior on the roster is left fielder Lexi Lordi, a team captain. Centerfielder Nadia Uberoi, a junior, is also a captain. The pitching staff features freshman Bella Calandra along with sophomore Morgan Katona.

“Morgan had a streak there when she pitched 25 innings without allowing an earned run,” Sarfati said. “She keeps the ball low and has good control. Bella throws a little harder and keeps batters off balance. They’re both throwing well and it’s nice to have the ability to go to two pitchers, both of whom are young and will be a big part of our program.

“Two years ago, we were in the (Super Essex Conference’s) American Division, with really no established starting pitching,” recalled Sarfati. “Now we have two kids who want the ball and continue to improve.”

Paige Pacifico, a junior, plays first while her freshman sister, Emma, is behind the plate.

Freshman second baseman Izzy Mendez has sparkled in the field and also as the team’s leadoff hitter.

“She’s so much fun to watch play,” Sarfati said of Mendez. “She loves the game and plays with a lot of confidence. Honestly, it’s very enjoyable to work with these kids and see them get better game by game. We ran into a tough game with Bloomfield and Newark (Academy) is always tough for us, but that will make us better. We’re looking forward to competing in the (Essex) County tournament next month, too.”

Sarfati’s coaching staff includes former MKA standout Andrea Piela, who later played at Siena University and the Italian National Team, as well as Donna Bruno.

“I think we all click well as a staff,” Sarfati said. “We want to make this fun for the kids, and give positive reinforcement. So far, it’s been great.”

By mike051893

Mondadori’s message to her team; Peslak’s teammates and Kim Shaw has an at-bat for the ages

While her team competed at the Chatham Tournament last weekend, West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori credited the grind of the Super Essex Conference’s American Division schedule as the reason her team ultimately won that tourney with wins over Morris Knolls and Chatham.

Mondadori’s Knights took a four-game winning streak into a second matchup at powerful Livingston on April 17. And while West Essex left in the short end of a 13-3 count, this game was far from a blow out.

West Essex (6-5) grabbed an early 1-0 lead over Livingston in the first inning when it drew three walks, wrapped around a Jenny Shaw double to the opposite field off Jess Peslak. It extended its lead to 2-0 in the second on an unearned run which included a Monica Onorata single and two Peslak walks, but Peslak also had six strikeouts through two innings against a familiar foe.

“Playing these kind of games really build character,” Mondadori has said all season long. “There’s never an easy game and we all know each other so well.”

The Hofstra-bound Peslak eventually settled into a groove, finishing with a four-hitter in the five-inning game, striking out 10 and walking six.

jp 2Get your popcorn ready. Jess Peslak and Livingston are gearing toward another run at the Essex County championship, as well as repeating as SEC champs.

“We play West Essex so many times,” said Peslak, whose team won an 8-1 decision in the season opener at West Essex on April 1. “They’re always tough games. My teammates had my back today and really hit the ball. We’re a team. There are games when I like to think I take control and games where my stuff isn’t as good and they’re there for me with defense and hitting.”

Peslak has had her share of success against West Essex, including three wins last season, culminated by a 17-strikeout, two-hit shutout, in the semifinals of the Essex County Tournament.

Livingston (8-3) scored three times in the third, then added four in the fourth and six in the fifth to close the deal. The top of the Lancers’ lineup was particularly effective as leadoff hitter Kyle McLaughlin, No. 2 batter Rachel Wasilak and Sammi Rothenberger delivered clutch at bats, including a two-run homer by Rothenberger in the third which gave Livingston its first lead at 3-2.

“We needed a game like that for our offense,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “That was good to see, especially against a team like West Essex, who’s been playing real well of late.”

Not to be forgotten was the incredible at-bat turned in by West Essex’s sophomore catcher, Kim Shaw in the top of the fourth inning. At the time, this was very much anyone’s ball game. After Rothenberger’s homer in the bottom of the third, West Essex had rallied in the fourth on a leadoff single by Lu Grazioso, a walk, sacrifice bunt and a fielder’s choice RBI by Jenny Shaw, Kim’s older sister, to plate the tying run.

After a walk re-loaded the bases, Kim Shaw stepped to the plate and battled Peslak pitch-for-pitch, fouling off at least eight pitches on a 3-2 count before being called out on strikes on a very close pitch.

It was, by far, the best at-bat I’ve seen so far this season.

“That could have been ball four,” Daily admitted afterward. “That kid really battled.”

Mondadori didn’t want to get into a conversation about the umpiring, which for the most part was pretty good, but she, too, felt the pitch was close. Had Shaw walked there, West Essex has a 4-3 lead, still with one out, and Livingston is on its heels.

Peslak followed the strikeout by inducing a pop up and in the bottom of the fourth, Livingston erupted for four runs, highlighted by a two-run double from Wasilak, that broke the game open.

After Livingston had opened a 7-3 lead, Mondadori brought her team in for a quick conversation.

“Guys, look,” Mondadori said. “The last inning didn’t go our way, but this is why you have to learn to deal with adversity. No one is giving you anything, both in a game, and in life. You work your way through it. Let’s go.”

While this day didn’t produce the ultimate results for West Essex, it’s clearly evident the Knights are really close to being an outstanding club.

“We’re getting there,” Mondadori said as the team boarded the bus back to North Caldwell. “But we have to finish these kind of games against a team like Livingston. I remember back in 2006, Livingston 10-run ruled us and I actually said to Jason then, ‘thanks, this will actually help us.’ And ultimately, it did, as we won a state sectional title that season and the county championship the next year. We’re really young this season, but we play hard and enjoy this kind of competition. You saw what Livingston did today. They took advantage of opportunities and won. We had our chances but didn’t fully capitalize.”

And don’t be shocked if Livingston and West Essex meet once again this season, somewhere in the county tournament.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them again,” Peslak said with that usual smile after she put in some additional work with batterymate Marina Lombardi after the game was over.

By mike051893

Steve Patchett’s first Boston Marathon a story of joy, inspiration and resiliency

bm 1

He had finished his first Boston Marathon and was sitting at a local eatery, enjoying the festivities that came with Patriot’s Day 2013.

For Steve Patchett, it was the best of times.

And then, the worst of times.

Having completed the race in 3:19.24, Patchett, a New Jersey native who grew up in Westfield and resides in Somerset County today with wife Kim and children Ian (7) and Clare (5), was reveling in the moment.

“My time was good enough, in my age bracket, to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon,” Patchett recalled today. “We’re sitting in the restaurant, having lunch, and then everything suddenly changed.”

Patchett, the Media Relations Director at the Morristown Beard School, had never been around an event like the Boston Marathon before. He took up running about a decade ago, then poured himself into the sport five years ago. This was his third marathon and first at Boston.

bm 3Steve Patchett enjoying the weekend prior to last Monday’s Boston Marathon.

“I can’t begin to tell you how positive the entire experience was in Boston,” Patchett said. “The people along the course were phenomenal. The little kids high-fiving the runners on the course, the people in general, it was incredible. I had never seen anything like this before. The Boston Marathon is a Super Bowl-like event. There were police everywhere, the Marines were walking the route, the National Guard, paramedics and doctors. It’s such a well-planned event and the most positive sporting event I had ever attended. And here I was, running it.”

Patchett began the race at approximately 10 a.m. and crossed the finish line at about 1:20 p.m. The plan was to meet his wife and children afterward, then head over for lunch.

bm 2Steve, with his Boston Marathon medal, enjoying lunch. Just a few minutes later, he’d learn of the tragedy at the finish line.

“We went from plan A to plan B to plan C to D,” he said, laughing. “The parking was tough, so we had to make adjustments, but bottom line was, we were all together and enjoying the post-race atmosphere.”

While at lunch, the festive mood couldn’t have been higher.

“People were just having fun,” Patchett said. “There were multiple televisions going, and it was perfect.”

Then suddenly, a waitress mentioned an explosion at the finish line.

“You couldn’t believe how everything changed,” Patchett said. “It got so quiet. I don’t think any of us realized at that moment the severity of what had happened. Was it terrorism? We didn’t know.”

The Patchetts had originally planned to go back to their suburban hotel after lunch and there was a train nearby that would get them back to their car. He was also being inundated by well-wishers through social media and text messages.

“It’s crazy how things happen,” Patchett said. “Fortunately, the red line was running while a lot of other lines were shut down. We got back okay, but obviously, everyone’s thoughts were with the victims and all those first responders who were incredible. And there were so many friends who were concerned for us. It meant a lot.”

Having remembered where he was and what he was doing back on Sept. 11, 2001, did he have the same feeling on April 15, 2013?

“Not really,” said Steve, who is admittedly a little numb now, even though he’s back at work. “Different feeling, but same reaction in that someone attacked our country and why would people do this? I have a wife and two small children. You can’t help but wonder ‘what if’?”

Patchett had a simple message when asked if he would run in the 2014 Boston Marathon.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

God Bless America.

bm 4

By mike051893

Cuzzi to receive a rare trifecta on April 30 from his hometown of Belleville

Phil Cuzzi’s venture to the top of his chosen field has taken him on a whirlwind tour.

Many of his friends and family know the story. In 1982, the-then 27-year-old Cuzzi, a graduate of Belleville High School and later Glassboro College (now Rowan University) decided he wanted to go to umpire school, with the hope of one day being a Major League ump. Through the help of his long time friend and Belleville, NJ teacher, George Zanfini, Cuzzi was able to procure the funds to attend the school.

It took a few years, but Cuzzi finally got a job in the Minor Leagues and began an eight year venture to the big leagues. He got his first taste of the majors in 1991, filling in for umpires on vacation and on the disabled list. However, two years later, Cuzzi’s career appeared to be over when his services were terminated following the 1993 season.

Undeterred, Cuzzi continued to press for another chance to follow his dream. While working at a local hotel in 1996, he found out that Len Coleman, then the National League president, was staying there and slipped a note under Coleman’s door, asking for a chance to umpire again.

Coleman eventually gave Cuzzi that chance, but he would have to begin again the lowest levels of the Minor Leagues. In 1997, Cuzzi was back working games in the minors, traveling from one obscure city to another, making the minimum salary, but taking advantage of his second chance.

cuzziPhil Cuzzi

In 1999, Cuzzi had advanced to AAA ball and was doing a good job. During that summer, he received another call from Coleman and this would be the ultimate life changer. Coleman was calling to offer Cuzzi a full time job in the Major Leagues.

A tearful Cuzzi, at 44 years of age, had reached the pinnacle and over the past 14 seasons, he’s had the chance to work with some of the best umpires in the game and has also been assigned to numerous post-season series, including the 2005 National League championship series and most recently, the 2012 National League Division series between Cincinnati and San Francisco. He also was assigned the 2008 All Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium and was behind the plate for the first-ever game at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.

Cuzzi’s success on the diamond has provided him opportunities to give back to his community and the community has returned its gratefulness in kind. A member of the Belleville High School Hall of Fame for his baseball prowess, Cuzzi was named to the prestigious Belleville High Wall of Recognition for his tireless work as a fundraiser and philanthropist, most specifically in raising money and promoting awareness for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in memory of his closest friend and BHS classmate, Robert Luongo, who died in 2004.

Now, the trifecta from Belleville High to Cuzzi. He will have his name placed on the prestigious Fence of Fame, reserved for the greatest baseball players to ever wear the Blue and Gold. Cuzzi, along with Jack Cullen, believed to be the only Belleville grad to play in the Major Leagues and the 1976 Belleville High baseball team will be honored at a ceremony on April 30 at the high school baseball field, beginning at 5:45 p.m.

Cuzzi is the first to have his name on all three shrines to Belleville High greatness and each venue represents a different phase of his life. There’s the Hall of Fame for his days as a Bellboy, the Wall of Fame for his work in seeking a cure for ALS and now the Fence of Fame which acknowledges his ascent to being a Major League Baseball umpire.

“I never thought of it that way, but it does represent my life’s accomplishments and how it all started in Belleville,” Cuzzi said. “I’ve never gone that far away from this community. It’s my home. That’s why this is so special.”

A wonderful accomplishment for a deserving man.

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Livingston No. 1 again, but a battle for 2-5 will be interesting

It’s only mid April, but the races in the Super Essex Conference are heating up, big time.

The latest FMTC Top 10 for Essex County doesn’t have a lot of changes, but it’s clear the chase for conference titles and the eventual seeding for next month’s Essex County Tournament will be interesting.

No question that Livingston remains No.1 in the poll. The Lancers won four straight from April 5-10, including a 9-2 win over No. 2 Mount St. Dominic on April 8. Livingston dropped a pair of games at the Mount St. Dominic Tournament on April 14, falling 5-2 to the state’s top ranked team in Immaculate Heart Academy, then losing a 2-0 decision later in the day to Caravel Academy of Delaware.

Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak rebounded from a rare off start in the IHA game to pitch five sterling innings opposite powerful Caravel. Peslak appears to be coming back from a pair of strained hamstrings and should benefit from warmer weather this week to get back in a groove.

IHA coach Anthony LaRezza was pleased with his team’s win over Livingston.

“Livingston has a great team,” LaRezza said. “We took advantage of our opportunities and found a way to win. They made some big plays, too. Their shortstop (Sammi Rothenberger) is the real deal. It looked like Jess was struggling a little early on, but she’s still a tremendous competitor. We’re very happy with the win, for sure.”

West Essex had a tremendous weekend, winning two games at the Chatham Tournament on April 13, then winning Mondo Bowl IX the following day as coach Andrea Mondadori’s Knights stopped St. Mary (Ruth), 13-2, which is coached by Andrea’s dad, Steve. The Mondadori’s play each other every season in a charity game.

The Super Essex Conference has some intriguing games on April 15.

Mount St. Dominic at Nutley: The Raiders (5-2) have played very well all season, with both setbacks (to Livingston and Gov. Livingston) by one run each. It won’t be difficult to get them fired up for this American Division game opposite Mount St. Dominic, which had an impressive win over Pequannock at its tournament on Sunday.

Newark Academy at Belleville: A key Liberty Division showdown at legendary Clearman Field has both teams in prime form for a conference win.

Glen Ridge at Montclair Kimberley: Glen Ridge (5-0) could be a sleeping giant and this road game at pesky MKA (4-1) will be interesting.

Speaking of West Essex, it will get another shot at Livingston on April 17, as the SEC begins its second round of matchups within the conferences. Livingston won in the season opener on April 1, 8-1, in North Caldwell.

Here are this week’s rankings, with games through April 14.

1-Livingston (6-3)

2-Mount St. Dominic (7-2)

3-Nutley (5-2)

4-West Essex (5-4)

5-Cedar Grove (4-3)

6-Bloomfield (4-1)

7-Glen Ridge (5-0)

8-Caldwell (3-3)

9-Verona (4-3)

10-Montclair Kimberley (4-1)


By mike051893

Can Dad Turn the Tables on Daughter in Mondo Bowl IX ?

The 10th annual EDSAF & Emerson Softball Benefit Tournament will be held this weekend, including games at Emerson Borough on Sunday.

One of those games features a father-daughter coaching battle as Steve Mondadori’s St. Mary’s (Ruth.) team takes on West Essex, coached by Steve’s oldest daughter, Andrea. Game time for Mondo Bowl IX is 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

mondoSteve Mondadori and his daughter, Andrea, will do battle once again this weekend when Steve’s St. Mary’s team faces Andrea’s West Essex Knights.

As always, the tournament benefits Ari Solimando, a 2004 Emerson High graduate and former catcher for Steve, who was paralyzed in an accident back in 2003.

ari and dogAri Solimando and her best buddy, Nexus, prior to last year’s game between St. Mary’s and West Essex.

Andrea has held the upper hand on her dad in this rivalry, winning 6 of the first 8 games, including a 6-0 victory in 2012. Steve had previously coached at Emerson Borough before taking the head coaching job at St. Mary’s last season.

“It’s a wonderful day for all of us,” Andrea said. “It’s something we look forward to participating in and it’s obviously for a great cause.”

Ari’s companion and best buddy is her dog, Nexus, who received a special award for the canine’s tireless work. The event also brings awareness to Canine Companions for Independence.

10843113-largeSteve Mondadori congratulates Nexus prior to last year’s game after the canine received a special award.

By mike051893

‘The Game That Never Was’ will finally be on Sunday, 341 days later

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.”

By mike051893