She had just finished pitching, fielding and hitting her team to a big victory in the quarterfinal round of the Essex County Tournament (ECT) when Jazzy Pignatello was asked if jazz music was a favorite of hers because of her first name.
“Nah, not really,” she said with that mischeavous smile. “I kind of like the Disney character, Princess Jasmine. How’s that?”
Hey, anyone who had the game she had can ask for whatever she wants when it comes to much deserved publicity. So get your Princess Jazzy ready (instead of getting your popcorn ready) because when the Lancers needed a boost of senior leadership, it got it from Pignatello and the result was Livingston advancing to the ECT semis for the fifth straight year.
Pignatello, Livingston’s starting first baseman, came into pitch when righty Jess Peslak had to leave the game with back spasms in the fifth inning. All Jazzy did was pitch three solid innings, allowing one run and three hits, as well as making a tremendous catch in foul territory to end the top of the sixth. She then lined a double that ignited a two-run bottom of the sixth as top-seeded Livingston stopped ninth-seeded and a very tough Caldwell team, 5-2.
Livingston (18-3) won its 12th straight game and will play the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal between Bloomfield and West Essex in what should be the late semifinal at Ivy Hill Park on May 17. The Lancers will also face Mount St. Dominic on May 13 for what will decide the Super Essex Conference (SEC) title in Caldwell. Both teams have one loss each in the SEC American, but since these two could meet a third time in the ECT final on May 18, it’s not known how much the SEC game will mean, especially if Peslak doesn’t play on the 13th.
Livingston coach Jason Daily was pleased with the way his team battled after Peslak left the game.
“We won as a team, and Jazzy was outstanding,” Daily said. “That’s the way you have to win these kind of games. They’re not supposed to be easy. Caldwell came in here and played very well. Those kids didn’t back down an inch. We needed this kind of test.”
As for Pignatello’s cat-like reflexes and defensive prowess in the circle, Daily wasn’t surprised.
“She maybe the most athletic kid in the circle I’ve seen in a long time,” Daily said. “Jazzy fields the position, throws strikes and puts the defense in position to make plays. With Jess out, Jazzy stepped up. She’s a senior, she knew what was up.”
Caldwell (9-10), which had won six straight, had threatened in the sixth, cutting into a 3-1 deficit by scoring a run, as well as having a pair of runners in scoring position. But Livingston got a break when a Caldwell player over ran third base and was tagged out for the second out. Pignatello then got the next hitter to pop up a ball into foul territory between home and first.
Without hesitating, Pignatello leaped out of the circle and caught the quail on the run to end the inning and keep the Lancers ahead, 3-2. In the bottom of the sixth, she lined a one-out double into the gap which eventually led to a pair of Livingston runs that extended the lead to 5-2.
After giving up a single to start the second, Pignatello retired the next three hitters to seal the win.
“We’re going to the (county) semis,” Pignatello said. “I was excited to get this chance, but obviously, we’re all hoping Jess is okay. She was throwing the ball really well early on, but said she felt something pull in her back.”
Peslak appeared to get hurt in the third inning and was worked on extensively by the trainer. She pitched the fourth, allowing a run after Livingston had built a 3-0 lead, but it was evident Secretariat’s back was ailing and she was taken out after that frame.
“I felt something pull,” Peslak said afterward. “I’ll get it treated and hopefully, I’ll be fine.”
For this day, at least, Pignatello made sure the Lancers’ run for a second straight county championship wouldn’t end.
It’s off to Ivy Hill next.
As for Caldwell, coach Mike Teshkoyan, who has the most county championship wins with seven (Caldwell has won an unprecedented 10 since the tourney’s inception in 1978) was pleased with his team’s effort. The Chiefs had lost twice to Livingston earlier this season by scores of 10-0 and 12-1.
Caldwell had also played an exciting game against Livingston in the 2011 ECT quarterfinal at Livingston, holding a 3-1 lead before the Lancers scored three in the last of the seventh to win.
“We’ve been playing much better of late,” Teshkoyan said. “I liked the way we battled today. Livingston has a very good team and I thought we gave them a good game.”