Keeping with the stud analogy, Secretariat admitted to feeling more like a quarter horse, Seattle Slew’s closing kick produced the usual blur. there’s a possible new colt on the Lancer farm while Spectacular Bid dazzled for Nutley.
In horse talk, that translates to Livingston winning the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) American Division by beating its toughest rival, Mount St. Dominic, 8-3. Jess Peslak’s sore back held up enough to pitch a complete game while Kyle McLaughlin’s speed created its usual havoc. Livingston also made an adjustment in its lineup, introducing a new speed factor at the top of the lineup with the play of Alexa Altcheck, whose hustle down the line turned the game back into Livingston’s favor after the feisty Lions had cut the lead to 5-3.
Meanwhile, Nutley’s Carly Anderson spun a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts and continued her impressive pitching as the Raiders defeated Glen Ridge.
In Caldwell, the excitement was evident early on as the Lancers and Lions played for the SEC title. Both teams had one loss each in conference play coming into the game, with this being the final conference game of the season in the American Division. Livingston (19-3) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning with some key hits and perfectly executed bunting.
Peslak, who left her previous start against Caldwell on May 10 after four innings with painful back spasms, was back in the circle. She admitted to being about “60 percent” of her normal self after a weekend of treatment, and that might have taken a slight drop when she was hit above the eye by a hard shot off the bat of Olivia Gemma in the bottom of the first.
“I thought it was coming back to me, but there was a lot of spin on the ball and it bounced up and caught me,” said Peslak, who kept a sweatshirt on in the dugout to keep her back warm on a chilly afternoon and an ice pack on her eye to reduce the swelling.
Peslak blanked MSD (19-5) through four innings before giving up three earned runs in the fifth, the first time she had allowed an earned run to the Lions since 2011, spanning five starts. She settled down with two more shutout innings to close out the game.
“Jess gutted that one out,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “Our kids get up for the Mount. How can you not? They’re an outstanding team. I thought we played with an edge today, and that’s how we’ll have to play if we want to reach our goals this season.”
There’s a reason why Mount St. Dominic is so good every season. They’re very well coached and never quit. Trailing 5-0, the Lions started the fifth inning with some hard hit balls to the opposite field by Ally Dobrowski and Bria Bartsch. And when the Lions forced the action, they put Livingston on its heals.
This team can play, plain and simple. Katie Johnson is a dangerous hitter who plays a solid third base. Gabby Lombardi is an aggressive shortstop and whoever plays first, either Sam Platt or Olivia Gemma (when one of them is not pitching) provides solid defense and a very good bat.
Platt and Gemma have both been consistent in the circle while batterymate, Alexis Havrilla, a junior, had a tough job replacing an All Stater in Jamie Purcell, but she plays an outstanding defensive game and has a good arm.
Centerfielder Ashey Kowalski is a nightmare for opposing teams, who expect her to slap, but then she’ll hit with some power to the opposite field and can run like a deer.
There’s also a healthy respect between the teams. Platt and Peslak, the starting pitchers, were warming up next to each other before the game in the bullpen and yapping it up a little, all in good fun.
The difference in the game was Livingston’s ability to execute bunts, get key hits and play superior defense. Two key plays in the game set the tone. In the fourth inning with a runner on first, Livingston first baseman ‘Princess’ Jazzy Pignatello fielded a grounder, spun to her right and threw a strike to shortstop Sammi Rothenberger for the force at second before Dr. Rothenberger threw back to first for what appeared to be a double play, but the MSD runner was ruled safe.
Then, after MSD scored three times in the bottom of the fifth, the Lancers registered two runs in the sixth, with Altcheck flying down the first base line with two outs to beat a throw and allow McLaughlin to score a key run. Altcheck was hitting second in the lineup, with Rachel Wasilak batting third and Rothenberger hitting fourth as Peslak did not bat in the game.
Wasilak’s defense at second was also key, as she fielded six grounders flawlessly and threw to first for outs.
Livingston and Mount St. Dominic could meet again in five days for the championship of the 36th Essex County Tournament, but both teams will have tough assignments in Friday’s semifinal at Ivy Hill Park. Mount St. Dominic faces Cedar Grove and savvy pitcher Gabby Castelli while Livingston will face hard-hitting Bloomfield later on that evening.
Meanwhile, in Glen Ridge, Anderson outdueled Tara Kelly as Nutley (16-6) won, 3-0. Anderson, a sophomore, fanned 13 and walked two while Kelly struck out nine and walked three while scattering just three hits.
Carly Anderson was on her game with a no-hitter as Nutley defeated Glen Ridge, 3-0.
Anderson’s no-hitter could be a portend of things to come. She’s an up-and-coming hard thrower who seems to improve with each game. She could be very influential in Nutley’s bid to win a state sectional title later this month.