There’s no doubt that Bloomfield will enter its Essex County Tournament semifinal tonight opposite top seeded Livingston as an underdog. But that’s far from a concern to the Bengals, who can’t wait for the chance to play the Lancers.
For seniors Jenna Orlando and Damariz Mercado, along with junior Victoria Ross, playing at Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University tonight may be a first, but it seems like they’ve done this before.
Bloomfield last appeared in the ECT semis back in 2008, when Orlando and Mercado were in the seventh grade while Ross was a sixth grader. But Orlando’s older sister Lisa did play for the Bengals then, as did Ross’ sister, Layne. Bloomfield lost a close game to Cedar Grove that year, 3-1.
Mercado’s step father, Newark Academy head coach Sergio Rodriguez led his team to the 2012 ECT semis and has been a fabric of the Essex County softball landscape for a while.
“He’s given me advice,” Mercado said with that patented smile. “We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Mercado starts in rightfield for the Bengals and will be playing on the collegiate level this fall at Rowan University.
Orlando, the youngest of three daughters in her family and the team’s starting shortstop, will be attending Lafayette College this fall, where she’ll continue her softball career. While her high school days are winding down, she is also cherishing the opportunity to play for a county title.
“This has been a tremendous season for us,” said Orlando, whose Bloomfield team takes a 19-4 record into tonight’s game. “This team is so close, and we all enjoy being around each other. There’s no drama, just an enjoyment of the game.”
“Among our goals this season was to win the (Super American, Liberty Division) conference title, and we’ve done that,” said Ross, the team’s starting catcher. “We wanted to win 18 games, and we’ve surpassed that. We wanted to make an impact at the county tournament and getting to the semifinals for the first time in five years says we’ve done that. And then we want to advance in the state tournament.”
But all three agree just getting to the county semis is not enough.
“We respect Livingston a great deal,” Orlando said. “They’re a tremendous team. We played them earlier this season (Livingston won a 10-3 decision) and that day, we didn’t play particularly well. We learned then that when you make errors against a team that good, you’re going to pay for it, and we did. But we’ve regrouped.”
Mercado has also seen the maturity factor from the team contribute to a big season.
“We’ve grown a lot as a team,” Mercado said. “I just love being around my teammates. I don’t want it to end, but I know eventually, it will. We can’t wait to get on the field at Ivy Hill. It’s going to be nice.”
Last season, the Bengals struggled, finishing 6-15. There were no seniors on the ’12 team, so this year’s squad had no excuses as to the past.
“We had to learn and grow up as a team, basically it was like ‘you got to’,” Orlando said emphatically. “We didn’t want to repeat history. You can’t say ‘well we would have been better (last year) if so and so weren’t here. That was us last year and we needed to learn from it.”
Ross was even more direct.
“6-15 is pathetic,” Ross said. “No one was happy with that. But we’ve worked hard and here we are in the county semis, playing a great team.”
Bloomfield has gotten a marvelous pitching effort this year from senior Debbie Mazzeo, who is also a threat at the plate.
“Debbie has been tremendous,” said Ross, her batterymate. “She put so much into this season and she’s a leader of this team.”
The biggest theme that Orlando, Mercado and Ross all agreed on was to enjoy the game.
“It’s all about having fun,” Orlando said. “If you’re not, then don’t play. When we’re out there, we’re going to play hard and if that’s good enough, we’ll move on. If not, we’ll get ready for our next game. We’ve got some big games coming up, too, with the state tournament starting and our Senior Night (on May 24) against Mount St. Dominic. That’s going to be exciting, too.”
Ross knows the 2014 campaign will be different without this year’s senior class.
“We’re going to be much younger, but because of this year’s team, we’ll go in with a lot of confidence,” Ross said. “It’ll be a different world, but we’ll always be close friends, and that’s the main thing.”