They were the top two seeds for the 36th Essex County Tournament and the committee obviously knew its stuff, since Mount St. Dominic and Livingston will now meet for the championship on May 18 in a 7 p.m. game at legendary Ivy HIll Park.
Mount St. Dominic (21-5) the second seed, will be appearing in its 11th championship game and seeks its fifth title and first since 2009 after edging sixth seeded Cedar Grove, 4-3. Top seeded Livingston (20-3), which won its 14th straight by beating Bloomfield, 12-0, in the second game of the semis, will go after its second straight county title and fifth overall while playing in its ninth final. Livingston won its semi over Bloomfield in five innings.
This is the second straight year that MSD and Livingston will meet for the title. Livingston won last year’s final, 2-0, in a great pitcher’s dual between Sam Platt and Jess Peslak. Livingston won the two regular season meetings between the teams this season.
The Lions and Lancers got to the finals in different style. MSD had its hands full with Cedar Grove, trailing 2-0 into the bottom of the sixth before a pair of Cedar Grove errors put two runners on base, leading to an electric three-run homer off the bat of junior first baseman Olivia Gemma to give the Mount a 3-2 lead.
To its credit, Cedar Grove (14-9) tied it in the seventh as pitcher Gabrielle Castelli, who deserve a better fate, singled to lead off the frame which eventually led to the tying run when a hard grounder to short took a wicked bounce and hit sophomore shortstop Gabby Lombardi in the mouth. Thankfully, Lombardi was okay and should be fine for the championship game.
Mount St. Dominic won it with a pair of singles wrapped around two walks after two were out and no one on in the last of the seventh. Katie Johnson delivered the winning hit to give the Lions its third win this season against the Panthers.
In the nightcap, Livingston jumped out quickly, scoring twice in the bottom of the first as Kylee McLaughlin led off the game with an inside-the-park homer. The ball hit the top of the fence and rolled back, giving McLaughlin plenty of room to round the bases and score easily. Later in the first, Sammi Rothenberger drilled a solo homer over the left field fence to extend the lead to 2-0.
The Lancers added six more runs in the second, with Rachel Wasilak hitting a bases-loaded triple and Jazzy Pignatello drilling a two-run double. Alexa Altcheck’s speed was once again a catalyst to Livingston extending an inning after beating out what looked like a routine grounder for an infield single.
Pignatello continued her hot hitting with a three-run homer in the fourth that made it 12-0.
Peslak spun a no-hitter. The only base runner for Bloomfield (19-5) came on a hit batsman in the second inning on an 0-2 pitch.
NOTES: Castelli was outstanding for Cedar Grove. She allowed just one earned run, that coming in the seventh. Castelli won a county title in her freshman year for the Panthers by pitching a shutout in the championship game.She has also led Cedar Grove to back-to-back state sectional crowns in 2011 and 2012.
Gemma’s homer was incredibly clutch for MSD. The junior has turned into a very reliable hitter for the Lions. Johnson, too, has a very consistent bat and with Platt at the top of that lineup, MSD has plenty of offensive threats.
It’s rare to see an inside-the-park homer at Ivy Hill Park, but McLaughlin’s blast to start the game had the fans in awe.
“The ball hadn’t even landed and she was already on second,” said one fan. “She’s unreal.”
Belleville coach Chris Cantarella, who was at the game, wasn’t surprised.
“Against us, Kylee bunted and got a double,” Cantarella said. “Another time, she hit what looked like a routine single and ended up with a triple. As soon as that ball was hit tonight, I turned to Carl (Corino, Belleville’s former head coach) and said, ‘she’s going around the bases.'”
Bloomfield will hope to regroup for the NJSIAA Tournament, starting on Tuesday when it hosts West Orange. The Bengals will also face Mount St. Dominic on May 24 on Bloomfield’s Senior Night.
Bloomfield and Livingston could meet again in the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 semifinal on May 28.