On paper, the first round of the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 tournament between top-seeded Livingston and 16th seeded Montclair on May 21 was supposed to signify an easy win for the Lancers.
And if you look at the 7-0 final score, I guess you can surmise Livingston did accomplish what it set out to do.
But kudos to both schools for the way they approached the game, and that’s a credit to the respective coaching staffs.
For Montclair, the goal was to compete and play hard. It wanted to play a full seven innings with the two-time Essex County Tournament and Super Essex Conference champs.
For Livingston, it was a chance to use multiple players and give the younger kids the opportunity to compete in a state tournament game.
This is the way high school sports is supposed to be played. There was no need to score over 10 runs and win by a ‘mercy rule’ by playing starters the entire game. It was a chance to compete and both head coaches recognized it.
Led by first-year head coach Dan Roberts, Montclair (7-17) received a nice pitching effort from freshman Erica Robles.
“She’s got some good stuff,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “I was very impressed. Montclair came to play. They’ve had some good teams there over the years and I’m sure they’ll be back in the conference and county races very soon.”
I spoke with Montclair assistant coach Michael Goldstein after the game. My first question was, is Roberts as great a guy as it appears?
“He’s a teddy bear, and great with the kids,” Goldstein said. “I’ve been coaching summer ball for a while and I have to say, Dan really relates well to them. He’s new to softball, but he’s an experienced coach. Most of all, he’s a gentleman.”
While the Mounties struggled in the early parts of the season, it came around pretty impressively down the stretch, including wins over Montclair Kimberley Academy and Newark Academy. In a home game against Nutley on April 25, it trailed 2-1 in the seventh before the Raiders pulled away.
Coach Roberts always seemed to have a smile on his face, and most of all, was respected and liked by opposing coaches.
There was a classy moment in the bottom of the sixth inning at Livingston. The Mounties starting shortstop, Deja Davis, was the team’s player in 2013. So when Montclair went out to play defense, Davis took her usual spot. But after the first at-bat, Roberts went to the mound, called his entire starting team into the circle and replaced Davis, so that she could be recognized by her teammates.
The Livingston and Montclair fans all applauded, as did players and coaches from both sides.
It was a simple, but eloquent gesture by Roberts and heartfelt by those in attendance.
As for Livingston (22-3), the Lancers won its 16th straight game and will take on Bergen Tech today, instead of tomorrow, in the second round of the sectionals since bad weather is expected on May 23.
“It was a good chance to play some of our younger kids,” Daily said. “We don’t get those chances, a lot, and to do it in a state game was nice.”
Goldstein also had respect for the Lancers.
“I know a bunch of their kids pretty well from summer ball, like Sammi (Rothenberger), Alexa (Altcheck) and Katie (Horiuchi),” Goldstein said. “They’re really good kids. And obviously (Livingston pitcher) Jess (Peslak) is incredible.
“I didn’t really know Jason until I started coaching the high school team this year and you can see he understands what it’s all about.”
The Livingston-Montclair game was just another in what sometimes seems like endless softball covering fall, spring and summer.
But this one was well done and deserved some accolades.