In the Circle of Life, Caldwell succeeds with a prominent past and encouraging future

In the history of Essex County softball, there’s no question that one school stands on the loftiest perch when it comes to success.

Caldwell High School’s prowess in the Essex County Tournament (ECT) is unparalleled.

It has won 10 ECT crowns. No other school has won more than five.

Caldwell won the first ECT title in 1978 and is 10-1 in championship games.

It is the only school which has won at least one championship in each decade since the ECT’s inception.

Current head coach Mike Teshkoyan has won the most ECT titles, with eight. No other coach has more than four.

Caldwell is the only team to have won three straight titles (1986-1988).

In addition to the only three-peat in ECT history, it is also the only program to repeat as champions on two different occasions (1990-1991) and (2004-2005).

In addition to the county accolades, Caldwell has won more than its share of conference and state sectional titles, as well as being an overall state champ.

Another words, the Chiefs have been really good.

And when the team practices, there’s the famous Circle of Life, which not only defines team chemistry and bonding, but also establishes respect for one another and the opponent.

circleCaldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan leads the Circle of Life at Caldwell High School. (Photos courtesy of Mike Teshkoyan)

As the 2013 NJSIAA tournament gets underway, the current group is beginning to make a serious run toward its second sectional title over the past three years. And this, after a 3-9 start and the loss of its starting pitcher earlier this season.

First and foremost, sophomore pitcher Cayla Lombardi is showing improvement after being hit in the head with a line drive during a game in April against Roxbury. Lombardi will miss the remainder of the season, but according to Teshkoyan, she’s raring to come back in 2014.

“She’s getting there, but it takes time,” Teshkoyan said. “It was one of the toughest injuries I’ve ever seen in a game. The ball hit her pretty flush. Obviously, it was tough on our kids, too, but Cayla has been around practice and the games and it’s good to have her here.”

Danielle Pesante, a junior, has done a tremendous job in the circle for Caldwell. She throws a lot of off-speed stuff and keeps teams off balance.

Following a victory over Leonia in the first round of the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 tournament on May 21, the Chiefs had won 11 of its last 13 to improve to 14-11. One of its two setbacks came to powerful Livingston in the quarterfinal round of the ECT, but even in that game, Caldwell had its chances before losing a 5-2 decision. It trailed 3-2 in the sixth and had an opportunity to tie it before the Lancers scored two key runs in the last of that inning.

“I thought we gave Livingston a good game, and they’re obviously a tremendous team,” Teshkoyan said. “To be honest, this is the most fun I’ve ever had coaching a team. These kids are wonderful, and that’s not to say other teams weren’t, because, believe me, I’m very proud to have coached all the years that I have and I hope to for a while longer.”

Teshkoyan is Essex County’s all time wins leader in softball, with 587, all at Caldwell. (In his 28th season, Teshkoyan’s overall record is 587-146). He is also the girls soccer coach at CHS, where success has certainly found its way there with 318 victories.  He should surpass 600 wins on the softball diamond in 2014 and could, in a couple of years, reach 1,000 wins, combined, between the two varsity sports.

He’s a Caldwell guy in every respect, having attended and graduated CHS.

On the field, the Chiefs have received a solid effort from a core base of players which are predominately sophomores and seniors.

Gabby Roselle is a solid second baseman, Gianna Genello is a dynamic shortstop, Gina Veneziano is a stud third baseman while Rachel Curtiss and Carleigh Trivino are excellent outfielders.

caldwellCaldwell seniors, (Left to Right) Victoria Leonardo, Gina Veneziano, Gabby Roselle, Carleigh Trivino, Rachel Curtiss and Alex Sciacca.

“Genello is just a sophomore, but she’s closing in on 100 career hits,” Teshkoyan said of the slap hitter who creates havoc at the plate and the basepaths. “And kids like Gabby, Gina, Rachel and Carleigh are tremendous leaders and hard workers.”

Among the seniors, Trivino will play soccer at Stockton this fall, Roselle aspires to attend the United States Naval Academy and has other top schools in her sights, as well, as she hopes to be a Naval officer one day and Curtiss plans to attend Salve Regina University in Florida.

Alex Sciacca and Victoria Leonardo are two upperclassmen who have done an outstanding job, as well.
 
Teshkoyan’s long-time assistant coach, his brother Mark, has been a staple to the Chiefs’ success.
 
“Mark has been tremendously loyal over the years to the kids,” Mike said. “He knows how grateful I am, but I’d like everyone to know how important he is to our programs.”

For Mike Teshkoyan, the years have gone by quickly. He doesn’t see a  big difference between the athlete of today and the girls he coached three decades ago.

“Kids are kids,” he said. “There’s more social media today, but the bottom line is, you want the kids to learn how to compete and play hard. You want them to respect one another. It’s what our Circle is all about.

“If someone is a good teammate and a good person, that means a lot. I’m glad these kids have had the chance to experience winning a conference title (the Chiefs won the Super Essex Conference’s Liberty Division in 2012) and a state sectional (in 2011). We’re hoping we can make another run to a sectional title this year.

“We award a shovel to the kids, which is passed around. It’s for the player who has dug the hardest, or the deepest. It works for us, and I’m proud to be a part of watching these kids grow up.”

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By mike051893

Livingston’s Wasilak: A study of softball intellect and a love for the game

Perhaps the biggest superlative a high school softball player can receive are compliments from hard-boiled opposing head coaches.

When discussing Livingston’s outstanding team, most of the fan conversation centers around Jess Peslak, Kylie McLaughlin and Sammi Rothenberger.

But when you ask a coach, many times, the first name which comes up is second baseman Rachel Wasilak.

rwRachel Wasilak, in this 2011 photo, is one of Livingston’s dynamic players.

“That kid is the real deal,” said Immaculate Heart Academy coach Anthony Larezza. “I don’t think people realize how good she is, but she makes every play.”

Caldwell College coach Dean Johnson agrees.

“She can play, plain and simple,” Johnson said. “She fields like a vacuum cleaner and hits in the cluch. She’ll be  a very good college player.”

As focused and prepared as she is on the field, Wasilak will be the first to say conversations with the media has never really been her thing.

I remember the first time I asked Livingston coach Jason Daily if I could speak to his then-freshman infielder after the Lancers defeated Caldwell in a 2010 Super Essex Conference (SEC) game.

“Sure,” Jason said. “She’s right over there.”

I had also asked to speak to sophomore Reid Singer that day, since she had hit a homer, so the two kids stopped by and we spoke.

Well, sort of spoke.

If you know Reid, then you know any conversation with her is the equivalent of a press conference. But speaking with Rachel was a bit of a challenge because she didn’t have a lot to say. While very pleasant, her answers were mostly one syllable.

When I finished speaking to them, Daily walked by and said, ‘how’d that go?’ I laughed and said Wasilak was perfect for Livingston, because we used to joke that Daily’s coaching staff wouldn’t give any details of a game, rather they’d stare at you with those dark sun glasses and take the fifth.

Now, sitting with Wasilak the other day, she recalled that first meeting with a laugh.

“I do remember it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to say.”

Wasilak’s demeanor hasn’t changed a lot since her freshman year. A supremely confident player and the daughter of a coach, she is the catalyst to the Lancers infield. There never seems to be a ball she can’t field cleanly.

“Rachel is such a smart player,” Daily said. “She’s almost like a soldier in the field. She’s so disciplined and makes the hard plays look easy because she’s always in the right position on the field. Her softball IQ is tremendous. She just understands the game. It’s hard to explain.”

rachelWasilak’s softball IQ is often called her biggest asset.

At the plate, Wasilak has a penchant for the big hit. She hits to the opposite field regularly and can pull the ball with power when needed. Her love for the game is obvious.

“This game is a big part of my life,” Wasilak said. “Watching this team get better every year is exciting. We had a great season last year, but came up short. We’re a very determined team.”

Livingston won its second straight Essex County Tournament championship last week, to go along with a second consecutive SEC crown. It is now seeking another state sectional crown.

A third team, All-State player in 2012, Wasilak will be attending William Paterson University in the fall, where she’ll continue playing softball in the highly competitive NJAC. She’s undecided as to a major on the collegiate level.

“I really liked the campus and the coach (Hallie Cohen),” Wasilak said. “And it’s close to home. I didn’t want to go too far away.”

wpuWasilak will turn in her green and black uniform of Livingston High for the orange and black of William Paterson University this fall.

Daily remembered Wasilak’s first year as a varsity player.

“We started her as a freshman at third base when we opened the (2010) season at the IHA Tournament,” Daily recalled of a game Livingston won, 1-0. “She also played the outfield and during one of our trips to Florida in March, she even pitched. Eventually, she transitioned into our second baseman, but that didn’t come until her sophomore year.

“Like I said, she’s such a smart kid and she’s so versatile. It won’t be easy filling that role next season.”

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Updated Top 10 as NJSIAA Tourney nears; one more cheer for Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Dr. Sammi and Princess Jazzy, along with a great group of Lions

A wonderfully played Essex County Tournament concluded last Saturday night with a game for the ages as Livingston rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 down to edge Mount St. Dominic, 5-4, for its second straight championship and fifth overall.

The Lancers, who remain No. 1 in the FMTC’s Top 10, will  now gear for the NJSIAA Tournament, as will the other teams in the county. The tourney starts on May 21 and continues on May 23. For those teams which win both of those contests, there’s more softball after the Memorial Day weekend.

The season will wind down with sectional championships to be decided next week, followed by the state semifinals and ultimately, the Group championships on June 8 in Toms River.

There’s a few exciting weeks left in the 2013 softball season. With the league and county stuff now completed, here’s a final congrats to Livingston on defending its crown, which is never easy, especially against a quality opponent in Mount St. Dominic in the championship game.

Livingston showed its mettle with Jess Peslak, Sammi Rothenberger, Jazzy Pignatello, Rachel Wasilak, Marina Lombardi, Alexa Altcheck and Kylie McLaughlin, among others, coming through when it counted most.

It was Princess Jazzy with a huge effort in the quarterfinals and then crushing a 3-run homer in the ECT semi, Dr. Sammi’s homer in the semi that will soon reach legendary status in future conversations, Seattle Slew’s (McLaughlin) lead off homer in the semi and Peslak’s pitching in both games and the winning hit in the title game at Ivy Hill that keeps Secretariat among the best.

Princess-Jasmine-Wallpaper-disney-princess-6538269-1024-768Princess Jazzy Pignatello and her Lancers won another ECT title against a tremendous opponent in Mount St. Dominic.

Also, thanks to Mount St. Dominic for showing all of us the way the game should always be played. Gabby Lombardi displayed true toughness after being hit with a bad hop grounder in the mouth in the semifinals, then getting plunked by a pitch in the first inning of the finals. Gabby had a tremendous game in the championship tilt.

glWho’s behind those Foster Grants? It’s MSDA’s Gabby Lombardi, who’s as tough as they come. (Thanks to the Lombardi family for this photo).

Let’s not forget Gabby Castelli of Cedar Grove for her tremendous pitching. She’s now won over 70 games in her varsity career and will go after a third straight state sectional crown. She’s also a county champion, having led the 2010 Panthers to a shutout win in the final.

castelli 2Gabby Castelli hopes to win another state sectional title. She has 70 career wins heading into this week’s action.

Bloomfield’s ascent to a possible 20 win season, led by some wonderful players in Jenna Orlando, Damariz Mercado, Debbie Mazzeo, Tina Spithogiannis, Victoria Ross and Stephanie Mancuso, should never be overlooked. The Bengals could get another opportunity to play Livingston in the sectional semifinals next week.

bloom 2Damariz Mercado and her Bloomfield teammates are hoping to make a big run in the NJSIAA tourney.

Thanks to all the Final Four teams in the ECT and congrats to the parents who supported their daughters throughout the tough tournament for being there. Your enthusiasm and excitement go a long way in helping the kids reach their goals and feeling great about themselves.

Here’s the updated Top 10.

1-Livingston (21-3)

2-Mount St. Dominic (21-6)

3-Nutley (20-6)

4-Cedar Grove (14-9)

5-Bloomfield (19-5)

6-Newark Academy (18-6)

7-Caldwell (12-11)

8-West Essex (10-14)

9-Glen Ridge (13-10)

10-Montclair Kimberley (11-10)

By mike051893

IHA’s Larezza: Memorial Day Speech Maker, Nestor Chylak fan, Sopranos and Stud Historian, and anything else worth discussing

At Immaculate Heart Academy’s softball field in Washington Township, NJ,  there’s no question as to who the boss is.

Anthony Larezza works that field like it’s his backyard. And in a way, it is.

If he could mow the grass himself, he would, but it’s field turf, so he gets a break there.

But when Larezza, IHA’s head softball coach since 2005, watches a game at the home field, even when his team isn’t playing there, he’s a whirlwind.

Foul balls behind home plate and in the adjacent woods? He’s got them.

If there’s an empty bottle sitting around, he’ll either throw it away himself, or ask one of his players to toss it away. During last Saturday’s Bergen County Tournament quarterfinals, Larezza made sure Midland Park and Mahwah had dry softballs during a steady rain. He and the home plate umpire had a nice routine going on after a while where the ump didn’t even have to ask before a few new balls were tossed to him over a thin piece of fencing.

“Only two people in the world can make that throw everytime, and I’m one of them,” Larezza said to the ump, who laughs after catching the throws.

In between pitches, he recalls a line from Richie Aprile, the fiction character on the legendary television show, “The Sopranos”, which is one of Larezza’s all time favorites.

beansieBack off Beansie !

“I thought I told you to back off Beansie,” Larezza said, talking about Tony Soprano’s warning to Richie. “I did,” Richie says via Larezza. “Then I put it in drive.”

“You shot my foot.”

‘”It happens”, Larezza says, recalling Christopher Moltisanti’s famous line at the bakery in Nutley from another Sopranos episode.

And so it goes.

He recalls a day at the IHA Tournament a while back when an amateur umpire handed me a softball and said to tell Anthony, ‘make sure Anthony throws this ball out. This ball is no good. I’m a certified ump. I know these things.”

chylaknestorbioNestor Chylak, a legendary Major League umpire, will always have a seat at an IHA game.

I relayed the message to Larezza, who smiles, looks at me and says about the ump, “Who’s he, Nestor Chylak?”, referring to the legendary Major League umpire. (The real Chylak’s birthday recently brought a tweet from me to him, which he enjoyed).

The ‘Memorial Day’ speech always comes up. It goes back to a IHA game against Livingston in early April of 2010. The Lancers were playing Larezza’s team in the annual IHA Tournament and had won a 1-0 decision.

(Jess) Peslak didn’t even pitch that day for Livingston,” Larezza recalled some three years later of Livingston’s now-legendary hurler who was a freshman that season. “But she beat us at the plate by hitting a RBI single and we lost 1-0.”

Bear in mind, IHA had won the 2009 state championship a year earlier and had finished as the state’s top ranked team. So when it lost an early season game to a good Livingston squad the following spring, Larezza wanted to send his team a message.

So he carries on a conversation with a former IHA player, in clear earshot of a few current players, who were sitting a little to the left of home plate.

“It’s going to be one of those seasons,” Larezza said (and I’m paraphrasing) to the former player. “These kids don’t care. They won a championship last year, let’s take this season off, right? So, we’ll go 22-5 and our season is over by Memorial Day weekend. Let’s go down the shore. Works for me. Play the younger kids now. Memorial Day is coming, right? Season’s over.”

It might not have been General MacArthur’s farewell speech at West Point, but it did sound a lot like Colonel Jessup in ‘A Few Good Men’ when the Colonel called his aide into the office and said “Tom, get me the president on the phone, we’re surrendering our position in Cuba.”

MacArthur-DtGen. Mac Arthur had nothing on Larezza’s speech at the IHA Tourney.

col jAnd Col. Jessup could learn from Larezza on motivation.

If the two current players who were listening could have dug a hole to Taiwan, they’d be speaking Mandarin Chinese today while enjoying Kung Pao chicken. (Another ‘A Few Good Men’ analogy).

But the point got across. Larezza expects nothing less than the best his players can muster. And he knew that particular team could play better.

He pointed to the spot where the Memorial Day speech was given and laughed, “when I’m long gone, that piece of turf will be a memorial to me.”

larLarezza battles the rain while watching a Bergen County Tournament game at the legendary spot where the Memorial Day Speech of 2010 was given.

He reads the Twitter updates on his phone religiously.

“You know,” he says to me. “That ‘get your popcorn ready’ theme you have is all over the place.”

He led IHA to another state championship and No. 1 ranking last season and this year could produce similar results.

When he’s not coaching at IHA, he loves to watch other games, so Larezza hustles over to the Essex County Tournament championship game at Ivy Hill Park in Newark later on Saturday to watch Livingston take on Mount St. Dominic.

There’s some confusion with a four-man umpiring crew, and both Livingston coach Jason Daily and Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio make multiple visits to question a few calls.

Larezza, standing by the fence on the first base line, shakes his head. “If that’s me, I’m thrown out of this game two times, already, and it’s the first inning,” Larezza said. “Seriously, this is a crazy game somtimes.”

He has fun talking about the strategy that will be employed.

“(Mount St. Dominic assistant coach Rob) Stern and Lorenzo are going a mile a minute right now,” Larezza said. “They never stop thinking of something new. And I love the way Livingston runs the bases. This is shaping up to be a really good game.”

Always one to keep you on your toes, he turns to me, out of the blue, in the middle of an inning and says, “what horse beat Man ‘O War,” knowing that I enjoy the history of great race horses.

Sean Reilly, a writer for Sideline Chatter, already knows the answer, and is surprised I don’t.

“Come on, you’re the horse guy,” Larezza chides. “(The name of that horse) is a common sports-related theme today. You gotta know this !”

I said “Sea Biscuit,” which elicited a few ‘are you stupid’ comments from the immediate crowd.

Turns out the only horse to beat the legendary Man ‘O War in 1919, was dubbed “Upset’.

upset

He then says to me, “I know you call Jess (Peslak) Secretariat, but what name did you give (IHA’s) Steph (Thomas)?”

sea slewbarn-signMaffirmedTop, Seattle Slew (McLaughlin), middle, Secretariat (Peslak) and bottom Affirmed (Thomas).

‘Affirmed’, I reply, about his stud pitcher and the 1978 Triple Crown winner, who I wrote about in a blog last month.

“And who’s (Livingston centerfielder) Kylie (McLaughlin)?”

‘Seattle Slew’, I said.

“I like your blog,” Larezza said earlier in the day. “I like the pictures. Makes me laugh.”

Before you know it, Larezza is off to get an ice cream, but comes back having consumed a Kit Kat bar, that of course, after carrying on a conversation with multiple fans in attendance.

Livingston goes on to win the county title, 5-4. Always complimentary to opposing teams and coaches, he is quick to elicit praise.

“Man, Livingston just finds ways to win,” Larezza said. “I can see why they haven’t lost since we played them. I’m not sure I want to play them again, not the way they’re hitting now.”

Larezza might meet up with Sozio and Stern in a few weeks if Mount St. Dominic and IHA play for the North Non-Public A title. The schools last met for the championship in 2009.

If nothing else, it will be a sight to behold, with constant games between the game, good fun and in the end, friendships which supersede all.

And on a personal note, thanks, Anthony, because I will never forget who beat Man ‘O War !

mowMan O’War (above) only lost once, to Upset !!!

Just another day on the high school softball circuit.

By mike051893

Mount St. Dominic showed the heart of a champion and Gemma is indeed a stud

Mount St. Dominic Academy’s 5-4 setback to Livingston in the championship game of the 36th Essex County Tournament was merely a blip on the scoreboard.

Another words, the Mount scored one less run, but there were no losers in this game.

This was softball at a high level, with players battling for every pitch, every swing and every out. The coaches even got caught up in the emotion, questioning more than a few calls, because both knew how critical a close call would come to possibly deciding the game.

But in the end, this was what competition should represent, and Mount St. Dominic made it clear from the first batter that it was here to play. After losing twice to Livingston in the regular season by a combined 17-5, the Mount was ready tonight.

We learned what an outstanding hitter Katie Johnson is, what a determined competitor Sam Platt has always been, was introduced, again, to the tenacity of Ashley Kowalski, the durability of Alexis Havrilla, the pure toughness of Gabby Lombardi and the coming out party of Olivia Gemma, who launched as clutch a homer as you’ll ever see in the ECT semifinals against Cedar Grove, then took Jess Peslak of Livingston to the limit in the championship game.

Gemma is what most coaches reference a standout player. She’s a stud. (Now we have to find a good stud name for her. Maybe IHA coach Anthony Larezza can help out here?)

And please allow me to say a word about Johnson, who I’ve known since she was about 3 years old. At the time, I worked at Caldwell College and Katie would come to work with her dad, Dean Johnson, and hang out with me in my Sports Information Director’s office, with her juice box, telling me stories and asking why I liked the football team with those silly orange helmets.

I remember covering her first high school game on April 1, 2010, when she had the game-winning hit as the Lions beat Cedar Grove, 6-4, in the opening game of the season. At times, she struggled to find a position, but in her junior year, she began to come around and earned All County honors. Now, as a senior, she’s firmly established as a standout high school player, who will attend Central Connecticut State University this fall and continue her athletic career.

It’s amazing how time flies.

Mount St. Dominic will be a tough out in the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament. Just ask Livingston coach Jason Daily.

“They’re just a tremendous team,” Daily said after the ECT final. “Those kids can flat out play. I’m glad we had a game like this, because it will only help us, too. We’ve had some tremendous games with them.”

We can only hope to see a Mount St. Dominic-Immaculate Heart Academy title game in North, Non-Public A.

That could be another classic.

Thanks, MSD, for being true champions, with the collective heart of the school’s moniker.

By mike051893

When it was needed, Secretariat and Seattle Slew came through against a tremendous MSDA team

It’s always fun to throw the stud word around when referencing good softball players in Essex County. And most know I dubbed Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak “Secretariat” back when she was a freshman in 2010.

More recently, a second stud title, “Seattle Slew” was afforded Livingston’s junior centerfielder Kylie McLaughlin for her speed on the basepaths and outstanding defense.

Secretariat The Photosea slew

So on the biggest stage of the Essex County Tournament’s championship game, it was the two studs who made key plays to guide Livingston past Mount St. Dominic, 5-4, for its school-record second straight county title at Ivy Hill Park in Newark.

The championship was the fifth overall for Livingston, which improved to 5-4 in ECT title games. Mount St. Dominic was appearing in it sixth championship game over the last seven seasons. It was seeking its fifth overall crown in its 11th championship game. The Mount last won the title in 2009.

Peslak is known for her multiple strikeouts and near unhittable rise ball, but on this night, it was her bat that would decide this game.

Mount St. Dominic (21-6) was hitting Peslak pretty well. She gave up three runs in the top of the first as she walked leadoff batter Sam Platt and hit Gabby Lombardi, the second batter, giving the Lions a chance to take its first lead against Peslak in six tries. They did just that, as Ashley Kowalski hit a run-scoring single and Olivia Gemma, who can assuredly gain a stud title of her own, knocked in two more runs.

But Livingston (21-3) would rally back with two runs in the bottom of the frame as McLaughlin led off with a single, stole second (by a whisker) and scored on a single by Sammi Rothenberger. Jazzy Pignatello later doubled home Rothenberger to make it 3-2.

“We needed to get something going right away,” McLaughlin said afterward. “My job is to get on base and make things happen.”

Peslak battled throughout the game, not finding a steady rhythm with the home plate umpire’s strike zone.

“That’s part of the game,” Peslak said. “I thought some of the pitches were strikes, but they weren’t called. I had to work through it and my teammates helped me, a lot. They had my back, told me to stay with it and just keep throwing.”

After the first inning, Peslak would allow just one more run, that coming in the third when Gemma singled and scored on a hit by Katie Johnson that made it 4-2.  Peslak would blank the Lions over the final 4 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Livingston was held to those two first inning runs behind the combined pitching of Gemma, who started, Sam Platt, who came in at the beginning of the third inning and remained there until Livingston rallied with three runs in the last of the fifth and Gemma, again, who pitched the last 1 2/3 innings.

In the bottom of the fifth, McLaughlin would start another rally, this time by drawing a one-out walk.

“We had to get something going,” McLaughlin would say later.

She came around to score on a double by the ever-reliable Rachel Wasilak to cut the Mount’s lead to 4-3. Rothenberger singled home Wasilak to tie it and went to third on the throw to the plate.

That set the stage for Peslak, who hasn’t been hitting as well as she’d like this year, but the senior lined a single to give the Lancers the lead for good.

“I was thinking we might squeeze in that position,” Peslak said. “But they were playing in tight and when she threw a low inside pitch, I got a good swing and it went through. I was a better hitter as a freshman, but this was big today. We’ve played them so many times and we know each other’s tendencies real well.”

Livingston coach Jason Daily contemplated not batting Peslak in the title game, as she continues to work through a back injury.

“I thought about it, but before the game, Jess gave me a kind of look that said ‘I’m hitting’ and that was that,” Daily said. “She showed emotion today in her performance and I liked that.”

With her first lead of the day, Peslak pitched two more scoreless innings, working out of some jams. In the seventh, she gave up a lead off single, but  retired the next two hitters and faced Gemma, who had a marvelous tournament. Gemma was 2-for-2 on the night and Daily came out to discuss intentionally walking Gemma.

“That was the plan,” Peslak said. “But the last time we tried to intentionally walk a player, it almost backfired on us. (Peslak was referring to last year’s state sectional final when a free pass nearly turned into a wild pitch). I was able to get ahead on the count and it worked out.”

Peslak retired Gemma to end a tremendous game.

“The Mount came to play,” Daily said. “That’s a tremendous team out there. We both battled pretty hard. And I can’t say enough about Gemma. I’ve always liked that kid as a competitor and hard-nosed athlete. She comes to play and is a winner. And Johnson is also outstanding.

“As for our kids, what can I say? I was so proud of the way they hung in there and played tonight. We had our backs against the wall, but never quit. I think this game will really carry us into the state tournament.”

By mike051893

Plenty of long balls in last night’s ECT brings back some memories of homers gone by

So, I get a call from Mike DiPiano this morning. Mike is Nutley’s assistant softball coach and as rabid a fan of the game, in general, as they come.

He was commenting on my Top 25 blog of all time moments in the Essex County softball tournament and threw in some classic homers that could be included.

Mike, of course, was referring to the 2011 ECT semifinal between Livingston and Nutley, which the Raiders won, 5-4, en route to the county championship a day later. In that game, which I have always said was one of the top 3 games I’ve ever seen, Livingston took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth and appeared in good shape with sophomore pitcher Jess Peslak throwing virutal be-be’s at the Raiders.

With two Nutley runners on base, Peslak, who would strike out 14 that day, hung a fast ball that Kristen Mattia launched over the leftfield fence for a three-run homer. Peslak would regroup and the game remained 4-3 until the bottom of the seventh, when Nutley plated a pair of runs with two outs as Lauren Iradi singled to centerfield.

Peslak (AKA Secretariat) would later say it was one of the best games she ever played in. And her team lost.

Anyway, with last night’s power surge  in the ECT semis, it brought back some memories of monumental homers in the ECT. A few I can think of came in 1999 when Jill Clementi blasted a homer which rolled down the hill at Pulaski Park as Bloomfield beat Belleville, 7-1, in the finals.

In the first year the ECT was played at Ivy Hill Park, Caldwell won its final title, to date, on a walk-off homer in extra innings by Gina Capardi.

Last night, Cedar Grove took a 1-0 lead in its game against Mount St. Dominic on a solo shot by Autumn Spinella. Later, Olivia Gemma drilled a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth over the centerfield fence for Mount St. Dominic as the Lions rallied from a 2-0 deficit to eventually win the game, 4-3.

In the second semifinal, Livingston’s Kylee McLaughlin led off the bottom of the first by smacking a long drive to dead center. The ball hit the top of the fence, and by the time the Bloomfield outfielders retrieved the ball, ‘Seattle Slew’ was off to the races for an inside-the-park homer. Believe me, at Ivy Hill Park, inside-the-parkers are rare.

Later in the first Dr. Sammi Rothenberger, who clearly doesn’t like birds, hit a blast that went into the trees overlooking leftfield and probably wounded a few owls. Seriously, the ball didn’t have the height Mattia’s shot possessed in 2011, but it might have traveled a little farther, distance wise. Who knows where it ends up if the trees weren’t there.

In the fourth inning, Livingston got its third homer when ‘Princess’ Jazzy Pignatello hit one over the centerfield wall.

And if you want a little more trivia, the first homer ever hit at the new Ivy Hill Park field on Seton Hall Univesity’s campus came on March 17, 2005 in a game between Monmouth and Seton Hall University. Kristin Wilson, a Belleville High grad, hit one over the left field fence that day for Monmouth in the seventh inning of the first game of a doubleheader.

No question, the home run still carries the most memories. And as the years go by, those blasts in key games are even more monumental.

By mike051893

MSD and Livingston once again, this time for ECT championship

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.

By mike051893

Back to Ivy Hill Park, where it all started for me

One of the many reasons I enjoy going to Ivy Hill Park for the Essex County Tournament every year are the memories for me that come from the park.

My early youth was spent in the Vailsburg section of Newark in the mid to late 1960s. I lived in the Ivy Hill Park Apartments (250 Mt. Vernon Place, Apt. 2-O) and went to Mt. Vernon School from Kindergarten through the 5th grade before my family moved to Belleville in the Summer of 1969.

ihp 5

I love going back to Ivy Hill. In fact I still attend the same church in South Orange that I went to as a kid in Vailsburg. It’s amazing the memories that are attached to your earliest childhood memories.

busLoved watching the buses pull up by Ivy Hill.

We might not all remember what we had for lunch yesterday, but we’ll recall the little things that made growing up enjoyable.

ihpThis was a familiar sight for me when I was a kid at Ivy Hill.

For me, at Ivy Hill, it was that Good Humor truck that was always in the park during the spring and summer and having a chocolate chip crunch popsicle, watching the Public Service buses pull up to the terminal next to the school, taking the #54 bus to Newark on Saturday mornings to go to the YMCA (yes, little kids could do that back then and their parents wouldn’t be arrested, LOL), the summer concerts at Ivy Hill, riding my bike, endlessly, in the park, with no worries, playing football, baseball or basketball, watching the Vailsburg QPs play on Sundays, getting a hot dog from the truck by the bus stop, catching the bus to Camp Dawson in the summers and all the activities at Mt. Vernon School in the yard and at the park. Mt. Vernon School was great, with teachers like Miss Teeling, Miss Clark, Mrs. Ephron, Mrs. Jarmell and Mrs. Michel (from 1st to 5th grade..couldn’t stand my Kindergarten teacher! LOL)

ghLoved it when the Good Humor truck was at Ivy Hill Park !

So, that’s why I get to the softball semifinals an hour before game time, (like I will tonight) to walk around the park, get a hot dog from that truck (I wish the Good Humor guy was still there!) and remembering a nice time.

ihp 3

A picture of Mt. Vernon School, from Ivy Hill Park entrance.

And then, when the nostalgia fades, it’s time for softball.

Did I mention popcorn ????? If not, get it ready !!!

Secretariat The PhotoSecretariat, winning the ’73 Belmont.

stock-photo-4276574-bag-of-popcornAnd of course, get your popcorn ready !!!

By mike051893

25 facts, figures and whatever else is relevant for tonight’s ECT semifinals

It’s one of the most enjoyable weekends in the calendar year, at least for me, when the Essex County softball tournament heads into the semifinal round.

Once again, Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University will be the host for tonight’s semifinal games and tomorrow’s final. The May 17 semis feature sixth seeded Cedar Grove taking on second seeded Mount St. Dominic Academy in a 6 p.m. contest followed by the 8 p.m. game between No. 4 Bloomfield and top seeded Livingston.

The winners of tonight’s games will return to Ivy Hill on May 18 for a 7 p.m. championship game.

This is the 36th ECT, so let’s look back at some facts and figures over the past 35 tourneys.

1-Caldwell won the first championship in 1978, defeating Bloomfield, 2-1. The Chiefs have the most championships with 10 and also boast the best record in championship games, 10-1.

2-Belleville appeared in nine county finals during the 1980s, winning three championships, including back-to-back titles in 1982 and ’83. Belleville made it to eight straight finals, a record which still holds, from 1982-89. The Buccaneers also won in 1989 and appeared in the 1998 and ’99 final. Belleville’s 12 appearances in the finals are the most by any school.

3-Mount St. Dominic, Livingston and Cedar Grove are all tied for second in overall championships with four each. There’s a good possibility that after this weekend, one of those schools could be in second place, by itself with five titles.

4-Bloomfield is in its first ECT semi since 2008. It last won the championship in 2000 and appeared in a county final last in 2006. Bloomfield is tied with Mount St. Dominic for third in finals appearances with 10 and has won three championships overall.

5-Mount St. Dominic is the last team to repeat as champions, winning in 2008 and ’09, both at the expense of Cedar Grove, whom the Lions will face tonight in the semifinals.

6-Caldwell is the only team to three-peat as champions. (1986-88).

7-Livingston will look to repeat as a ECT champ for the first time in school history.

8-Cedar Grove was the first team to repeat as champion, doing so in 1979 and ’80. The Panthers were led by pitcher Laurel VanDer May while its head coach was her brother, Ray, who returned to the helm of Cedar Grove this spring.

9-Cedar Grove (1979-80), Belleville (1982-83), Caldwell (1990-91 and again 2004-05), West Essex (1997-98), Bloomfield (1999-2000), Montclair Kimberley Academy (2001-2002) and Mount St. Dominic (2008-09) are the schools which have won back-to-back titles. Livingston will attempt to join that list in 2013.

10-Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has the most championships with eight. Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio has won four, which is good for second overall.

11-Belleville-Caldwell (1986-88), Caldwell-Livingston (1990-91), Mount St. Dominic-Bloomfield (1995-96) and Mount St. Dominic-Cedar Grove (2008-09) are the championship game matchups which occurred in consecutive years.

12-Cedar Grove’s crowns in 1984 and 2010 represent the longest gap between titles for a championship team.

13-Nutley waited 18 years between titles. (1993-2011)

14-Belleville’s Carl Corino coached in 12 county finals and led his team to the Final Four 16 times.

15-The highest scoring final occurred in 1992, when Livingston and Bloomfield combined for 14 runs while Cedar Grove and Belleville collected 13 runs in the ’84 title game.

16-Only three of the first 35 championship games have gone into extra innings, with Belleville (1989), Mount St. Dominic (2003) and Caldwell (2005) all winning by 1-0 decisions. The 2003 game between Mount St. Dominic and Bloomfield went 11 innings, the longest final on record.

17-Caldwell had one of the most improbable wins, rallying from 2-0 down to stun Belleville, 3-2, in the 1987 final. Caldwell scored all three runs without a ball leaving the infield. The Chiefs had a similar rally in the 2004 county final opposite MKA, once again coming back from 2-0 down in the seventh. Both of those games were at Pulaski Park.

18-Luann Zullo is 3-0 as a head coach in the finals, the best mark for a coach with at least two titles. She won a pair of crowns at West Essex (1997-98) before leading her alma mater, Nutley, to the 2011 championship. Ironically, her first championship in ’97 came against Nutley.

Zullo is also the only coach in ECT history to win championships at two different schools.

31658_393721811721_640661721_4603106_4600613_nWest Essex won the 1998 ECT final, beating Belleville, 1-0. Head coach Luann Zullo (second from far right) and assistant Sergio Rodriguez (second from far left) are shown here with the team.

19-Livingston coach Jason Daily is 2-0 in county finals and will be leading Livingston to the county semis for a fifth straight season.

20-MKA is the only team to beat Caldwell in a county final, doing so in 2002, 4-1, for its second straight title and last to date. Two years later, Caldwell turned the tables and beat MKA, 3-2.

21-Livingston and Belleville had quite a rivalry in the 1980s. The schools met three times in a county final (1982, ’85 and ’89), with Belleville winning twice. In 1982, Livingston rallied from 4-0 down to stun Belleville, 6-4, in a state sectional semifinal. Five days later, the two met again for the county championship and Belleville won, 8-0, for its first ECT crown. A generation later, the two met in the 2001 state sectionals, with Belleville winning, en route to a sectional championship. The following year, Livingston went to Belleville in a sectional and won.

22-Newark Academy made it from the play-in round all the way to the ECT semis in 2012, the first school to accomplish that feat. It stunned second-seeded and defending champion Nutley in the first round, 6-4, then defeated Caldwell in the quarters before losing to Mount St. Dominic.

23-Every school which has accounted for a county championship has at least two titles to its credit and that won’t change this year. No school has appeared in one final and prevailed.

24-From 1993-1997, the final score of the championship game was 2-1.

25-The last three county finals and five of the last six have been by shutout. In the one game during that stretch, Cedar Grove scored once in a 3-1 setback to Mount St. Dominic. Bloomfield was the last runnerup to score more than a run in the final, losing 5-3 to Livingston in 2006.

By mike051893