The 37th Essex County Softball Tournament will commence this weekend with play-in games. The ECT has become a very exciting tournament over the years. Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions by fans of the tourney, as well as the 25 things you need to know about the tourney’s storied history.
1-How are the seeds decided?
Generally, a committee of Essex County coaches will vote on the seeds. That meeting was held on Tuesday, April 22, with coaches from the various divisions of the Super Essex Conference (SEC).
2-Are there parameters in deciding a seed?
Good question. For the most part, there seems to be a weighted respect toward the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) American Division, which comprises the ‘stronger’ teams in the league. There is also credence toward teams that play a more rugged out-of-conference schedule.
The head-to-head matchups are always discussed and usually are a deciding factor in seedings. This year, there are so many dynamics in that category, as far as teams beating other teams, but maybe not having as good a record.
3-Nutley seeded 4th, Glen Ridge 5th and Caldwell 6th?
In my mind, there was no question Nutley was the fourth seed. Glen Ridge being tabbed fifth is a very interesting choice and it’s nice to see the Ridgers in the upper bracket of the tourney. Great call. The Caldwell Chiefs have long had a winning program and their American Division schedule obviously gave them a lot of respect among the coaches who seeded the tournament. Good calls, all around, by the coaches. This wasn’t an easy tourney to seed.
4-Will Mount St. Dominic be even tougher to beat this year?
For sure, and that’s saying something.
Mount St. Dominic’s excellence in the ECT speaks for itself. The Lions are tied for third, all time, in county championships with four crowns, the last coming on a back-to-back feat in 2009. It has won all of its championships since Lorenzo Sozio was named coach in 1996. The Mount has been to 11 finals, including the past three and six of the last seven. If it advances to this year’s final, it will tie Belleville for most appearances in a county championship game.
5-Will there be another Newark Academy-type run in 2014?
Why not? Newark Academy’s rise from a team which had to play-in just to qualify in 2012, to beating defending champion Nutley and Caldwell to gain the ECT semis, represented a marvelous coaching job by Sergio Rodriguez.
It doesn’t happen often. In fact, that run by the Minutemen was the first time a team in the play-in round made it to the quarters, much less the semis. But that also means there could be a team out there, not necessarily in the play-in round, but a double-digit seeded school, who could surprise someone, especially this season where so many teams are very young.
6-In 2013, I asked, will we see another ECT semifinal contest like the 2011 game between Nutley and Livingston? The answer was yes, thanks to Olivia Gemma’s heroics in 2013.
It sure would be fun. The quality of the Final Four is certainly good every year, but there was something special about that game in 2011 at Ivy Hill Park, between Nutley and Livingston in the ECT semis. Peslak, a sophomore, struck out 14 for Livingston, but Kristen Mattia hit a 3-run homer in the fifth inning for Nutley after Livingston had gained a 4-0 lead. The Lancers appeared to have it under control in the bottom of the seventh, especially after Peslak fanned Mattia for the second out, but Lauren Iradi hit a seeing-eye, two-out, two-run single as Nutley won, 5-4. A day later, it captured the county final over MSD, 3-0. (Peslak has often said it was one of the best games she ever played in, and she lost).
The 2013 semifinal between Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic was a classic, as MSD’s Olivia Gemma hit an epic homer over the centerfield fence to lead the Lions past the Panthers after it appeared Cedar Grove had the game in hand.
Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will host the ECT semifinals and finals on May 17 and 18.
7-Where and when are the semifinals and finals?
The semis are set for Friday, May 16 while the finals are the following night. Seton Hall University’s field at Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will be the site for the semis and finals.
The Knights gained the third seed, which was pretty obvious, based on its early-season performance. If form holds, it would play Mount St. Dominic in the semifinals while Nutley would take on Livingston. (Again, if form holds, and that’s not a guarantee). West Essex is young, but they were also very young in 2007 when it last won the championship. West Essex and Mount St. Dominic will meet this Friday in a SEC contest, as well.
It’s a fun tournament, with some conversation and debate, but in the end, it’s for the kids to enjoy. Great job by the committee in seeding it so well for 2014, as has been the case in other years, too. Fans should see some good games between now and May 17. And don’t forget, while the ECT is playing out, teams are also vying for a SEC championship, too.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This is the 37th ECT, so let’s look back at some facts and figures over the past 36 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-Livingston has won five county titles, including two straight while Mount St. Dominic and Cedar Grove are tied for third in overall championships with four each.
4-Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak had three of the most dominant performances in the ECT semis in recent memory. In 2011, she struck out 14 and actually lost in the seventh inning to Nutley, 5-4. The following year, she fanned 17 in a 9-0 victory against West Essex and in 2013, she spun a five-inning, no-hitter as the Lancers defeated Bloomfield, 12-0.
5-Before Livingston’s victory in 2013, Mount St. Dominic was the last team to repeat as champions, winning in 2008 and ’09, both at the expense of Cedar Grove. The Lions also beat the Panthers in the 2011 and 2013 semifinals.
6-Caldwell is the only team to three-peat as champions. (1986-88), something Livingston hopes to accomplish in 2014,
7-Livingston’s ‘Seattle Slew’, Kylie McLaughlin, hit a rare inside-the-park homer at Ivy Hill Park in the 2013 semifinal against Bloomfield. She led off the bottom of the first with a shot that hit the center field fence and bounced past a Bloomfield outfielder, as the speedy ‘stud’ rounded the bases.
8-Cedar Grove was the first team to repeat as champion, doing so in 1980. At that time, 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 in 2013.
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), Mount St. Dominic (2008-09) and current two-time champion Livingston are the schools which have won back-to-back titles.
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), Mount St. Dominic-Cedar Grove (2008-09) and Mount St. Dominic-Livingston (2012-2013 are the championship game matchups which occurred in consecutive years. A 2014 final between Mount St. Dominic-Livingston could be the first time teams meet three consecutive years in a championship game since 1986-1988.
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. Cedar Grove and Belleville collected 13 runs in the ’84 title game.
16-Only three of the first 36 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 and she’s the only coach to win crowns at two different schools. She won a pair of championships at West Essex (1997-98) before leading her alma mater, Nutley, to the 2011 championship. Ironically, her first championship in ’97 came against Nutley.
West 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 3-0 in county finals.
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 county tournament, with Belleville prevailing by the mercy rule. A few weeks later, the teams met in the state sectionals, with Belleville winning a close 3-1 contest, 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-It’s not often that sisters play against each other in a county tournament, but it happened in the 2011 championship game when Nutley, led by Eileen Purcell, defeated Mount St. Dominic, 3-0. The Mount’s junior catcher that year was Jamie Purcell, Eileen’s twin sister. Both girls are now playing on the collegiate level, at different colleges. This year, there could be a sister matchup in the semifinals if Mount St. Dominic and West Essex get there. Olivia Gemma is a senior for the Lions while her sister, Madison, is an up-and-coming freshman for the Knights.
24-From 1993-1997, the final score of the championship game was 2-1.
25-Mount St. Dominic’s four runs in last year’s county final was the most by a team which didn’t win the title during this century.