It appeared to be a routine play in a game seemingly out of hand.
During the sixth inning of the Caldwell at West Essex softball game on April 14 in North Caldwell, West Essex’s Kate Jencarelli hit a hard grounder which seemed destined for a single past second base. West Essex was already leading, 6-1, and had the bases loaded, with one out. When the ball left the bat, it appeared to easily be a two-run single.
Instead, Jencarelli’s shot was fielded on a hop by second baseman Casey Ward, who, without flinching from the back hand, threw the ball to shortstop Gianna Genello, who tagged second base for the force.
(Softball photos courtesy of Jeff Stiefbold)
But it gets better. Genello, in a single stride after hustling to cover the bag, and a little off balance, threw the ball to first, where it short hopped in front of first baseman Val Murphy, who made a perfect swipe of the ball. The play almost seemed routine for the three Caldwell players.
Had Jencarelli not been hustling, it would have been a magnificent double play, but she was safe at first. A run scored, but the inning ended when the next hitter popped up.
Caldwell lost the game, 7-1, but that kind of athleticism and determination in the infield has to be an indication that Caldwell, one of the most successful high school softball programs in Essex County over the past 30 years, may be getting close to making a move in the ultra competitive American Division of the Super Essex Conference (SEC).
West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori was impressed.
“Caldwell is really close to putting it all together,” the coach said afterward. “I couldn’t believe that play they made on defense in the sixth. Those kids can play, and they swing the bats.”
Caldwell was 3-4 following the loss to West Essex. It had also lost to powerful Livingston, Mount St. Dominic and Nutley, clearly the best teams in the American Division, along with arch rival West Essex. The Chiefs have wins over Holy Angels, West Orange and New Providence. SEC games with Cedar Grove and Montclair are on tap for later this week, as well as an appearance at the Mount St. Dominic Invitational on Saturday against Raritan.
Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has been at the helm since the later days of the Reagan Administration. He is Essex County’s all-time wins leader for softball coaches and ranks among the top coaching records in New Jersey. He is closing in on 600 career wins (he should reach the mark this season) and has guided the Chiefs to eight of its record 10 Essex County Tournament championships.
And while he’s had plenty of success, he appreciates the teaching aspect of the game.
“When I see kids make plays on defense like that, it shows we’re making progress,” Teshkoyan said. “Val, Casey and Gianna are all juniors, as well as (pitcher) Cayla Lombardi and (left fielder) Jess Mattheiss. They’re the nucleus of this year’s team. Our seniors, Kayla Bayard and Danielle Pesante have big shoes to fill, with the graduation of Gabby Roselle and crew, but they have done a great job showing this team the ropes, while we gain valuable game experience.”
At the plate, Genello is almost impossible to get out. The team’s leadoff hitter, she is considered a slap hitter from the left side of the plate, with outstanding speed. The term ‘Smarty Jones’ applies to her, since she’s a stud player, similar somewhat in style to Livingston’s Kylie McLaughlin, AKA Seattle Slew, albeit with a little less lower power to the opposite field than ‘Slew’.
Nevertheless, Genello is on a pace to shatter records for hits at Caldwell.
With Lombardi back in the circle after an injury kept her on the sidelines for most of 2013, Caldwell could be a tough out as the season progresses.
“We should be a more experienced team during the second half of the season, and into the (county) tournament,” said Teshkoyan.