Mike Gemma walked by the first base line in the fourth inning with a nervous smile. Clad in a West Essex-red wind breaker and Mount St. Dominic blue pants, the father of MSD senior Olivia and West Essex freshman Madison, was clearly apprehensive about his daughters playing softball against each other.
“This is nuts,” he said. “I don’t how Tim did it for four years. I’m just glad this is the only year for me and Angela.”
Tim is Tim Purcell, whose twin daughters, Eileen and Jamie, played softball against each other for four years at Nutley and Mount St. Dominic, respectively. During the twins’ high school days, Nutley and the Mount would play six SEC games, as well as the 2011 Essex County Tournament championship game, when Eileen’s Raiders beat Jamie’s Lions, 3-0. Afterward, a noticeably emotional Tim admitted it was hard to root for one team, even in a championship game setting.
Fast forward to 2014, and Mike and Angela Gemma were well aware that this day was coming, when their daughters would play against each other in what I called ‘Gemma Bowl I’.
To add to the intrigue was that today, Madison would make her varsity debut as a pitcher, in a relief role, and faced her older sister.
When Madison walked Olivia, Mike smiled and said “that’s probably the best result. Whew, I’m glad that’s over.”
Mount St. Dominic would coast to a 13-0 win over West Essex in five innings. After the game, Angela mentioned to her husband that Olivia would be driving Madison home.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Angela. “Olivia and Madison are really close, but Madison had never pitched to Olivia before in a game setting. It was tough to watch.”
Earlier in the game, Olivia had hit a fly to right field which Madison caught in a swirling wind.
“Yeah, what was up with that,” Olivia said in mock horror after the game. “Who taught her that? I wanted a hit there !”
As for the game, Mount St. Dominic pitcher Kelsey Oh was dominant in the circle, and then helped her own cause with a long grand-slam homer over the right centerfield fence in the third inning, when the Lions scored 11 times to put the game away.
With Mount St. Dominic (13-2) and Livingston (11-2) both winning today, it clearly puts those schools far and away from the other teams in Essex County softball, especially with the ECT about to get underway.
Mount St. Dominic’s win today was its seventh straight. During that run, they’ve outscored their opponents, 60-1.
Livingston’s win over West Orange today improved its record against Essex County teams to an unheard of 50-1 since the start of the 2012 season. At this point, it seems likely that the Lancers and Lions will meet for a third straight year in the county final. The last time two schools met on three consecutive years in a ECT championship game was from 1986-88, with Caldwell and Belleville.
But what makes the ECT so much fun is that anything can happen. In 2008 and 2009, Mount St. Dominic had defeated Cedar Grove in the championship game. In 2010, those two seemed certain to meet in the ECT semifinals, but West Orange stunned the Mount in the quarters and Cedar Grove would go on to win the title.
Two years ago, Newark Academy advanced to the semifinals, defeating defending champ, Nutley, in the first round. Last year, Bloomfield made it to the semis.
West Essex (8-5) the third seed in this year’s ECT, struggled in back-to-back home games against Livingston and Mount St. Dominic. Nutley, the fourth seed, is having its share of early season struggles, falling to 8-6 after a 10-3 loss to West Morris Central today.
Gemma Bowl II will come in a second Super Essex Conference matchup, at the Mount, next month. A third game could occur on May 16, in the ECT semifinals.
“Like I said, one year is more than enough for me,” said Mike Gemma of his kids playing against each other. “One good thing about today was that my wife and I got to see both of our daughters play on the same field. That doesn’t happen too often. Usually, I’m at one of their games and Angela is at the other. This was good.”