Madison Gemma had been waiting for nearly two weeks to get into her first high school game.
On April 13, the West Essex freshman got that opportunity and capitalized in a big way. Her two-out, two-strike, double to left centerfield opened the floodgates in the fifth inning as West Essex rallied from 3-0 down to edge Ridgewood, 4-3, in the 11th EDSAF & Emerson Softball Tournament, on the campus of Emerson Jr. and Sr. High School.
It was a good ending to a frustrating weekend for West Essex (3-3), which had been blanked twice, on April 12 in a tournament at Chatham, including a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to a very good Morris Knolls team.
West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori had decided to make some changes in the lineup, including Gemma batting leadoff.
“Madison would usually be a three, or four hitter in the lineup,” said Mondadori. “But we hadn’t been hitting well over the weekend, so with Madison ready to start playing, I figured we’d give her a chance to lead off.
The left-handed hitting Gemma flied to right in her first two at-bats. It appeared Ridgewood was well on its way to a win, leading 3-0 with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the fifth when Gemma stepped in again.
“I was really nervous coming into the game,” Gemma said. “I couldn’t sleep very well last night, I was so pumped. In my first two at-bats, I pulled the ball straight, and I realized I wasn’t reading the pitches as well as I should.”
Gemma stayed back a little in the batter’s box in her third at-bat and laced a long double to centerfield.
“I could tell I made good contact,” Gemma said. “I just wanted to get something going for our team.”
Did she ever.
Alexa Vardiman followed with a single that scored Gemma. Vardiman went to second on the throw to the plate and she scored on Bridget Betley’s single to make it 3-2. Kate Gencarelli reached on an error to keep the inning going and Jenna Salluce singled to score Betley with the tying run. Winning pitcher Samantha Huetter followed with a double in the game which plated Gencarelli with what proved to be the winning run.
Huetter, another freshman in West Essex’s arsenal, was outstanding in the circle. She gave up no earned runs while striking out three and walking two. Once she had the lead, Mondadori wanted to see what Canonero II (Huetter’s ‘stud’ name) would do under pressure.
“Sami wanted the ball with the lead, no doubt,” said Mondadori. “She pitched really well.”
Huetter was outstanding in a 1-0 loss to Morris Knolls a day earlier and had shutout hard-hitting Nutley, 4-0, on April 9.
Against Ridgewood, she worked out of a seventh inning jam when a Ridgewood batter reached on a double with one out, by retiring the final two hitters to seal the win.
For Gemma, it was good to be playing.
“I just wanted to play and it was great being out there,” Gemma said. “We play Caldwell on Monday (April 14), so I’m glad I have a game behind me now.”
The EDSAF tournament benefits Ari Solimando, a 2004 Emerson High graduate and former catcher for then head coach Steve Mondadori, who was paralyzed in an accident back in 2003.
Steve Mondadori is Andrea’s dad and for many years, Steve’s team would play Andrea’s West Essex team in the tourney. Steve coached at Emerson for many years, then for a few seasons at St. Mary (Ruth.) before retiring as a coach at the end of the 2013 season.
The tournament is held over two days and features a number of excellent softball programs in Northern New Jersey.