When the Final Four of the Essex County Softball Tournament is contested this Sunday afternoon, there will be two very interesting games on tap at Ivy Hill Park in Newark.
Sixth seeded Caldwell takes on second seeded Mount St. Dominic at 2 p.m., followed by ninth seeded Cedar Grove facing fourth seeded Nutley at 4 p.m.
On paper, where games are rarely won but hotly debated, Mount St. Dominic and Nutley are the two highest seeds remaining, at second and fourth, respectively. But there are a few other parallels to consider when it comes to the two teams which will ultimately meet in the 37th County final on Friday night, May 23.
Cedar Grove swept Nutley in a pair of Super Essex Conference games, with the Panthers rallying from large deficits to win both times, 9-8 and 10-6.
Mount St. Dominic also swept Caldwell in SEC play, by scores of 9-1 and 12-0.
There is the theory that it’s not easy to beat the same team three times in a season. Just ask West Essex, which had beaten Caldwell twice in league play, only to lose to the Chiefs, 11-0, in the ECT quarterfinals.
Mount St. Dominic can attest to that, too, in its games with Montclair. The Lions won the first two games by a combined 25-0. When they met a third time, in the county quarterfinal last Sunday, the Mount won, 2-0, on a two-run homer by Olivia Gemma (AKA Forego) in the fourth inning.
Unlike the past two seasons, when Livingston and Mount St. Dominic seemed to be a foregone conclusion in the title game, (with apologies to last year’s Cedar Grove team) you can make a case for any of the four teams to be playing in next Friday’s championship final.
So, let’s take a look at all four teams and why they can be playing in the county final.
For the record, the four schools have combined to win 20 of the 36 championships to date, with the head coaches accounting for 18 championships, dating back 35 years.
CALDWELL (12-12): The message to the Chiefs will be no one expects you to win this game. The players probably heard that before the West Essex quarterfinal, too. Caldwell pitcher Cayla Lombardi noted that she and her teammates were in a different type of zone against West Essex, so relaxed, with an unusual focus than the previous games against the Knights.
Star shortstop Gianna Genello (Smarty Jones) has a toe injury which kept her out of Caldwell’s state games on Thursday, but she’s confident she’ll be fine for Sunday’s semifinal. Lombardi was also rested for the state game and she’s hoping to be in the circle on Sunday.
Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has plenty of experience in county games. He’s led Caldwell to eight ECT titles, the most of any coach in the county. Teshkoyan also won his 600th career game the other day, just the fifth coach in state history to accomplish that feat. He’s Essex County’s all time winningest coach, in terms of wins and county titles.
There could be a little magic in Chief land on Sunday.
MOUNT ST. DOMINIC (22-3): The newest stud in the Essex stable, Olivia Gemma (Forego) has been swinging a hot bat. The one thing every coach says about Mount St. Dominic is that there is no easy out in that lineup, and no truer words could be spoken.
Mount St. Dominic is a combined 6-0 against the other three teams in the Final Four, and truth be told, none of those games were particularly close. Mount St. Dominic is also the newly crowned SEC American Division champions, ending Livingston’s two-year hold on that title after Nutley upset Livingston last week.
Mount St. Dominic also has a big edge in the circle, with that edge being depth. Freshman Kelsey Oh has logged the most innings, but senior righty Sam Platt has been dominant when she starts. And don’t forget that Forego can also pitch. She led MSD to the 2011 county final as a freshman, and has plenty of experience in big games, including starting last year’s county final against Livingston.
Mount St. Dominic coach Lorenzo Sozio is third, all time, with four county championships, and don’t be surprised if he mixes things up a little bit in the semifinals, or championship game, should MSD get there.
NUTLEY (15-10): Two words. Spectacular Bid.
Huh? That’s code for Carly Anderson, Nutley’s junior all-everything, who has been playing shortstop for most of the season, but appears to be getting her pitching groove back into gear after a sore elbow curtailed her in the circle for most of 2014.
Anderson came on in relief against a real good Livingston team earlier this week and pitched tremendously. Question is, how good is Nutley’s defense if Anderson is pitching and not playing shortstop?
The Cedar Grove factor has to be considered here, too. Bottom line is, Nutley hasn’t fared well against Cedar Grove over the years, including two strange losses this year in SEC play. On the other side of the spectrum was that Nutley’s win over Livingston on May 14 had to be a huge confidence booster for the Raiders. It was not only a road win, but avenged a 10-2 loss to the Lancers just a week earlier.
Nutley coach Luann Zullo is the only coach in ECT history to win championships at two different schools. She led West Essex to crowns in 1997 and ’98, then guided Nutley to the title three years ago, beating Mount St. Dominic in the final after an epic win over Livingston in the semis.
Zullo is as crafty as they come, and to be honest, she won’t give any insight as to how she’ll use Spectacular Bid in the semis, until the game starts.
Anderson is a difference make, make no mistake about that. And if Nutley gets by the semifinal, they’ll have five days until the final. Hmmm? Rest for Bid? Could be.
CEDAR GROVE (12-12): The Panthers have been on a roll, winning six of its last seven, with the only loss during that run to Mount St. Dominic in a SEC game. One of the wins in that streak came against top-seeded Livingston in the ECT quarterfinals, 5-4, ending Livingston’s two-year run as champion. Bear in mind, Livingston had dominated Cedar Grove the first two times the teams met in SEC play, winning by a combined 18-5.
Cedar Grove can flat out hit. Their lineup can be relentless, starting with leadoff hitter, Erin Stacevicz. Since she transferred back to her home town team after playing at Lodi Immaculate in 2012 and ’13, Stacevicz had to sit out a certain amount of games to start the 2014 season. She’s been a force in the lineup since her return. The kid is (you guessed it) a stud. (Official name coming soon).
Cedar Grove catcher Autumn Spinella hit two over-the-fence homers in a win at Caldwell earlier this week.
Potent-wise, Cedar Grove’s lineup may be as good as Mount St. Dominic’s. Pitching wise, the Panthers will need guile to win.
Coaching wife, Ray VanderMay led Cedar Grove to its first county crown 35 years ago. After a successful run on the college level, VanderMay returned to Cedar Grove last season and guided the Panthers to the ECT semifinals, where it lost a heartbreaker to Mount St. Dominic.
Cedar Grove is back in the semis and wants to finish the job it felt it didn’t get done last season.
Let’s see what happens on Sunday. One thing is for sure, both games should be exciting.