Forty three years ago, Canonero II won the Preakness and set the stage for a possible Triple Crown.
Today, West Essex’s version of a tremendous competitor stepped up like a stud should, pitching eight solid innings. Freshman righty Sami Huetter also helped herself at the plate, and the Knights got some solid offensive performances from Alexa Vardiman, Jenna Salluce, Madison Gemma and Kelly Cousoulis, along with a tremendous catch by Bridget Betley to account for a come-from-behind 7-6 win over Parsippany Hills in the first round of the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 tournament.
West Esesx (16-7), the second seed, had its hands full with 15th seeded Parsippany Hills, as it trailed 5-2 in the sixth inning before scoring three times to tie it. (Parsippany Hills had scored three times in the top of the sixth).
“I don’t want to hear about seeds,” said West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori. “There are a lot of tough teams in this section. Our kids had to battle and dig deep to win this game.”
The Knights will face a familiar foe in the next round, when it hosts Nutley in the sectional quarterfinals early next week. West Essex has beaten Nutley twice in SEC play.
Huetter, Vardiman and Salluce each had two hits for West Essex and Huetter was outstanding in the circle, especially after her team fell behind, 5-2.
“I knew we had to keep it close to have a chance to win,” said Huetter, known to some as Canonero II.“You can’t let falling behind bother you. It’s the state tournament and every pitch is important.”
West Essex tied it in the sixth at five, with Gemma’s two-run double a big part of the rally.
An injury to first baseman Kate Jencarelli forced Mondadori to make some adjustments to her defense. She moved Gemma from right to first and inserted Betley in right field.
Betley, another in a long line of talented West Essex freshmen, made an outstanding shoe string catch, with a near-perfect slide, in traffic, no less, to take away a possible double that would have led off the seventh inning for Parsippany Hills.
The Knights, which were playing its third straight extra inning game this week (all of which were victories) then won it on Cousoulis’ game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth.
“We had named Kelly a team captain today,” said Mondadori. “She knows what it’s like to play in big time state games, having been a part of (West Essex’s championship-caliber) field hockey team (last fall). I’m so glad she got the winning hit. She’s such an important part of this team.”