While there may have been a lack of the suspense which defined the last five Essex County Tournament softball finals, don’t tell that to Mount St. Dominic’s Olivia Gemma.
‘Forego’, as I like to call her, had seen her share of disappointing moments at Ivy Hill Park over the past three seasons. In 2011, she had pitched the Lions to the ECT final before MSD lost a 3-0 decision to Nutley. In 2012, Gemma was a key player on a MSD team which returned to the finals and lost a 2-0 decision to an outstanding Livingston squad. In that game, Sam Platt pitched very well for the Lions, but Gemma was still a force in the lineup.
Last year, Gemma put together two tremendous days at the ECT. In the semifinals, she hit a legendary three-run homer in the sixth inning as the Mount rallied for a big win over Cedar Grove. The following day, she hit a two-run single in the first inning as the Mount took an early 3-0 lead over Livingston. Gemma was a force at the plate in that game, so much so that Livingston, after gaining a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning, was trying everything it could to avoid pitching to her. (Many felt Gemma was the best player on the field during those two days).
In 2014, Gemma’s two-run double in the first got her team off and running and Mount St. Dominic won its first county crown in five years over Cedar Grove, 10-0.
The suspense may have been different in 2014.
For the first time since 2008, when MSD blanked Cedar Grove, 7-0, the title game didn’t, in essence, come down to the final inning. The Mount had edged Cedar Grove in 2009, 3-1, and in 2010, Cedar Grove got by West Essex, 2-0. The 2011 final was a three run game and the two finals between Livingston and the Mount came down to a big play late in the respective 2012 and 2013 contest.
Most fans had expected to see Mount St. Dominic and Livingston play for a third straight season in the final. But Cedar Grove changed all that, when it rallied for a pair of runs in the top of the seventh, to surprise the top-seeded Lancers, 5-4, in the quarterfinal round.
Gemma pitching for the Lions. The team’s depth in the circle in 2014 made her its starting first baseman this season.
“We really wanted to play Livingston one more time,” said Gemma. “That’s been such a big rivalry for both of our teams. We split two games with them this season, so obviously a third game would have been really good. But it didn’t happen. Cedar Grove was playing some real good ball coming into the final and we knew that they’d be a tough opponent.”
While there have been some tough defeats at Ivy Hill, MSD’s record there since 2011 is a very respectable 5-4, which includes a 1-0 loss to Immaculate Heart Academy in the Non-Public A final in 2013, as well as the two wins there this year in the semifinals and finals. Mount St. Dominic not only won the ECT for the fifth time in its history (all under head coach Lorenzo Sozio) it also won the Super Essex Conference American Division title for the first time in three years, finishing 13-1 in the rugged division.
“Good memories, for sure,” Gemma said. “My first time at Ivy Hill (in 2011), we played Cedar Grove in the semifinals. I was so nervous, I felt like I was shaking. Amanda Paxson was there to calm me down and hopefully, as a senior now, I’ve done that for some of the younger players.”
There was some irony in that 2011 semifinal game against Cedar Grove, since the Panthers started sophomore Gabby Castelli, but later inserted a freshman who had missed most of that season with an ankle injury. That player was Platt.
“I forgot about that,” said Gemma, with a laugh. “Sam pitched for Cedar Grove that year. The next season, she was my teammate.”
Gemma could make one more trip to Ivy Hill if MSD makes it to the North Non-Public A final again this season. The championship game for the North Non-Public A and B sections have been contested there the past few years, but the site may not be guaranteed this year. If last Monday’s game marked her last visit there as a high school player, she’s fine with that, too.
“It feels great to get a county title,” Gemma said. “Everything is winding down, for high school. Hopefully, we can keep winning a little longer.”
Gemma, who is president of her senior class, will graduate this coming Sunday. The eldest daughter of Angela and Mike Gemma, Olivia’s softball career will continue on the next level. A tremendous student, Forego is heading to Stevens Institute of Technology, where she will probably return to the circle and pitch for the Ducks.