The 38th Essex County Softball Tournament will commence on April 23, with play-in games. The ECT has become a very exciting tournament over the years. Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions by fans of the tourney, as well as the 25 things you need to know about the tourney’s storied history.
1-How are the seeds decided?
Generally, a committee of Essex County coaches will vote on the seeds. That meeting was held on Tuesday, April 21, with coaches from the various divisions of the Super Essex Conference (SEC). All of the coaches are welcomed to comment on where they think their team should be seeded, but in the end, the committee makes the final choices.
2-Are there parameters in deciding a seed?
Good question. For the most part, there seemed to be a weighted respect toward the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) American Division, which comprises the ‘stronger’ teams in the league. There is also credence toward teams that play a more rugged out-of-conference schedule.
The head-to-head matchups are always discussed and usually are a deciding factor in seedings. This year, there are so many dynamics in that category, as far as teams beating other teams, but maybe not having as good a record.
And. for the first time since the SEC’s formation in 2010, the Colonial Division saw two teams, Millburn and Belleville, gain solid seeds, with Millburn 10th and Belleville, 11th.
3-Did the committee get it right with the higher seeds?
For sure, the committee did a great job. The top eight seeds are solid, with Mount St. Dominic, West Essex, Nutley, Cedar Grove, Livingston, Caldwell, Columbia and Bloomfield. (I had it slightly different, with Verona, seventh, Columbia eighth and Bloomfield, ninth, but I’m no expert, either).
4-Will Mount St. Dominic be even tougher to beat this year?
The defending champs are the overwhelming favorite, but there’s no way coach Lorenzo Sozio will allow the Lions to take this tourney lightly. Mount St. Dominic’s excellence in the ECT speaks for itself. The Lions have five county titles to its credit, and has won all of its championships since Sozio was named coach in 1996. The Mount has been to 12 finals, including the past four, and seven of the last eight. If it advances to this year’s final, it will pass Belleville for most appearances in a county championship game and if it wins the crown, MSD will stand second, all time, in tourney history with six championships. Currently, the Lions and Livingston have five county titles each.
5-Will there be another Newark Academy-type run in 2015?
Why not? Newark Academy’s rise from a team which had to play-in just to qualify in 2012, to beating defending champion Nutley and Caldwell to gain the ECT semis, represented a marvelous coaching job by Sergio Rodriguez.
It doesn’t happen often. In fact, that run by the Minutemen was the first time a team in the play-in round made it to the quarters, much less the semis. But that also means there could be a team out there, not necessarily in the play-in round, but a double-digit seeded school, who could surprise someone, especially this season where so many teams are very young.
And don’t forget last year’s solid run by Caldwell, which advanced to the ECT semifinals. The Chiefs stunned arch rival West Essex in the quarters and gave the eventual champions, Mount St. Dominic, a good run in the semifinals. Caldwell didn’t need to play in, but it was still an impressive performance.
6-Will this year’s Final Four bring the fans some great memories?
The quality of the Final Four is certainly good every year, but there was something special about the 2011 semifinal between Livingston and Nutley. Livingston sophomore righthander Jess Peslak struck out 14 for Livingston, but Kristen Mattia hit a 3-run homer in the fifth inning for Nutley after Livingston had gained a 4-0 lead. The Lancers appeared to have it under control in the bottom of the seventh, especially after Peslak fanned Mattia for the second out, but Lauren Iradi hit a seeing-eye, two-out, two-run single as Nutley won, 5-4. A day later, it captured the county final over MSD, 3-0. (Peslak has often said it was one of the best games she ever played in, and she lost).
The 2013 semifinal between Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic was also a classic, as MSD’s Olivia Gemma hit an epic homer over the centerfield fence to lead the Lions past the Panthers after it appeared Cedar Grove had the game in hand.
Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will host the ECT semifinals and finals on May 15 and 16.
7-Where and when are the semifinals and finals?
The semis are set for Friday, May 15 while the finals are the following night. Unfortunately, Seton Hall University’s field at Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will be the site for the semis and finals. Having grown up and loving Ivy Hill Park, I’ll be honest. The sitelines at that field aren’t good, from a fan perspective. But it is what it is, I guess. I wish they’d play it at Pulaski Park again, but that’s me.
8-If form holds?
Should the favorites win, the semifinals at Ivy Hill will feature Mount St. Dominic against Cedar Grove (or Livingston) while West Essex would play Nutley. Those are two really compelling games.
It’s a fun tournament, with some conversation and debate, but in the end, it’s for the kids to enjoy. Great job by the committee in seeding it so well for 2015, as has been the case in other years, too. Fans should see some good games between now and May 16. And don’t forget, while the ECT is playing out, teams are also vying for a SEC championship, too.
10-West Essex-MSD final?
Based on the seedings, it could be. The teams met in mid April and Mount St. Dominic came away with a 1-0 win, in extra innings. MSD and West Essex last met in a county final in 2007, with the Knights winning.
But don’t count Nutley out, either. Entering this week, the third-seeded Raiders had lost two games, both in extra innings. Nutley can swing the bats and its pitcher, Carly Anderson, loves playing in the big game setting.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This is the 38th ECT, so let’s look back at some facts and figures over the past 37 tourneys.
1-Caldwell won the first championship in 1978, defeating Bloomfield, 2-1. The Chiefs have the most championships with 10 and also boast the best record in championship games, 10-1.
2-Belleville appeared in nine county finals during the 1980s, winning three championships, including back-to-back titles in 1982 and ’83. Belleville made it to eight straight finals, a record which still holds, from 1982-89. The Buccaneers also won in 1989 and appeared in the 1998 and ’99 final. Belleville’s 12 appearances in the finals are tied with Mount St. Dominic for the most championship game appearances.
3-Livingston and Mount St. Dominic have each won five county titles, while Cedar Grove is third on the list with four crowns.
4-Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak had three of the most dominant performances in the ECT semis in recent memory. In 2011, she struck out 14 and actually lost in the seventh inning to Nutley, 5-4. The following year, she fanned 17 in a 9-0 victory against West Essex and in 2013, she spun a five-inning, no-hitter as the Lancers defeated Bloomfield, 12-0.
5-Before Livingston’s victory in 2013 over Mount St. Dominic for the second straight year, MSD was the last team to repeat as champions, winning in 2008 and ’09, both at the expense of Cedar Grove. The Lions also beat the Panthers in the 2011 and 2013 semifinals.
6-Caldwell is the only team to three-peat as champions. (1986-88), with all three wins in the final against Belleville.
7-Livingston’s ‘Seattle Slew’, Kylie McLaughlin, hit a rare inside-the-park homer at Ivy Hill Park in the 2013 semifinal against Bloomfield. She led off the bottom of the first with a shot that hit the center field fence and bounced past a Bloomfield outfielder, as the speedy ‘stud’ rounded the bases.
8-Cedar Grove was the first team to repeat as champion, doing so in 1980. At that time, the Panthers were led by pitcher Laurel VanDer May, while its head coach was her brother, Ray, who returned to the helm of Cedar Grove in 2013. VanDer May coached the Panthers to a county final last year, and is no longer the team’s head coach.
9-Cedar Grove (1979-80), Belleville (1982-83), Caldwell (1990-91 and again 2004-05), West Essex (1997-98),Bloomfield (1999-2000), Montclair Kimberley Academy (2001-2002), Mount St. Dominic (2008-09) and Livingston (2012-2013) are the schools which have won back-to-back titles. If MSD wins it this year, they’ll be just the second team in the tourney’s history to repeat as champions on two different occasions.
10-Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has the most championships with eight. Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio has won five, which is good for second overall.
11-Belleville-Caldwell (1986-88), Caldwell-Livingston (1990-91), Mount St. Dominic-Bloomfield (1995-96), Mount St. Dominic-Cedar Grove (2008-09) and Mount St. Dominic-Livingston (2012-2013) are the championship game matchups which occurred in consecutive years. Based on this year’s seeding, there won’t be a rematch of last year’s final.
12-Cedar Grove’s crowns in 1984 and 2010 represent the longest gap between titles for a championship team.
13-Nutley waited 18 years between championships. (1993-2011).
14-Belleville’s Carl Corino coached in 12 county finals and led his team to the Final Four 16 times.
15-The highest scoring final occurred in 1992, when Livingston and Bloomfield combined for 14 runs. Cedar Grove and Belleville collected 13 runs in the ’84 title game.
16-Only three of the first 37 championship games have gone into extra innings, with Belleville (1989), Mount St. Dominic (2003) and Caldwell (2005) all winning by 1-0 decisions. The 2003 game between Mount St. Dominic and Bloomfield went 11 innings, the longest final on record.
17-Caldwell had one of the most improbable wins, rallying from 2-0 down to stun Belleville, 3-2, in the 1987 final. Caldwell scored all three runs without a ball leaving the infield. The Chiefs had a similar rally in the 2004 county final opposite MKA, once again coming back from 2-0 down in the seventh. Both of those games were at Pulaski Park.
18-Luann Zullo is 3-0 as a head coach in the finals, and she’s the only coach to win crowns at two different schools. She won a pair of championships at West Essex (1997-98) before leading her alma mater, Nutley, to the 2011 championship. Ironically, her first championship in ’97 came against Nutley.
West Essex won the 1998 ECT final, beating Belleville, 1-0. Head coach Luann Zullo (second from far right) and assistant Sergio Rodriguez (second from far left) are shown here with the team.
19-Livingston coach Jason Daily is 3-0 in county finals.
20-MKA is the only team to beat Caldwell in a county final, doing so in 2002, 4-1, for its second straight title and last to date. Two years later, Caldwell turned the tables ad beat MKA, 3-2.
21-Livingston and Belleville had quite a rivalry in the 1980s. The schools met three times in a county final (1982, ’85 and ’89), with Belleville winning twice. In 1982, Livingston rallied from 4-0 down to stun Belleville, 6-4, in a state sectional semifinal. Five days later, the two met again for the county championship and Belleville won, 8-0, for its first ECT crown. A generation later, the two met in the 2001 county tournament, with Belleville prevailing by the mercy rule. A few weeks later, the teams met in the state sectionals, with Belleville winning a close 3-1 contest, en route to a sectional championship. The following year, Livingston went to Belleville in a sectional and won. Livingston’s current head coach, Jason Daily, was in his second year as head coach in ’02.
22-Newark Academy made it from the play-in round all the way to the ECT semis in 2012, the first school to accomplish that feat. It stunned second-seeded and defending champion Nutley in the first round, 6-4, then defeated Caldwell in the quarters before losing to Mount St. Dominic.
23-It’s not often that sisters play against each other in a county tournament, but it happened in the 2011 championship game when Nutley, led by Eileen Purcell, defeated Mount St. Dominic, 3-0. The Mount’s junior catcher that year was Jamie Purcell, Eileen’s twin sister. Both girls are now playing on the collegiate level, at different colleges.
24-From 1993-1997, the final score of the championship game was 2-1.
25-Mount St. Dominic’s four runs in the 2013 county final was the most by a team which didn’t win the title during this century.
26-Sammi Rothenberger (Livingston), Kristen Mattia (Nutley) and Mount St. Dominic’s Olivia Gemma have hit three of the more memorable homers in Ivy Hill history, since the field became the venue for the finals in 2005. All three of those homers occurred in semifinal matchups.
27-Last year’s county final marked the first time the game ended with a five-inning mercy rule.