Phil Delgado has become one of those guys you can’t miss at the ball park. If he had his way, Montclair’s energetic second-year head softball coach would coach his players for 365 days a year, or 366, in a year like this.
But, instead, he gets that privilege starting in early March. And if you read the tee-shirts the coach had printed for the 2016 Mounties, the end of this season will hopefully come during the first weekend of June, specifically at Kean University, where the six NJSIAA championships will be contested.
The shirt reads simply ‘Montclair Softball’ on the front and on the back, ‘Exit 140’, which is the Garden State Parkway’s egress for Kean U.
Whether Montclair gets to the Group 4 championship game is a discussion for another day, but it speaks of Delgado’s never-ending belief in his group of players.
Montclair was 5-15 last year, but the team showed signs of being a major player, including a 5-0 victory over Cedar Grove, the eventual Group 1 state champion, late in the 2015 season.
Delgado, who will tell you that he’s ‘living the dream’ whenever you ask, has had a full off-season to work with his team, and it’s apparent this year’s club has a lot more confidence. Montclair opened its pre season with a good effort against Bayonne, at home, on March 16. It will face a much tougher test on March 18, when it travels to Washington Township to face Immaculate Heart Academy.
Delgado’s heart will be a little heavier when he arrives at IHA, because the memories of IHA’s legendary coach, the late Anthony LaRezza, will be everywhere. Delgado and LaRezza were very close friends.
“The best way to pay respects and reverence to what Anthony stood for is to play this game, and play it well,” said Delgado. “And I’m telling you, IHA made the ideal choice for head coach in Diana (Fasano, LaRezza’s assistant coach for many years). Diana and I are good friends, and I kid her that we’re coming to IHA on Friday to win, and she said something along the lines of ‘bring it on.’
“But seriously, those IHA kids love her, and Diana will know when to push them harder, and when to ease off the brakes. She’s the perfect coach for that team, and we’ll have fun going there to play on Friday. It’s what Anthony would have wanted.”
Delgado has a lot of LaRezza’s coaching characteristics. He’ll carry on a conversation with just about anyone, during the game. He’s always shouting out a series of three numbers, or a color, for a certain pitch, or a fielding assignment, similar to LaRezza’s strategy.
And, like LaRezza, he’ll be excited one minute, then yelling the next if a mental mistake occurred.
“The physical mistakes happen,” said Delgado. “That’s part of the game. The mental mistakes have to be corrected.”
As he was coaching his team against Bayonne, he’d shout out to me, at the opposite end of the field, that I was sitting next to a legend in Amanda Paxson, a star at Mount St. Dominic Academy, and later Manhattan College, who is now teaching in the Bayonne school system, and came to watch Bayonne’s young players.
And Paxson would shake her head, smile and say, “that’s Phil. He’s crazy, but a really good coach.”
The key to winning, at any level, in softball, is good pitching, and Delgado is confident in his junior righty, Jessica Masur.
“She’s Greg Maddux,” said Delgado, referring to Maddux, a MLB Hall of Famer, and his uncanny ability to paint the strike zone effectively, most notably on the black of the plate. “I think Jessica is ready for a big season. Her ball moves well, and she throws strikes.”
Erica Robles, a stud in the outfield, or infield, and probably the team’s closer, in the circle, is one of just two seniors on the Mounties’ roster.
“Erica will probably be our leadoff hitter,” said Delgado. “She’s such a good player. She does everything well, and she throws hard enough that she’ll be a good closer for us, especially in close games.”
The other senior is third baseman, Izzy Guaval. Montclair has a heavily laden junior presence, with shortstop Lily Silverstein expected to be a huge asset to the team, on defense, as well as at the plate.
The other juniors are first basemen Paige Davenport and Sammy Rego, outfielders Lia Pagnotta and Seniah Thompson and infielders Jane Corino and Sarah Amoye.
A good sophomore class features second baesman Grace Chelius, outfielders Sofie Fachin and Ciarah Minning and catcher Rael Crews.
Freshman infielders Francessca Testa and Amber Matthews could also see varsity time, as Delgado likes getting a lot of players into games.
Delgado also has a young coaching staff, made up of former standout high school players. Christina Galese starred at West Essex and later played at Trinity College. Sara Haefeli is a former Mountie who had a marvelous softball career at Seton Hall University while Cassidy Trause played at Cedar Grove High and later for LaRezza at IHA before a year at Temple University.
“It’s all good, brother,” Delgado said after the first scrimmage. “On to IHA, next. Tell Diana we’re on our way. I can’t wait.
“We’re just living the dream!”