The 39th Essex County Softball Tournament will commence later this week, 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 28 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. The 2016 meeting was held on Tuesday, April 26, with coaches from the various divisions of the Super Essex Conference (SEC). All of the coaches were 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, Newark Academy was expected to get a top 5 seed in the tourney. Newark Academy plays in the SEC Liberty Division and has played well against all competition.
3-Did the committee get it right with the higher seeds?
For sure, the committee did its usual good job. The top 5 seeds (Mount St. Dominic, West Essex, Nutley, Livingston and Newark Academy) are the top 5 in FMTC rankings. (Not that it means anything, LOL). And if you look back at previous ECT’s, the seedings are usually pretty accurate. There have been quarterfinal upsets, in the past, (West Orange in 2010, Cedar Grove in 2014 come to mind right away), but when it comes to the championship game, there’s not a lot of mystery as to the finalists.
4-Will Mount St. Dominic be even tougher to beat this year?
The 2-time defending champs are the favorite, but unlike the past two seasons, maybe not overwhelming choices this season. The Mount is still the Mount, but West Essex and Nutley are improved from 2015. Like the dominant Livingston teams from 2012-2014 (the Lancers were 48-1 at one point against Essex opponents), The Mount knows the target is always there. A third straight final between Mount St. Dominic and Livingston in 2014 was derailed when Cedar Grove stunned Livingston in its final at-bat in the 2014 quarterfinals.
There’s no way head 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 six county titles to its credit, and have won all of its championships since Sozio was named coach in 1996. The Mount has been to 13 finals, the most in tourney history, including the past five, and eight of the last nine. The Lions are second, all time, in tourney history with those six championships while Livingston is third, with five.
5-Will there be another Newark Academy-type run in 2016?
Hard to fathom that this year. There are some feisty teams out there, but what Newark Academy did in 2012, by having to win a play-in contest, with a double-digit seed, then defeat defending champion Nutley in the first round and Caldwell in the quarters, will be tough to replicate this year.
The upsets do happen. Not many expected Greer Manton and West Orange to go into Mount St. Dominic in 2010 and defeat the two-time defending champions in the quarterfinals. Caldwell stunned West Essex by the 10-run rule in the 2014 quarters to make the semis, then gave Mount St. Dominic a good game in the semifinals. And, as mentioned, Cedar Grove defeated the two-time defending champions, Livingston, also in the 2014 quarters.
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 for the 12th straight year.
And for pure recent drama, the 2012 and 2013 championship games between Mount St. Dominic and Livingston were as good as they got.
Livingston’s Jess Peslak had some tremendous encounters with coach Lorenzo Sozio’s Lions, including the 2012 and 2013 county finals.
7-Any better at Ivy Hill Park?
The recent refurbishing project at Ivy Hill Park should provide the fans a better view for the semifinals and finals. The field seems to be in much better condition, too. Personally, I’d love to go back to the days when all four quarterfinals were at Pulaski Park. That was fun softball, watching all four games, from the same venue, on the same day.
And there are still better softball parks in Essex County than Ivy Hill, but it’s always a nostalgic trip back there, for me, and since it will be there for the now foreseeable future, might as well not complain about it.
8-If form holds?
Should the favorites win, the semifinals at Ivy Hill will feature Mount St. Dominic against Livingston, or Newark Academy, while West Essex would play Nutley in a rematch of last year’s compelling game.
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 again, in 2016.
10-West Essex-MSDA final?
Based on the seedings, it could be, with MSDA the top seed and West Essex seeded second. The teams met in mid April and Mount St. Dominic came away with an exciting come-from-behind win. West Essex defeated The Mount in the 2007 final and the Lions were unbeatable in last year’s title game, dominating the Knights.
Don’t count Nutley out, either. Entering this week, the third-seeded Raiders had lost two close games. Nutley can swing the bats and its pitcher, Emily Holden (Genuine Risk), has proven she enjoys the big settings.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This is the 39th ECT, so let’s look back at some facts and figures over the past 38 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 second most, to Mount St. Dominic, which has been in 13 championship games.
3- Mount St. Dominic has won six titles, Livingston has five crowns and Cedar Grove has four championships.
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.
Mount St. Dominic junior pitcher Kelsey Oh has two titles to her record, already, and could become the first four-time winning pitcher in the tourney’s history. Oh’s performances in the 2014 and 2015 finals were beyond dominant. Both of those title games went five innings, or less.
5-Mount St. Dominic’s second straight title last spring matched the 2008 and 2009 Lions for back-to-back titles. Livingston won consecutive crowns in 2012 and 2013.
6-Caldwell is the only team to three-peat as champions. (1986-88), with all three wins in the final against Belleville. The Mount will be favored this year to get the three-peat.
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 and led the ’14 Panthers back to the finals.
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 again in 2014-2015) and Livingston (2012-2013) are the schools which have won back-to-back titles.
10-Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has the most championships with eight. Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio is second, with six titles.
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, a West Essex-Mount St. Dominic contest could occur in a second straight final.
12-Cedar Grove’s crowns in 1984 and 2010 represent the longest gap between titles for a school in the tourney’s history.
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 last year, with 19 runs scored. The second highest scoring final was 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 38 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 and 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 quarterfinals of 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 semifinal, and won. Livingston’s current head coach, Jason Daily, was in his second year as head coach in 2002.
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 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-The last two county finals have ended in the 10-run mercy rule being invoked.
28-Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer recently won his 500th career game. He’s just the third coach in Essex County history to reach that plateau. Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan is first, all time, in county history with well over 600. Carl Corino of Belleville, who is retired, was the first to reach 500, back in 2005. Corino recently was honored by having the ball park at Belleville named after him.
The new field in Belleville honors former coach Carl Corino.
Bob Mayer and his Bengals recently celebrated the legendary head coach’s 500th win. Mayer has had some great runs at the ECT, including back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000.