Sami Huetter admits that the bat isn’t the top weapon in her softball arsenal, but Canonero II had two huge blasts with a new bat, which accounted for both West Essex runs, as the Knights, No. 2 in the FMTC Top 10, edged a very good Nutley team, No. 3 in the rankings, 2-1, in a battle of Essex County powers, in North Caldwell.
Huetter, a junior right-handed pitcher, had blanked Nutley, 1-0, in the semifinals of the 2015 Essex County Tournament, in the last meeting between the two teams, last May. This time, she and Nutley’s Emily Holden had a tremendous pitcher’s duel, with Holden recording 13 strikeouts for the Raiders.
Huetter hit a long double to set up her team’s first run in the fifth, then smacked a one-out, two bagger in the bottom of the seventh which produced the eventual winning run, a two-out, two-strike single by junior catcher Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide).
“Any time we play Nutley, it’s a great game,” said Huetter. “Emily is such a tremendous pitcher. She was great today. Honestly, my bat is not my first strength, and after she struck me out the first time, I just got a little more aggressive and looked for a good pitch to hit.”
Trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Nutley (4-1) tied the game when senior shortstop Stefanie Ziemer singled and later scored on a two-out single by Breanna DeMaio. The Raiders were also particularly pesky at the bottom of their lineup against Huetter.
“We battled,” said Nutley coach Luann Zullo. “That’s our team. I thought it was a tremendous game. Both teams really like competing against each other. You can’t let it get to you. Emily pitched a great game. We have the Mount (No. 1 Mount St. Dominic) coming up Friday (at home), then games on Saturday and Sunday, against quality opponents, then back to conference games next week. You can’t dwell on it.”
Vardiman had struggled at the plate, for most of the game, but never panicked.
“I don’t let those things get to me,” said Vardiman. “With this game, it’s the next at-bat. Emily was really good today. She’s such a good player. We know each other pretty well, and I have a lot of respect for her. With the bases loaded, and two outs, I just wanted to put the ball in play.”
After Huetter’s double, West Essex (4-1) loaded the bases in the seventh, on another single, and then a clutch two-out walk by freshman shortstop Julia Vardiman. That set the stage for Julia’s older sister, Alexa, to win the game.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it got through the infield,” said Alexa Vardiman, with a laugh. “It’s a hit and RBI in the boxscore.”
West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori had made a change in her lineup, moving Julia Vardiman up to the leadoff role and switching Funny Cide to the number two spot.
“I thought it was a good move,” said Alexa. “This way, Julia can get on base, and I can move her on the basepaths.”
Mondadori knows the next few days will be busy for her team, like it is for Nutley.
“Playing against Nutley is a grind,” said Mondadori. “They are such a good team, and always play hard. Emily is very good pitcher. She was outstanding today.
“We play Livingston on Friday, then have games all weekend, too. It’s a crazy time.”
For Huetter, every game is a new challenge. She pitched well in last Friday’s contest against Mount St. Dominic, but yielded a three-run homer, with two outs, and an 0-2 count, to Julianna Kocenski, in the bottom of the fifth inning, as the Lions rallied to edge the Knights, 6-4.
“I was ahead in the count, threw a screwball, and it didn’t break the way I wanted,” said Huetter. “That’s part of the game. You live and learn. We had a good win last Sunday (Huetter shutout Delaware power, Caravel, 4-0) and this win, against a great team today, was important.”
The intensity aside, West Essex kept a good sense of humor, led by junior second baseman Bridget Betley, who was solid on defense once again.
“You don’t want to know about my three strikeouts today?” she said, with a smile. “I told Emily after the game, ‘thanks for striking me out three times today.’ She laughed. It’s all good. I’m glad we got the win.”