Lilly James of West Essex had just made a stellar play at third base in an April 22 game against Montclair. The first person to congratulate her was….the Montclair head coach, Phil Delgado, who was coaching at third.
After James made a nice stab of a hard grounder and threw the runner out, a bewildered Delgado could only express appreciation for a well-played ball.
“Lily James is a stud,” said Delgado afterward. “She’s the best third baseman I’ve seen this year.”
James’ defense was key, as West Essex needed an all-around game to defeat Montclair, 7-3, in Montclair, on the Mounties’ normal JV field, on Grove Street, that was actually a really good place to watch a game.
West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori has been touting James’ prowess at the hot corner all season long.
“She’s the real deal,” said Mondadori of the sophomore. “She made a play the other day that was incredible. Her instincts are special. She sees things out there and makes things happen.”
James came up with at least four outstanding plays at third against Montclair. She has helped make West Essex one of the best infield defenses in the county, along with shortstop Julia Vardiman, second baseman Bridget Betley, first baseman Kate Jencarelli and catcher Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide).
West Essex’s Sami Huetter (Canonero II) and Jessie ‘Maddux’ Mazur of Montclair had a good pitcher’s duel going on for the first four innings. The only run came when Montclair’s Erica Robles hit one of the longer homers of the season, in Essex County, in the bottom of the fourth inning. The centerfield fence at Montclair measured 217 feet in center, and the ball must have traveled nearly 260 feet, maybe longer, and went into the trees.
“There was a stewardess on that flight,” said Delgado. “Seriously, it was a nice, shot, because it came off a great pitcher, in Sami. Even Sami was laughing about it afterward. It’s part of the game. Sometimes you give up a homer.”
To Huetter’s credit, she was all smiles about it, too. “I don’t think that ball came down yet,” she said. “I threw a double change-up, and it didn’t change much. It happens. Just get the next batter out.”
Huetter’s teammate, the incomparable junior second baseman, Betley, put it best.
“Two seconds,” Betley said after the game. “You get to be mad for two seconds, and then move on.”
West Essex (10-1), which won its ninth straight game, rallied for six runs in the fifth inning, five of which were unearned against Mazur, who was outstanding, but got hurt with a few fielding errors.
“She pitched a really good game against us,” said Mondadori of Mazur. “She throws strikes, hits the corners really well, and the movement on her ball is tremendous. That’s a really good pitcher.
“Jessie was great,” said Delgado. “She’s supposed to get out of the fifth inning with probably no runs allowed, maybe one, and instead, we’re down 6-1. It’s been that kind of season. We were 1-1 with Mount St. Dominic in the sixth (earlier in the week) and then we’re down, 9-1. (On April 21) we played Paramus Catholic and lost, 5-1. We gave up all five runs in one inning.
“But you know what? We’re getting better. We’re really young, and we’re learning that when you play teams the quality of what we’re seeing regularly, you can’t make mistakes and hope to get away with it. These teams make you pay. And that’s how you get better.”
For West Essex, it wasn’t their most effective all-around game, but it was a victory nevertheless. The Knights will have a short turnaround, and play arch rival Caldwell on Saturday morning, at 10 a.m.
“Caldwell is always a big game for our kids,” said Mondadori. “They all know each other. It should be an exciting game.”
April 23 should also be a big day for the Bloomfield Bengals. Head coach Bob Mayer has 499 career wins and has a good chance to become just the eighth coach in state history, and third in Essex County, to reach the 500 milestone. Bloomfield plays a pair of games on Saturday afternoon, the first against Memorial of West New York and the second opposite Clifton.
Mayer has been low keyed about the milestone, but appreciates its significance.
“I know it’s something special,” Mayer said after win number 499 against Wayne Valley. “Honestly, I can’t wait for it (the 500) to be over, so we can just concentrate on winning games.”
Bloomfield athletic director Steve Jenkins noted that Mayer’s work with student-athletes speaks for itself.
“Coach Mayer is as unassuming an individual as you will ever find,”said Jenkins in a statement. “But his impact on the athletes and students of Bloomfield stretches across generations.”
The Bloomfield players are also excited to get the win for Mayer.
“We know it’s a big deal,” said senior Sam Corio. “Only seven others have done it. That’s pretty nice.”