Montclair coach Phil Delgado had just returned from the short bus ride to Montclair, from Caldwell, where his Mounties had stunned top-seeded and two-time defending champion Mount St. Dominic, 4-3, in 9 innings, in an Essex County Tournament quarterfinal game.
It was Montclair’s sixth straight win, all of which have come on the road, against top-notch competition. Three of those wins came in extra innings. The win over Mount St. Dominic is the biggest ECT upset since Newark Academy’s victory over then-defending champion Nutley, in the first round of the 2012 tournament. Newark Academy was a double digit seed that year, and eventually made it to the semifinals. In 2010, West Orange had a big upset in the quarterfinals, and also advanced to the semifinals.
The ninth-seeded Mounties (9-13), will face fourth seeded Livingston in the ECT semifinals on Friday, May 20, at Ivy Hill Park. Montclair last appeared in the semifinals in 2005, the only year it advanced to a championship game. Montclair has never won a title, having lost to Caldwell in the finals, 11 years, ago, 1-0, in 8 innings.
Delgado noted that the ride home from Mount St. Dominic had taken a little longer, since there was a celebratory stop for ice cream on the way. Once back in town, Delgado had a chance to breathe, a bit.
“I honestly can’t tell you much about the game,” said Delgado, with a laugh. “It was a blur. Our kids played great, against a tremendous team. There’s a reason why Mount St. Dominic is a two-time defending champion. They’re the real deal. Their players are top notch, the coaching is tremendous and we had to play at the top of our game to beat a team like that.”
Montclair had set the tone right away, when Lilly Silverstein hit a solo homer to start the game. Later, Francesca Testa also hit a solo homer. Montclair led 3-0 at one stage, before the Mount rallied back to tie the game with two outs, in the seventh inning.
Despite the momentum shift, Montclair didn’t waver. Once again, the pitching of Jessie Masur (New stud name: Nyquist) was phenomenal. Even though she had just one strikeout in the first eight innings of work, ‘Maddux’ had kept her team in the game, with the usual working of the plate corners, which has become her Modus operandi.
In the top of the ninth, Paige Davenport led off with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Delgado then inserted Grace Chelius as a pinch runner for Davenport. Testa singled Chelius to third, setting up the biggest play of the game.
Amber Matthews, who had a big game in a win over West Essex last week, then executed a safety squeeze bunt, with two strikes no less, driving in Chelius with the go-ahead run.
“Unbelievable,” said Delgado. “Grace did a tremendous job. When Amber bunted, Grace waited, and when the throw went to first, she took off. Everything worked out.”
Masur got the job done in the bottom of the ninth, including a pair of strikeouts to end the game. Nyquist, who has been averaging nearly 14 strikeouts a game of late, had just three in this contest, including those last two.
“The strike zone was pretty tight today,” said Delgado. “But that’s Jessie. She makes the adjustments. I’ve been telling people all season long that this kid is a stud. She’s the real deal.”
And for Montclair, the win means a third game against Livingston. The Mounties are 0-4 against the Lancers, since Delgado took over as head coach in 2015.
“Any time you face a team coached by Jason Daily, you know it’s going to be tough,” said Delgado, who often calls Daily a mentor. “Livingston will play small ball, they can play regular ball, you name it. We’re looking forward to playing them. I’m so proud of these kids. This is all about them. I’m just along for the ride, brother.”
Strangely enough, Montclair may not qualify for the NJSIAA tournament, because of its slow start, despite playing a tough schedule.
“I’ve been saying the county tournament will probably be our big dance this year,” said Delgado. “We want to keep the ride going. I guess you can call it a Cinderella run for us.”
And at Delgado’s PDGIsland, the weekend rates are going up, big time.
“Just keeping the island intact,” he said with a laugh. “More and more people want to visit now. But we’ll keep it low-keyed. The Island is special.”