As the Essex County Tournament heads to its Final Four, on May 20, at Ivy Hill Park, second seeded West Essex has to be considered the favorite, but it will certainly be a tough assignment, as the Knights look for its first ECT championship since 2007.
The Knights were an ECT finalist last year, and returned a strong nucleus in 2016. West Essex (17-2 entering this week’s action) won a share of the Super Essex Conference’s elite American Division title. And now, coach Andrea Mondadori’s team heads to Ivy Hill as the highest seed remaining, when it takes on surging Cedar Grove. The other semifinal features fourth-seeded Livingston taking on the Cinderella of the tourney, ninth-seeded Montclair. The championship game is set for May 21, also at Ivy Hill.
West Esesx’s lineup has been lauded by a number of opposing coaches, for its consistency and strength, from 1-9. Junior second baseman Bridget (Over Troubled Water) Betley has become one of the team’s premier hitters. On occasion, ‘B-Squared‘ will take to the circle and pitch effectively.
And it’s great to see another junior, Madison Gemma, hitting to her potential. Gemma battled a back injury which limited her 2015 season, but she’s swinging the bat with a lot more power and confidence this spring.
Lilly James, a sophomore, has been a dominant defensive third baseman all season long, but now she’s become a steady hitter. Amanda Garofalo is as consistent as they come in centerfield and is one of the fastest players on the team.
Junior catcher Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide) can swing the bat effectively from either side of the plate and is a stalwart backstop.
Funny Cide’s batterymate, junior Sami Huetter (Canonero II) is throwing the ball as sharp as ever. She blanked a good hitting Bloomfield team, 3-0, in an ECT quarterfinal last weekend. Canonero’s 2015 season ended with a leg injury in the ECT final. She’s looking for big results, this year.
Freshman shortstop Julia Vardiman is a cool customer defensively, and as the team’s leadoff hitter, gets on base consistently. First baseman Kate Jencarelli joined the 100 hit club for her career recently, and the senior has been outstanding on defense. Amanda Schwartz, a sophomore, adds depth to the pitching staff, and junior outfielder Rachel Rodriguez has been a key in left field, and at the plate.
A big week awaits West Essex, which plays Bergen County powers Indian Hills and Ridgewood, sandwiched with a game against arch rival Caldwell. The Knights then head to Ivy Hill to play Cedar Grove, whom West Essex defeated twice this season, in conference play.
“You can’t go by that stat,” warned Mondadori. “Nutley beat Cedar Grove twice in conference games, and Cedar Grove battled back and won a good (semifinal) game last Saturday. It’s not easy beating a good team three times in a season, and our kids know that. Cedar Grove won a state title last year, and a lot of those kids are back this season. We have a lot of respect for that team.”