Bridget (Over Troubled Water) Betley made it a point of saying, “I’m tired of reading about our loss to Montclair,” she had said, with that mischievous grin, which she generally uses in mock horror. “No more, got it?”, Betley chuckled.
Betley (AKA B-Squared) was referring to her team’s 3-2 loss to the Mounties on May 10, in eight innings. While the junior second baseman is having a tremendous season, Betley is quick to point out mistakes in her game more than taking credit for successes. When she struck out in a key situation in that game, Betley made that a motivation to succeed if the teams met again.
Well, the third meeting between the Knights and Mounties came on May 21, in the Essex County Tournament championship game, and Betley was a force at the plate, with three hits and five RBI. But it was a defensive play she made in a critical situation in the top of the fourth inning, that kept the momentum in West Essex’s favor.
Montclair was trailing, 6-2, but had loaded the bases, with two outs. The next hitter hit a fly that appeared headed to no-man’s land between second and centerfield. With the base runners going on contact, two runs would have easily scored. But Betley never stopped striding toward the ball, and made a beautiful over-the-head catch to end the rally.
West Essex (22-2) would put the game out of teach in the bottom of the fourth, scoring four more times. The championship was West Essex’s fourth overall in the 39-year history of the ECT and first since 2007. West Essex has won its last two titles with Andrea Mondadori as head coach, after taking the first two under the direction of now-Nutley head coach, Luann Zullo. The Knights had lost its last two county final appearances, in 2010 and 2015.
“Yeah, I thought I did okay today,” said Betley. “At the plate, I just wanted to be aggressive, and I think all my teammates were, today. (Montclair head coach) Phil (Delgado) knows a lot of us pretty well from summer ball, and he’s such a great coach. This was a good win today.”
A touching scene occurred at the outset of the game. During the introductions, when players generally shake the hand of the opposing coach, the West Essex players made it a point of hugging Delgado.
Betley, the ‘Bridge” of the ‘Madison’ County combo, was on base in the third when Madison Gemma, a fellow junior at West Essex, launched a long homer over the right field fence, to give the Knights a 6-2 lead. Montclair (10-14) had cut the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third inning, but then committed some key errors in the bottom of the frame and West Essex jumped on those mistakes for three runs.
The Gemma family is putting together a nice history in the ECT. Madison’s older sister, Olivia, played in four straight ECT finals, from 2011-2014, for Mount St. Dominic. Olivia, who now plays collegiately at Stevens Institute of Technology, also has an ECT homer to her credit, with hers a dramatic two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth inning of the 2013 semifinals to defeat Cedar Grove, 4-3. Olivia played on a county champion in 2014 at Mount St. Dominic, and Madison now has one, two years later.
Mike Gemma, Madison and Olivia’s dad, was proud of his daughter’s accomplishments.
“Hey, between Maddie and Liv, they’ve been to the last six ECT finals,” said Mike. “If West Essex is fortunate enough to get back here next year, that would be a nice run for the Gemmas.”
Winning pitcher Sami Huetter (Canonero II) was destined to play well. After all, it was Preakness Day. Nearly a year ago, Huetter was injured in the first inning of the 2015 ECT final, and West Essex was defeated by Mount St. Dominic.
“No doubt, none of us forgot that game,” said Huetter, who spent nearly six weeks with a boot on her leg after getting hurt in the 2015 final. “I was pretty fired up during the warmups. We all wanted to play well.”
Huetter continued her hot hitting, as well, with three more hits, and an RBI. West Essex’s only senior starter, Kate Jencarelli, had another tremendous game, with two hits, including a double and three RBI. Freshman shortstop Julia Vardiman led off the bottom of the first with a long double, that hit the ‘Monster’ fence in left field. She went to third on a hit by older sister, Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide) and both Vardimans came around to score on a Betley triple. Jencarelli then singled home Betley to make it 3-0 in the first.
Mondadori was pleased with the win.
“We’re still a young team,” said Mondadori. “I liked the way we hit the ball in the semifinals and finals of the counties. Now, we have to prepare for the state tournament. We play Morris Hills (at home, on May 23) in the first round.”
West Essex will seek its first state sectional championship since 2010.