Phil Delgado loves the game of softball enough not to take himself too seriously.
He was like a kid in a candy story, watching his Mounties win three games to advance to the Essex County Tournament championship game, for just the second time in the program’s history.
And while the fourth game didn’t come out the way Delgado would have liked, the coach couldn’t help but be proud of his team’s accomplishments. West Essex won the 39th ECT, defeating Montclair, 11-3, at Ivy Hill Park, on May 21.
What was once a 3-13 team, the Mounties would win seven straight games, including the aforementioned run to the county championship game. Along the way, Delgado liked to joke he was on an island, with his team, and that if the Mounties would reach their potential, it would happen with hard work and a commitment to a team effort.
Montclair had won a spirited semifinal a little after 9 p.m. on May 20, against Livingston, before one of the biggest crowds in recent memory at Ivy Hill Park. With the forecast for May 21 predicted to be rain in the afternoon, it was decided to move the starting time of the championship game from 7 p.m. up to 11 a.m. And while the Mounties seemed a little sluggish out of the gate in the championship game, Delgado wasn’t about to hear excuses.
“When the music plays, you gotta dance, brother,” said Delgado afterward. “Give West Essex all the credit. Mondo (West Essex head coach Andrea Mondadori) has a great team there. They’re great kids, off the field, as well. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Delgado was also ecstatic with his team’s turnaround in 2016. While the Mounties did not qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament, it made the ECT its ‘Big Dance.’ Montclair would defeat Caldwell in the first round, 6-0, then stunned two-time defending champion Mount St. Dominic, 4-3, in the quarterfinal round. The Mounties then defeated Livingston, 7-4, in the semifinals, for Montclair’s first win against the Big Green Machine since the 2010 state tournament, before meeting West Essex in the finals. The Mounties and Knights split two regular season games this spring.
The score was not indicative of Montclair’s effort in the final. The Mounties fell behind, 3-0, in the first inning, but would rally back to cut the deficit to 3-2, in the third inning. After West Essex opened a 6-2 lead, Montclair came back again, loading the bases in the top of the fourth inning, with two outs. The next batter lofted what appeared to be a two-run single, but West Essex’s Bridget Betley made the defensive play of the game, making an over-the-head catch for the third out.
Montclair’s defense, which was incredible in the semifinals, wasn’t as strong this time around. The Mounties made five errors.
Erica Robles, who has been fantastic down the stretch of the season, hit a solo homer in the fifth inning for Montclair’s final run of the game. Sofie Fachin, Amber Matthews, Ciarah (Willie Mays) Minning and Lilly Silverstein all had hits for the Mounties and Paige Davenport drove in a run.
Junior pitcher Jessie (Nyquist) Masur pitched her heart out. Masur’s effort over the last six weeks has been phenomenal.
Delgado was able to keep his sense of humor, afterward.
“A storm hit PDGIsland, said Delgado. “But I’m already cleaning up the aftermath. The Island will be full go, shortly.”
Montclair’s season still has a few games left, including its Senior Day festivities on May 23, at home, against Hudson Catholic.
“Next year, we’re making a run at the big show,” said Delgado.
Hard to doubt the man, after what this year’s team accomplished, and a strong nucleus returning, in 2017.