Cedar Grove’s rugged schedule in the Super Essex Conference’s American Division has definitely prepared it for another run at the Group 1 championship.
Head coach Nicole Velardi saw her team play stingy defense, and with the opportunistic pitching of ‘veteran’ Kelly Toomey and a HUGE 2-out, 2-run double by Kali McCabe, the Panthers snapped a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth and went to defeat Midland Park, 6-2, in a North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1 quarterfinal game, in Cedar Grove.
Cedar Grove (18-12) the defending Group 1 champion, will travel to top-seeded Saddle Brook in the sectional semifinal on May 31.
Fifth seeded Midland Park had gained an early 1-0 lead in the first, but Cedar Grove, the fourth seed, tied it in the bottom of the inning, then took a 2-1 lead in the second. The game remained 2-1 until the top of the sixth, when Midland Park tied it, but Toomey did a masterful job of working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam, by allowing just the one run.
The game appeared headed to the seventh tied at two, after Midland Park retired the first two batters, but Cedar Grove caught fire, which was highlighted by McCabe’s game-winning hit, that gave the Panthers a 4-2 lead. Olivia Spinella followed with a run-scoring single that made it 5-2.
“Kali’s hit was huge,” said Velardi. “At this time of the year, everyone contributes, and Kali stepped up big.”
While Toomey is just a sophomore, pitching in big games is already second nature for her. As a freshman, she was the winning pitcher in the state championship game.
“She knows how to throw,” said Velardi of Toomey. “A lot of our kids have that experience, and that will help us. We’re also young, and learning. Our schedule has been a big plus. Playing times like Mount St. Dominic, Nutley, West Essex and Livingston, twice each, has prepared us.”
Ava Mandala drove in two runs for Cedar Grove and Ava Fernandez drove in a run, as well.
Velardi had freshman pitcher Mia Faieta warming up during the game, beginning in the second inning. Later, Faieta was kidded that she pitched a complete game, just getting ready.
“I just wanted to make sure if we needed Mia to come in, that she was ready,” said Velardi. “That’s just the way I am. I’m always thinking what could happen in a certain situation. And I won’t hesitate to use Mia. She’s proven she can pitch in big time games.”
Faieta’s mom, Fran, is also the chief chef of some great chocolate chip cookies. And after a taste tonight, it was easy to see why everyone on the Panthers enjoys them.
“Aren’t they good?” said Velardi, in discussing Fran’s cookies.