It’s West Essex and Montclair for the ECT title on May 21, at 11 a.m.; Julia Vardiman’s defensive gem the key for West Essex; Minning and Gauval make brilliant plays, and Masur’s tenacity key Mounties to seventh straight win

It will be The Favored vs. Cinderella when West Essex and Montclair meet for the 39th Essex County Tournament championship on Saturday morning, May 21. Take note that the game has been moved to 11 a.m., from its original starting time of 7 p.m.

West Essex seeks its fourth county title and first since 2007 while Montclair will go after its first-ever county championship. The Mounties last appeared in the county final in 2005.

Second-seeded West Essex (21-2) spotted Cedar Grove an early 1-0 lead, then came back to win, 8-1, behind the pitching of Sami Huetter, the hitting of Bridget (Over Troubled Water) Betley, Madison Gemma and Amanda Garofalo, and an absolutely clutch play by freshman shortstop Julia Vardiman, that clearly changed the course of the game.

With Cedar Grove leading, 1-0, and threatening for more in the second inning, Vardiman made a diving stop of a line drive that appeared destined for a two-run double. She then got up and threw out the lead runner at third base. West Essex got out of the jam without allowing a run, then turned the tide an inning later, by scoring three times.

jv1Julia Vardiman’s second inning heroics changed the course of the game. (Click on photos for larger images).

“Julia is the real deal,” said West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori. “That play was clutch.”

The low-keyed Vardiman deflected the praise.

“I got a good jump on the ball, and when I grabbed it, I looked over and saw there was a play at third,” said the freshman. “When there’s stress, you do your best.”

The Bridge(t) of Madison County combo of Betley and Gemma provided key hits when West Essex opened a 3-1 lead in the third inning.

Once Huetter (Canonero II) got the lead, she was extra tough on a very good Cedar Grove team. The Panthers have just one senior on its roster and battled hard against a solid Knights squad. Cedar Grove centerfielder Rianna Marinelli made a fantastic catch in center and continues to excel.

“I thought we hit the ball really well today,” said Mondadori. “I was pleased with our intensity.”

In the second game, upstart Montclair continued its Cinderalla run, by defeating Livingston, 7-4, in an exciting game before a large crowd at Ivy Hill.

Montclair (10-13) and winners of seven straight games, jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead over Livingston, then extended to a 6-0 lead in the fifth, before the Lancers rallied back to cut the lead in half.

The Mounties answered with a run in the sixth, then held off a Livingston rally in the seventh to clinch its first berth in the county final in 11 years.

Montclair, which defeated West Essex, 3-2, in a tremendous game on May 10, hasn’t lost since dropping a game to Livingston on April 29. As well as the Mounties are playing, it did not qualify for the NJSIAA tournament.

“This is our big chance,” said Montclair coach Phil Delgado. “We didn’t make the states, so this is the dance for us. We get the opportunity to play a great West Essex team on Saturday.”

pdgMontclair coach Phil Delgado shares a moment with his team. (Click on photo for larger image).

Montclair’s opportunistic defense was spurred by two incredible plays. In the second inning, Livingston loaded the bases with one out, and appeared to have a chance to tie it on a line drive, to right field. But second baseman Izzy Gauval made a marvelous catch on the fly, then doubled a runner off first to end the threat.

In the fifth inning, centerfielder Ciarah Minning made a Willie Mays-type, (1954 World Series) over-the-head catch of a long drive to dead center. Livingston went on to score three times in that inning, but Minning’s grab produced a huge out, or Livingston might have scored two more runs in the frame.

Willie-Mays-Catch-1954Willie Mays had nothing on Ciarah Minning of Montclair, for dramatic catches.

Montclair pitcher Jessie (Nyquist) Masur pitched another solid game, holding off a few Livingston rallies and making key pitches when needed.

And so PDGIsland stays hot for another day, as the Mounties look to cap an impossible dream by winning the county title.

“You think back to all those scrimmages on cold days in March,” said Delgado. “And then, we’re off to a 3-13 start, we’re struggling for an identity, and now this. Wow.

“Just living the dream.”






By mike051893

Collins, Pleasant Colony, Ramirez and Santos key Bloomfield, as Bengals rally past Caldwell, at Ivy Hill; Nutley’s Pomponio joins 100-hit club; Caldwell catcher Guarino continues to impress; Former Chief Lombardi on hand to cheer on her team

Sam Corio’s tremendous 2016 season shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Bloomfield High softball fans. The senior centerfielder and pitcher has a rocket for an arm, can make, literally, any play in the outfield, and swings a nice bat.

Corio, a team captain, had a big hand in Bloomfield’s second straight win, and fourth in the last five games, as the Bengals (11-13) defeated Caldwell, 6-4, in a nice setting at Ivy Hill Park, on May 19. Pleasant Colony pitched a complete game, and was especially tough in the circle after Caldwell had gained a 3-1 lead in the second inning, blanking the Chiefs until Caldwell scored once in the sixth inning.

Corio was also 2-for-2 at the plate, scored twice and drove in a run. She was also outstanding at the plate, and in the circle, in a 3-1 victory over West Orange, two nights earlier.

The Bengals’ recent surge isn’t just about Corio. A young nucleus features centerfielder Kristina Collins, a sophomore, who had two hits and scored twice in the win over Caldwell. Collins had a tremendous game, as well, in the win over West Orange, collecting three hits and scoring twice.

“Kristina has been playing very well for us,” said Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer. “Our team is coming around, and the young kids are contributing, a lot, to that success.”

Shortstop Jalia Santos has been outstanding in the field and swings a dangerous bat. Santos made one of the better plays, defensively, in the win over West Orange, diving hard and snaring a hard-hit line drive.

Third baseman Rachelle Ramirez continues to impress with a tremendous glove. The Bengals infield defense also features Ayana Andrade Zygmunt at second and first baseman Rachel Jones, who makes a habit of scooping out low throws effectively. Bloomfield’s entire starting infield returns in 2017.

The catcher, junior Kasey Coury, has been outstanding on defense, and provides a good bat in the middle of the lineup.

Bloomfield will start play in the NJSIAA Tournament on May 23, at second-seeded Kearny.

Nutley’s senior catcher, Danielle Pomponio, collected her 100th career hit, according to head coach Luann Zullo.

nutDanielle, here with parents Maryann and Louis, on Senior Day. (Photos courtesy of Luann Zullo. Click on respective photos for larger image).

Pomponio is the second Raider to attain the milestone this year, joining her batterymate, senior pitcher Emily Holden (Genuine Risk). Nutley is enjoying another solid season, with a 20-5 record, thus far. The Raiders are seeded second for the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament.

“We have a great bunch of seniors on this team,” said Zullo. “And Danielle has been a key to our success. We’re all proud of her.”

nut1Nutley coach Luann Zullo has enjoyed the four years with the current group of seniors.

Caldwell is in the midst of yet another winning season. Quietly, but effectively, junior catcher Christina Guarino continues to excel. Guarino’s former batterymate, Cayla Lombardi, was on hand to see her team play at Ivy Hill, against Bloomfield. Lombardi just completed her freshman year, at Seton Hall University, where she’s working hard in the school’s Nursing program.

“Christina is such a great catcher,” said Lombardi. “I loved pitching to her. I always called her ‘Rosey’, so when you said Christina, I wasn’t sure who you meant. It’s great to see her again.”

Guarino was impressive at the plate, with two hits, against Bloomfield.

Lombardi, whose mom is a Doctor, had a great time in her freshman year of college.

??Cayla Lombardi, during her days as a Caldwell Chief.

“A lot of work,” she said with a smile. “But I’m doing pretty good, so far, I’m taking a lab this summer, to help with my schedule for next fall. The year really flew up. It’s fun to see my team play again.”



By mike051893

The next sound you’ll hear is Montclair playing in ECT semis, after a spirited practice, under the lights, at MSU; Island passes getting expensive

Montclair coach Phil Delgado knows his team hasn’t played in a lot of night games, and will need to get used to the environment that will make Ivy Hill Park an electric place on May 20, in the Essex County Tournament semifinals.

The Mounties will play Livingston in the second semi, following the West Essex-Cedar Grove game, that starts at 5 p.m. The winners of the two semis will return to Ivy Hill for a 7 p.m. championship game on May 21.

Delgado brought his team to Montclair State’s classy softball field for a night practice, on May 19. There was music piped in, and a lot of energy in the stands, as some parents and friends of the program, including Mr. Ed Bates, were on hand to see the team’s final practice, before the semifinal.

Laughter, and some intensity were in the air, as Delgado had fun with the team, but was also making sure the kids were getting their mindset ready for Friday’s game.

When practice ended, around 8:45 p.m., the kids gathered around Delgado.

mont 3Coach Delgado encouraging his players after practice. (Click on photos for larger images. Photos courtesy of a Montclair fan).

“I don’t usually get emotional, but this is a pretty big thing for all of you, to be playing a team like Livingston, and the great coach they have in Mr. (Jason) Daily,” said Delgado, who shares a close friendship with Daily. “This is something I hope you’ll remember for a long time. But we need to keep the same philosophy. It’s one game. If we win, were playing for a county championship the next night. Go to bed tonight, as a winner, and wake up tomorrow, ready to play.”

While he may not be superstitious, Delgado told his players that the same bus driver who delivered the team to Mount St. Dominic last Saturday for what turned out to be an upset win, will be the taking the Mounties to Ivy Hill on Friday.

mont 6Delgado shouting instructions to his players.

“We gotta stay consistent,” said Delgado, with a laugh.

Delgado noted those who have supported his team, were on hand at MSU.

“I look and see Amanda Paxson here,” said Delgado. “She went to Mount St. Dominic, had a great career there, then played at Manhattan College. She’s been a big supporter of our team.  And there’s Jenna Orlando, who when she came home from college, at Lafayette, she stopped by our game, against Livingston. I can’t thank them enough for being here tonight.

“And Ed Bates, he’s always rooting for you guys.

mont 4

“A lot of people will jump on your bandwagon, but remember the people who have been there for you, when you were 3-13. Those are the ones who you can count on. Loyalty goes a long way, in life.”

Whether the Mounties win tomorrow, or not, the message was clear.

“We’re going there to win,” said Delgado. “If you play as well as you did against Lodi Immaculate, West Essex, Ridgefield, Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic, you’ll win.

“I want you to play like you’ve been here before. If we win it, you shake hands with Livingston, you congratulate Coach Daily on being a great coach, and you get ready for another game.

“And if you lose, well, you shake hands with Livingston, congratulate Coach Daily, and we’ll talk as a team on the left field line. Because you’re all winners to me. And I’ll never forget this tremendous run.”

As the kids began to disburse, Delgado stuck around to talk with his assistant coaches, Cassidy Trause, Sara Haefeli and Christina Galese. They talked about the great catch that Bloomfield’s Sam Corio had made a week earlier. There was some reminiscing about past seasons, with Paxson and Orlando chipping in.

And finally, it was time to leave.

“See you tomorrow, brother,” Delgado said.

Next sound you hear.

And a trip to PDGIsland continues getting popular.




By mike051893

Getting the popcorn ready began with the original Secretariat, Jess Peslak, who now stars at Hofstra University

It wasn’t always a group of stud race horse names attached to some of the better softball players in Essex County, and IHA. And the popcorn wasn’t always popping.

Coaches have often called outstanding players ‘studs’, but the first one, in these annals, anyway, to get a ‘name’ was Livingston High’s Jessica Peslak, back in 2010, when she was a freshman. She was called Secretariat.

Peslak would enjoy a phenomenal high school career, including two straight years (2012 and 2013) as an All-State pitcher for the Lancers. She led Livingston to a pair of Essex County championships, as well as two Super Essex Conference titles and a pair of state sectional crowns.

jp 2Peslak, in 2012, after a win over West Essex in the ECT semifinals, at Ivy Hill Park. (Click on photos for larger images)

Livingston was the dominant team in Essex County in 2012 and 2013, losing one game to an Essex opponent during that era, while winning 37. She was so good at times that people would rave at a game she actually lost.

In 2011, Peslak pitched a tremendous game against Nutley in the ECT semifinals, striking out 14 against a great hitting Raiders team, only to lose on a two-out hit, in the bottom of the seventh. She often referred to that game as one of her favorites.

pesm-2Jessica, here with her mom, Jean and dad, Ed, at the 2013 Men of Essex banquet, where she garnered the top accolade at the prestigious event.

Fast forward a few years, and Peslak will be heading into her senior year at Hofstra University. She’s well on her way to a Bachelor’s Degree and is already contemplating Law School.

And, yes, she’s still pitching, and doing it quite well. Peslak was Hofstra’s number one pitcher this season, finishing 17-10, in 31 games. Secretariat pitched 168 2/3 innings, 12 complete games and registered 88 strikeouts against an NCAA Division 1 schedule that featured the likes of Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast, Marshall, Florida State, St. John’s, UConn, St. John’s, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Iona, University of Delaware, Drexel and James Madison University.

jpJess (center) and some Hofstra pride teammates. (Courtesy of Jessica Peslak)

“It was a good season for me,” said Peslak, who had missed her freshman and sophomore years, for the most part, due to a series of injuries. “I was finally healthy, and got a great opportunity to pitch regularly. I can’t wait for next season, but in the same instance, it’s the last time I’ll be playing at this level. I’ll be a senior already. I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeslak often speaks of the great rivalry shared between Livingston and Mount St. Dominic while she was in high school. “I think we brought out the best in each other,” she said. “They were a great team, and obviously, still are.”

And while Peslak will be training hard in the off-season for that final ‘stretch run’ as a softball player, she’s also thinking about preparing for the LSAT’s, the testing that goes a long way in determining admission to Law School. She’s done exceedingly well in college, thus far, with a high GPA through three years.

pesPeslak’s high school teammates respected her leadership and tenacity.

“It’s about the next phase of my life, for sure,” she said. “I’m interested in real estate law and civil cases. My brother (Eddie) passed the Bar in both New Jersey and New York. I’ll probably stay more in New Jersey, but who knows, for sure? That could change. It’s an exciting time.”

jess and marinaPeslak had a great relationship with her high school catcher, Marina Lombardi. The two, seen here stretching before the 2013 ECT final, remain good friends today.

The determination to complete her softball career is high on the priority list.

“No doubt about it,” she said. “I finally got the chance to play this year and loved it. I learned a lot. Now, I want to get better for next season and help my team win.”

The daughter of Jean and Ed Peslak, Jess has stayed close to her Livingston roots. Many of her former high school teammates are among her close friends today. She’s looking forward to watching the Lancers play in the Essex County Tournament semifinals on Friday, and perhaps on Saturday, in the championship game, at Ivy Hill Park.

best_70eb59715b999e4ef674_1044631_10201216813889944_325606993_nPeslak and teammate Kylie McLaughlin (Seattle Slew), here with Coach Jason Daily, were All-State players in 2012 and 2013.

“I’ve been following the best I can,” said Peslak. “I  saw that (Livingston head coach Jason) Daily recently won his 300th game, and I sent him a few texts. It should be an interesting tournament. Montclair had a big upset, and I see that West Essex is really good.”

Peslak is also busy with a new family member. She recently adopted a dog, named ‘Winnie’.

“The dog is so much fun,” said Peslak. “Keeps me busy, for sure, but it’s great.”

jp2Jess and Winnie enjoying quality time on the beach.

It’s been quite the run for Jessica Peslak. And the best is yet to come for the kid that prompted Getting The Popcorn Ready, AKA, Secretariat.

001 (3)Getting the popcorn ready produced an autographed bag of the snack.

Secretariat The PhotoThe ‘other’ Secretariat, taking care of business at the 1973 Belmont.

By mike051893

West Essex (20-2) gears for ECT semifinals with a huge win over powerful Ridgewood, 3-2, as Huetter (2-run homer) stars

West Essex has its sights set on winning the school’s first Essex County Tournament championship in nine years this coming weekend. The second-seeded Knights will take on a tough Cedar Grove team in the first semi, at 5 p.m. on May 20, at Ivy Hill Park. The winner will return to Ivy Hill on May 21, to face the Montclair-Livingston victor, for the championship.

Head coach Andrea Mondadori is taking nothing for granted. Her team has been playing outstanding softball of late, including a 3-2 victory over Ridgewood on May 18, in North Caldwell.

The win was West Essex’s fifth straight, since an extra-inning loss to Montclair. And West Essex, the second seed in the ECT, continues to swing the bat effectively. From 1-9 in the lineup, the Knights are dangerous, and in the win over Ridgewood, Sami Huetter (Canonero II) did the job, both in the circle, and at the plate.

we1Sami Huetter and that reliable bat came through big in a win over Ridgewood. (Click on photo for larger image).

Huetter hit a long-two-run homer, as part of a three-run fourth inning. She then finished the job in the circle, pitching another complete game, striking out six, walking two, scattering seven hits and yielding just one earned run.

“We had a great game today,” said Mondadori . “Our defense was tremendous. Ridgewood left 11 on base, which is a credit to Sami’s clutch pitching and some good work in the field. Obviously, Ridgewood is an outstanding team. Playing them will help us, as we prepare for a very good Cedar Grove team on Friday.”

Madison Gemma drove in the other run for West Essex. Bridget (Over Troubled Water) Betley, Huetter and Kate Jencarelli all scored runs for the Knights. Rachel Rodriguez had a double and Julia Vardiman singled for West Essex.

jvJulia Vardiman continues to play well for West Essex.

West Essex will be off on Thursday, then will head to Ivy Hill for Friday’s ECT semifinal.




By mike051893

Siclari spins 1-hitter, as Eagles win 21st straight, 10-0, on Senior Day at IHA

Immaculate Heart Academy extended its winning streak to 21 straight on May 18, as the Eagles broke open a close game in the fourth inning to defeat Ramapo, 10-0, in Washington Township.

Sarah Siclari, a senior, spun a one hitter for IHA’s sixth straight shutout and 12th of the season.

Siclari was also honored, along with several teammates, on Senior Day. Once again, the IHA parents did a great job in putting together a post-game celebration, complete with sushi, various sandwiches, cookies, cupcakes and soft drinks.

IHA (22-1) is in the midst of a busy week. It will travel to Ivy Hill Park on May 19, to face Newark Academy for its fourth game in the last four days. After a day off on Friday, the Eagles will play in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals on May 21, against Dumont. A win there will put IHA in the finals, again, opposite the Indian Hills-Northern Highlands winner, on May 22.

The Eagles will then have some time off, as it won’t begin play in the Non-Public A state tournament until after Memorial Day weekend. Head coach Diana Fasano was hoping to get a few games scheduled next week, to keep her team sharp.

The biggest part of the season is now here, but on Senior Day, it was also a time to enjoy family, friends and teammates.

slew and taylorLisa Kenerson (center) surrounded by a pair of studs, Olivia Sprofera (Southpaw Seattle Slew) and Lisa’s daughter, Taylor Kenerson (Point Given, on right). (Click on all photos for larger images).

fasanoIHA coach Diana Fasano thanks the crowd for coming to Senior Day.

pg and fasanoTaylor Kenerson and coach Diana Fasano.

ihaIHA players enjoying some post-game festivities.

iha2IHA’s Emilie Cieslak (Tim Tam) shares a moment with her dog, and a look-alike, at Senior Day.


By mike051893

‘Pleasant’ night in Bengals’ ‘Colony’ as Corio leads Bloomfield past West Orange, 3-1; West Essex late run too much for Caldwell, Knights win, 8-2 as Jencarelli and Gashi are honored

WEST ORANGE: As the regular season winds down, Bloomfield continues to show marked improvement. The Bengals garnered the 15th seed in the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament, which means a first round game, opposite second-seeded Kearny, sometime next week.

Bloomfield (10-13) won a night game on May 17, edging a feisty West Orange team, 3-1, in West Orange. Sam Corio (Pleasant Colony) had a tremendous night. At the plate, she was 3-for-3 with two RBI.

Corio, a senior, also got the starting nod in the circle, as Bloomfield’s other starting pitcher, Courtney Politz, missed the game. Corio pitched a complete game, working out of a few jams, including a bases-loaded, two out situation in the bottom of the seventh, by inducing a grounder back to the circle, which Corio fielded and threw to first to end the game.

While Corio is a solid pitcher, any time she’s in the circle, it takes away from the fans watching her play centerfield, because no one, at least around Essex County, does it as well as she.

Bloomfield’s infield defense continues to get better. Shortstop Jalia Santos made a sparkling defensive play, diving to her right and snaring a hard line drive to end a rally.

sc2Bloomfield’s Sam Corio, here with coach Bob Mayer, had a big game against West Orange. (Click on photos for larger image)

First baseman Rachel Jones was very impressive while third baseman Rachelle Ramirez has been playing well of late.

Ayana Andrade Zygmunt made a nice play at second base tonight to save a run, as well.

Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer noted that his entire starting infield will be back in 2017.

Earlier in the day, West Essex defeated arch rival Caldwell, 8-2. The game was tied into the fifth, before the Knights broke the game open. West Essex (19-2), was celebrating its annual ‘Senior Day’, as first baseman Kate Jencarelli and outfielder Dinore Gashi were honored before, and after the game.

we 2Dinore Gashi (left) and Kate Jencarelli celebrated Senior Day with their teammates on May 17.

we 1Dinore Gashi (second from right) enjoyed a nice moment with teammate Bridget Betley and Betley’s parents after the game.





By mike051893

Montclair continues to surge in the newest FMTC Top 10; Ed Bates campaigning for Delgado to be ‘Coach of the Year’; Livingston’s Daily wins 300th; Masur (Nyquist) and Kenerson (Point Given) join the stable; Corio makes the Catch of the Year; Julia Vardiman having quite the impact for Knights

Montclair’s improbable run to the Essex County Tournament semifinals has been the talk of the local area. At the Passaic County Tournament championship game, more than one coach, who was watching DePaul defeat West Milford, were raving about head coach Phil Delgado’s Mounties.

Even Ed Bates, while attending the Bergen County Tournament quarterfinal round, was telling anyone would would listen that Delgado should be the Coach of the Year.

Delgado noted that since his team didn’t qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament (really?), the 39th ECT will be his team’s big dance, and so far, the Mounties have brought the right dancing shoes.

Montclair will face Livingston and West Essex takes on Cedar Grove in the ECT semifinals on Friday, May 20, at Ivy Hill Park. The winners of Friday’s games will be back at Ivy Hill on May 21, to play in the championship game.

The Mounties have been to the ‘Final Four’ of the ECT just once in the program’s history. That was in 2005, and that year, Montclair advanced to the finals before losing to Caldwell.

One of the more entertaining games of the season occurred last week, when Bloomfield and Newark Academy played a night game at The Pond, in Bloomfield. The Bengals seemed to have the game won, leading 5-2, in the bottom of the seventh. But Newark Academy roared back to score four times and took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh.

Bloomfield answered the challenge, scoring twice in the last of the inning to win it, 7-6. Sam Corio (Pleasant Colony) scored the game-winning run, after she was intentionally walked, but it was her catch, earlier in the game, that had the ball park buzzing. Corio, literally, went over the fence to rob a Newark Academy batter of a home run.

CORIOEasily the Catch of the Year, Bloomfield’s Sam Corio made a play for the ages last week, against her summer coach, Serg Rodriguez, and Newark Academy. (Click on photo for larger image).

Her catch was the buzz over the next few days, throughout Essex County, and even at the Bergen quarterfinals last Sunday. West Essex assistant coach Steve Mondadori made it a point of talking to Corio after the Bengals had played West Essex last Saturday, in an ECT quarterfinal, commending the senior on her talents, both defensively, and at the plate.

Hard to disagree.

Corio is the real deal.

And speaking of outstanding players, West Essex freshman Julia Vardiman is having a marvelous season at shortstop for the red-hot Knights. Vardiman has been the team’s leadoff hitter and makes excellent contact. In the field, she’s really stepped up her game, of late.

jvJulia Vardiman, (above and below) a freshman shortstop, is playing very well for West Essex. (Courtesy of Vardiman family. Click on photo for larger image).


The new FMTC Top 10 has a few changes, but not much at the top.

1-West Essex (18-2): The Knights are the highest seed left in the ECT, and will look to win its first county title in nine years.

2-Mount St. Dominic (20-3): A surprising exit from the ECT will probably only make the Lions more ferocious come state tournament time. MSD does have an SEC title on its resume for 2016.

3-Nutley (18-5): A close setback to Cedar Grove in the ECT will sting, but the Raiders have a solid team and will be looking forward to the state tournament.

4-Livingston (12-9): Do not count out the Big Green Machine when it comes to the Essex County Tournament. The Lancers are in the semifinals for the seventh time in the last eight years. Head coach Jason Daily won his 300th career game last Saturday in the quarterfinals and the Lancers are playing its best ball of the season.

jdJason Daily celebrated win number 300 with his Lancers last Saturday. (Click on photo for larger image).

5-Cedar Grove (13-11):  The Panthers are starting to come around, with solid pitching and timely hitting.

cgCedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi gives instructions to her team. (Click on photo for larger image).

6-Montclair (9-13): Onto the county semifinals for the Mounties, after a hard-fought 4-3 win over Mount St. Dominic in the quarters. Montclair had a six game winning streak heading into this week’s action.

montIt’s been quite a couple of weeks for Montclair. (Click on photo for larger image).

7-Bloomfield (9-13): The Bengals will take on Caldwell, at Ivy Hill Park, on May 19, then get ready for the NJSIAA tournament.

8-Newark Academy (13-5): The Minutemen will get ready for its prep tournament, then take aim at a Non-Public B crown. This is a very talented team, led by Rebecca Mandelbaum and Sophie Rosenberg (Arts and Letters). Minutemen will take on powerful Immaculate Heart Academy, at Ivy Hill Park, on May 19.

9-Caldwell (13-7) : The Chiefs have always been a good post-season team, and will look to get a run going in the upcoming state tourney.

10-Millburn (19-3): The Millers should get a high seed in the state tournament.

We have two new studs in the stable, with Jessie Masur of Montclair and IHA’s Taylor Kenerson.

Sami Huetter, Canonero II

Sydney McCormack, Syd The Kid

Sophie Rosenberg, Arts and Letters

Alexa Vardiman, Funny Cide

Emily Holden, Genuine Risk

Sam Corio, Pleasant Colony

Jessie Masur, Nyquist

Out of Network:

Olivia Sprofera, Southpaw Slew

Reese Guevarra, Sunday Silence

Emilie Cieslak, Tim Tam

Taylor Kenerson, Point Given

pgThe other Point Given.




By mike051893

It’s a Reagan Revolution, as Jones, ‘Slew’ lead IHA (19-1, 18 straight wins) into Bergen semifinals; Kenerson the new ‘Point Given’

Immaculate Heart Academy has been playing tremendous softball in 2016, which isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Eagles’ steady pursuit of the ultimate prizes, including conference, county and state championships, is a testimony to a good coaching staff and a group of players who are never satisfied.

The 2015 Eagles won what was considered a somewhat unlikely title, with a roster of all underclassmen. The confidence grew for the team throughout that season, and it culminated with a Non-Public A championship.

A year later, the team returned with the same players, but even more determination. And after an early season loss to DePaul, 4-3, IHA (19-1) has won 18 straight going into this week’s games.

Head coach Diana Fasano’s team’s most recent victory came against Fair Lawn, 6-0, in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament, on May 15. Once again, the pitching was solid, as Olivia Sprofera (Southpaw Seattle Slew) pitched a two-hitter, with nine strikeouts. It was IHA’s third straight shutout, with Slew pitching two of them.

Consider this, as well. The last time a team scored more than one run in a game against IHA was on April 11, (16 games ago), and the Eagles won that game, 12-2. Since then, there have been nine shutouts, with Sprofera and Sarah Siclari handling the bulk of the pitching.

At the plate, junior third baseman Reagan Jones was 3-for-3 in the win over Fair Lawn. Jones’ speed on the base paths, good defense and a consistent bat makes IHA’s overall lineup one of the toughest in the state.

reaganReagan Jones, here with her dad, Bob, after a game in April, had a big day in a win over Fair Lawn. (Click on photo for larger image).

And if you want pure defense, IHA seems to thrive on the pressure-packed games, where big plays are vital. Just watch senior shortstop Taylor Kenerson’s energy level, on the field, rise to a new plateau, when the game is on line.

kenIHA’s Taylor Kenerson, here with dad, Kevin, is the newest FMTC stud, dubbed ‘Point Given.’

pgThe other Point Given.

Fasano has been pleased with her team’s effort, but is far from content.

“It’s tournament time,” said Fasano. “You cannot take anything for granted. No one can be overlooked, because everyone wants to win a county and/or state championship. No team gets handed a championship, it needs to be earned, and it’s never easy. ”

The team concept, something which can always be a challenge for a new head coach, has applied well for Fasano.

“I think we are doing very well as a team,” Fasano said. “Everyone is working together very well to get the job done. The team’s focus is good. They know what is on the line. Of course I am always there to remind them, but they are hungry to win.”

IHA has a busy week, with games against Paramus, Mahwah and Ramapo, before traveling to Ivy Hill Park on May 19, for a night game against Newark Academy. The Bergen County semifinals are set for May 21, when IHA takes on a hot Dumont team.  A win there moves the Eagles into the title game, a day later, against either Northern Highlands or Indian Hills, as IHA looks for its first county title in three years.



By mike051893

West Essex may take a ‘novel’ approach, with a ‘Bridge(t) of Madison’ County championship run

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.

we2West Essex hopes to be celebrating with more cake after the ECT is completed. (Click on photos for larger images).

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.

bridges of madison county 027Bridget Betley and Madison Gemma have a goal of crossing the bridge to a county title.

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.

lilyLilly James (right) and Sami Huetter have been enjoying tremendous seasons.

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.

weNo game is complete, without the B-Squared Post-Game Report, as Bridget Betley (right, here with Alexa Vardiman) always has some clever insights to a game.

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.”




By mike051893