West Essex captured its first state sectional title in six years, in dramatic fashion, defeating defending champion Sparta, 2-0, in the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 final, in North Caldwell.
West Essex (26-2) will face Middletown South, at Mount St. Dominic in Caldwell, on June 7, at 1:30 p.m., in the Group 3 semifinal. Middletown South defeated South Plainfield to win the Section 2, Group 3 championship.
A well pitched game, by both teams, featured stellar defense. The Knights’ infield defense was outstanding, as second baseman Bridget (Over Troubled Water) Betley, shortstop Julia Vardiman, third baseman Lilly James and first baseman Kate Jencarelli were flawless in the field. And the stud battery of pitcher Sami Huetter (Canonero II) and Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide) helped the Knights to a fourth straight shutout in the state tournament.
Betley also had the big hit, a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the fifth that plated Amanda Garofalo and Julia Vardiman with the game-winning runs.
West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori credited her team with making big plays.
“You played great defense, and swung the bats aggressively,” she told the team after the game. “You made plays and worked hard for this. You deserve it. Enjoy it, for a few days, then we get ready for Middletown South.”
Huetter was marvelous once again, scattering five hits while striking out four and walking two. She hasn’t allowed a run in the state tournament.
“I don’t think I pitched as well as I could have,” said always-smiling junior righty. “But the defense was tremendous and I was able to make some good pitches. This is a great feeling, for this entire team.”
West Essex’s sectional title marks the third title for the team this year. The Knights won the SEC’s American Division title and the Essex County Tournament, before winning the state sectional crown, for a Triple Crown.
West Essex last won a state sectional championship in 2010, when it defeated Rutherford in Group 2. The Knights lost in the Group 2 semifinal to the eventual champion, Indian Hills.