With a state sectional title already on its resume for 2016, Livingston will take on Watchung Hills in a Group 4 semifinal on June 7.
And if you had told head coach Jason Daily in mid March that his team would be two games away from the school’s first-ever Group title in softball, he probably would have gotten a good chuckle.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed you back then,” said Daily. “But I’ll tell you what, these kids have worked so hard. I’ve had some tremendous teams here over the years, but this group is something else, especially in practice. They’re getting dirty every day on that field, diving for balls, hustling to their assignments during drills, and, really, having a lot of fun doing it. ”
Livingston was seeded seventh in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4, and began its run by blanking Passaic Tech, 6-0, in its only home game at the field I like to call, ‘ShangriLa’.
A 6-3 win over second seeded Kearny followed in the sectional quarters. The Lancers then shutout North Bergen, the third seed, 6-0, before playing a phenomenal game in downing Morris Knolls, 13-3, for the sectional championship, Denville.
“We had a crazy day at Knolls,” said Daily, the King of ShangriLa. “We had mechanical problems with our bus getting there, then the driver got lost. When we got there, it was raining a little, the ball was wet, but nothing bothered these kids. They went out there and played a great game.”
The senior leadership has been key, according to Daily.
“We have six seniors who have been tremendous,” said Daily. “A few of them were here, as freshmen, when we won our last sectional title. They know we came close the past two years, but didn’t win it. But now, we’re here and they’re loving this opportunity.”
Livingston won back-to-back sectional titles in 2012 and 2013, but lost in the Group 4 semifinal, in both seasons, at Nutley, to Huntderdon Central, 4-0, and Watchung Hills, 2-1. In both instances, the Lancers were the favorite, coming in with a 28-0 mark in 2012 and 25-3 the following year, with a lofty state ranking.
This year, a 17-11 squad isn’t ranked in the state, but Daily agrees that the Lancers don’t really care about that.
“I don’t think they even look at that stuff,” said Daily. “They’re enjoying this. We’ve had a few former players come back, like Jess Peslak, Alexa Altcheck, Sammi Passeri and Marina Lombardi, to talk to our team, and that’s been a good thing for these kids. Alexa plays at Harvard now, and she spoke to the kids about the challenges of playing at the Ivy League level, and dealing with injury. She gave some good points about being a part of a team and the greater good. I think our team understood it.”
Livingston’s pitcher, Sydney McCormack (Syd The Kid) has saved her best pitching for the state tournament.
“She’s been tremendous,” said Daily. “Syd is so focused. She’s throwing good pitches, and our defense has been great behind her, too.”
A senior-laden infield features first baseman Allie (Rolls) Royce, second baseman Allie Beinhacker, shortstop Blake Saperstein and third baseman Nina Petrillo for the Big Green Machine.
Julia Viggiano, a senior, has been tremendous in the outfield, as have Jaclyn Williamson, Ashley Reuter and Jill Gibbon. Danielle Rosenblum and Kate Sheehan have been reliable designated hitters while Jess Gorman and Kaitlyn Kelly are also pitchers.
Daily noted the solid play of Viggiano.
“Julia bats ninth, but she could be our leadoff, or number two hitter,” said Daily. “She has excellent speed on the basepaths. With her batting ninth, it gives us a lot of options in our 9-1-2 rotation in the lineup.”
And then there’s sophomore catcher Emma Cooney, who has been incredible since taking over starting job after Lombardi graduated last spring.
“Emma works so well with our pitchers, and is very good defensively,” said Daily. “We’ve had some great catchers here over the years.”
The Lancers were playing .500 ball for much of the season, but Daily began to see a change when the team entered the Essex County Tournament.
“We got back to the semifinals,” said Daily. “And even though we lost to Montclair in the semis, I thought our kids used that loss as a factor to go after it in the states. The seniors knew it would be their last chance to win a title, and they’ve amped it up.”
Daily also feels that playing in the Super Essex Conference’s American Division has prepared his team well.
“Two games each with Mount St. Dominic, Nutley, Cedar Grove, West Essex, Bloomfield and Montclair have certainly tested us,” said Daily. “And we had some good games with Hillsborough, Bishop Ahr, Westfield, Parsippany Hills and Ocean. We were 5-7 in the conference, with an eighth loss to Montclair in the county tournament. Were 12-3 outside the conference. We knew we’ll be facing a tremendous team in Watchung Hills, but I really believe our kids are prepared.”