The second annual Anthony LaRezza Invitational Softball Tournament on the campus of Immaculate Heart Academy, in Washington Township, provided fans some exciting softball on April 8 and 9, as well as the chance to raise monies for cancer research, while remembering a beloved coach who left us way too soon.
The games spoke for themselves, with most really close, including the first game on April 8, going into extra innings, as Montgomery ended IHA’s 32-game winning streak, dating back a year, with a 2-1 win, in 11 innings.
Essex County teams competing at IHA included West Essex, which rallied from 4-0 down to defeat Robbinsville, on April 8, then won at the EDSAF tourney the next day; Cedar Grove, which played back-to-back games on April 9 at IHA, and split two, and Newark Academy, which battled back from a 4-1 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning, but Jefferson answered with a run and then prevailed, 6-5, in 8 innings, despite a tremendous performance by Newark Academy’s Sam Burggraf, in the final game of the tournament.
Burggraf, a sophomore third baseman, hit a long homer for Newark Academy’s first run, then helped spur the seventh inning rally which gave the Minutemen the lead.
As much as the games were compelling, the hard work by the IHA parents and the participation of the IHA players throughout the weekend, when the Eagles weren’t playing on the field, was impressive.
The overall results were good, in raising some money, as far as the 50-50’s and the always popular snack stand, which was hopping for most of the weekend.
While the teams compete hard on the field, there’s a camaraderie which goes with it, too. A lot of the girls play club summer ball together, so while they may be on opposite sides during a high school game, they’re friends and many of the parents enjoy the chance to catch up with old pals at the 2-day event.
For example, when Burggraf was hitting well, a number of the IHA parents were cheering her on.
And if you knew Anthony LaRezza, that’s exactly the way he always wanted the tournament to be played.
One of Anthony’s closest friends, Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez, had his team at the tournament wearing special jerseys, with the name LaRezza affixed on the back, as well as the player’s number.
Sergio’s popular summer team, the Heist, has a number of players who were at the IHA tourney, so when he showed up on Sunday afternoon, it was time to catch up, as well, with good friends.
Perhaps one of the nicest scenes was at what I like to call the Bob Jones Bench, located behind the right field fence, where Anthony LaRezza’s brothers, Allen and Joe, sat together and watched the games on April 9. And joining Allen and Joe for a while on Sunday was the Citation of pitchers, Olivia Sprofera, IHA’s left-handed stud, who shared some stories of her love of the Yankees and Red Sox, to the dismay (kidding) of Allen, but most of all, recalling some nice memories of the man whom the tourney is now memorialized.
“It was so nice of Olivia to come out and talk for a while with us,” said Allen. “She’s such a great kid. I never heard her talk as much. Olivia is pretty quiet. She’s so much fun to watch compete, because she’s always composed.”
It was a special weekend.
Congratulations to all who made it such a nice event.