West Essex and Cedar Grove had gone 8 1/2 scoreless innings on a windy and cold afternoon at West Essex, so when the Knights got a rally going in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to a leadoff walk by Julia Vardiman and an infield single from Alexa Vardiman, the anticipation level was amped up.
The Vardiman sisters proceeded to steal a base, putting runners on second and third, with no outs. And as Bridget Betley stepped into the box, Alexa could be seen at second, jumping up and down.
“I was fired up and cold at the same time,” said the personable senior catcher. “I just wanted a chance to get a win. It was a tough game. Cedar Grove played hard and (Cedar Grove pitcher) Mia (Faieta) was so good out there. I was glad to get a few walks off her, and then a single in the ninth inning. It was that kind of game. I thought we could have won it a few times earlier, but that’s the way it goes.”
Betley was struck out, but the catcher couldn’t handle the ball and the senior second baseman alertly ran to first, and was safe, loading the bases. Madison Gemma followed with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Julia Vardiman, and West Essex came away with a hard-fought, 1-0, win.
West Essex improved to 10-2 with the win while Cedar Grove fell to 7-3, including heartbreaking losses to Mount St. Dominic and now, West Essex.
West Essex pitcher Sami Huetter and Faieta were both studs in the circle, as Canonero II and California Chrome matched goose eggs for eight full innings, before Huetter retired the Panthers in the top of the ninth.
Huetter, a senior who will play at Stockton University this fall, struck out eight and walked just two while scattering four hits.
Faieta, a sophomore who has become a strikeout phenom in Essex County, fanned 16 while walking a surprising 12, but she gave up just two hits, both infield singles. And Faieta, despite the walks, worked out of some big time jams, including a bases-loaded, no out situation in the fifth inning and a first and second, no outs predicament in the seventh. Fiaeta also struck out the side in the second and sixth innings and had at least one strikeout in every frame.
“Mia gives you everything you could ever ask for as a coach,” said Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi, whose team was missing five starters. “She works hard, and today, showed the ability to work through some adversity. I was proud of her. I saw a lot of young kids step up and play well against one of the best teams in the state. That was very encouraging.”
In addition to scoring the winning run, Julia Vardiman reached base four times, all by walk, while Alexa Vardiman also reached four times, three by walks and the single in the ninth. Huetter had the other hit, a bunt single in the fourth inning.
Alexa Vardiman, aka Funny Cide, also praised Velardi.
“She’s such a good coach,” said Alexa. “Coach Velardi’s teams are always prepared. But we also found a way to win, and our coaches are great, too. It was a tremendous game.”
The classy Vardiman summed up well a tremendous Super Essex Conference American Division battle, where, other than the score, there were no losers.