The 40th Essex County Softball Tournament will commence later this week, with play-in games. This years ‘Ruby’ tournament was a tough one to seed, as a number of teams have somewhat equal records, in the Super Essex Conference’s American and Liberty Divisions.
Mount St. Dominic, which has won six titles, including crowns in 2014 and 2015, defending champion West Essex and Cedar Grove, which last won the championship in 2010, should be among the top seeds in 2017.
The semifinals and finals will once again be played at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University. The semis and finals have been played there since 2005.
Upsets have been a part of this tournament over the years. Last season, 2-time defending champion Mount St. Dominic lost in the quarterfinals to Montclair, 2-1. The Mounties eventually made it to the championship game, before falling to West Essex.
Mount St. Dominic had won back-to-back titles in dominant fashion in 2014 and 2015, winning both championships in five innings, or less. Livingston had won the previous two crowns in 2012 and 2013, and the Lancers, at one point, had gone 48-1 against Essex County teams from 2012-2014.
Montclair’s run to the title game in 2016 caught a lot of fans by surprise, but then-head coach Phil Delgado believed in his team and the Mounties responded. In 2012, a similar run was made by Newark Academy, which came from a double-digit seed to stun defending champion Nutley in the first round. The Minutemen, coached then, and now by Sergio Rodriguez, made it to Ivy Hill that May, before losing to Mount St. Dominic in the semifinals.
West Orange had a nice run in 2010, upsetting then 2-time champion Mount St. Dominic and making it to the semis, before Cedar Grove, the eventual champion, ended the Mountaineers hopes.
And speaking of the semis, there have been some great games over the past six years. In the 2011 semifinal between Livingston and Nutley, Livingston sophomore righthander Jess Peslak struck out 14, but Kristen Mattia hit a 3-run homer in the fifth inning for Nutley after Livingston had gained a 4-0 lead. The Lancers appeared to have it under control in the bottom of the seventh, especially after Peslak fanned Mattia for the second out, but Lauren Iradi hit a seeing-eye, two-out, two-run single as Nutley won, 5-4. A day later, it captured the county final over MSD, 3-0. (Peslak has often said it was one of the best games she ever played in, and she lost).
The 2013 semifinal between Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic was also a classic, as MSD’s Olivia Gemma hit an epic homer over the centerfield fence, in the sixth inning, to lead the Lions past the Panthers after it appeared Cedar Grove had the game in hand.
Last year, Montclair and Livingston played a tremendous semifinal, before a large crowd, with the Mounties winning, 6-4, marking Montclair’s first win over Livingston in six years.
Ciarah Minning of Montclair made one of the greatest catches in the tournament’s history, hauling in a long drive, over her head, in deep centerfield, against Livingston.
Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park will host the ECT semifinals and finals for the 13th straight year.
And for pure recent drama, the 2012 and 2013 championship games between Mount St. Dominic and Livingston were as good as they got, with Livingston prevailing, 2-0, and 5-4. It’s not often that teams meet in back-to-back years in a final. Cedar Grove and the Mount played in the 2008 and 2009 finals and then, it was Livingston and MSDA. There were just three other rematches prior to 2009.
Here are some tid bits to get you ready for this year’s tournament.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This is the 40th ECT, so let’s look back at some facts and figures over the past 39 tourneys.
1-Caldwell won the first championship in 1978, defeating Bloomfield, 2-1. The Chiefs have the most championships with 10 and also boast the best record in championship games, 10-1.
2-Belleville appeared in nine county finals during the 1980s, winning three championships, including back-to-back titles in 1982 and ’83. Belleville made it to eight straight finals, a record which still holds, from 1982-89. The Buccaneers also won in 1989 and appeared in the 1998 and ’99 final. Belleville’s 12 appearances in the finals are second most, to Mount St. Dominic, which has been in 13 championship games.
3- Mount St. Dominic has won six titles, Livingston has five crowns and Cedar Grove and West Essex have four championships each.
4-Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak had three of the most dominant performances in the ECT semis in recent memory. In 2011, she struck out 14, but lost in the seventh inning to Nutley, 5-4. The following year, she fanned 17 in a 9-0 victory against West Essex and in 2013, she spun a five-inning, no-hitter, with 12 strikeouts, as the Lancers defeated Bloomfield, 12-0.
Peslak was 2-0 in county finals.
Mount St. Dominic senior pitcher Kelsey Oh has two titles to her record and will be trying for a rare third this year. Oh’s performances in the 2014 and 2015 finals were beyond dominant.
5-Mount St. Dominic’s second straight title in 2015 matched the 2008 and 2009 Lions for back-to-back crowns. Livingston won consecutive championships in 2012 and 2013.
6-Caldwell is the only team to three-peat as champions. (1986-88), with all three wins in the final against Belleville. No other team has won three straight.
7-Livingston’s Kylie McLaughlin, hit a rare inside-the-park homer at Ivy Hill Park in the 2013 semifinal against Bloomfield. She led off the bottom of the first with a shot that hit the center field fence and bounced past a Bloomfield outfielder, as the speedy lefty batter rounded the bases.
8-Cedar Grove was the first team to repeat as champion, doing so in 1980. At that time, the Panthers were led by pitcher Laurel VanDer May, while its head coach was her brother, Ray, who returned to the helm of Cedar Grove in 2013 and led the ’14 Panthers back to the finals.
9-Cedar Grove (1979-80), Belleville (1982-83), Caldwell (3-peat from 1986-1988, 1990-91 and again 2004-05), West Essex (1997-98),Bloomfield (1999-2000), Montclair Kimberley Academy (2001-2002), Mount St. Dominic (2008-09 and again in 2014-2015) and Livingston (2012-2013) are the schools which have won back-to-back titles.
10-Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan has the most championships with eight. Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio is second, with six titles. Sozio, who won his 500th career game in 2016, has guided the Lions to all six of its championships.
11-Belleville-Caldwell (1986-88), Caldwell-Livingston (1990-91), Mount St. Dominic-Bloomfield (1995-96), Mount St. Dominic-Cedar Grove (2008-09) and Mount St. Dominic-Livingston (2012-2013) are the championship game matchups which occurred in consecutive years.
12-Cedar Grove’s crowns in 1984 and 2010 represent the longest gap between titles for a school in the tourney’s history.
13-Nutley waited 18 years between championships. (1993-2011).
14-Belleville’s Carl Corino coached in 12 county finals and led his team to the Final Four 16 times.
15-The highest scoring final occurred in 2015, with 19 runs scored. The second highest scoring final was in 1992 and 2016, with 14 runs scored in both of those finals. Cedar Grove and Belleville collected 13 runs in the ’84 title game.
16-Only three of the first 39 championship games have gone into extra innings, with Belleville (1989), Mount St. Dominic (2003) and Caldwell (2005) all winning by 1-0 decisions. The 2003 game between Mount St. Dominic and Bloomfield went 11 innings, the longest final on record.
17-Caldwell had one of the most improbable wins, rallying from 2-0 down to stun Belleville, 3-2, in the 1987 final. Caldwell scored all three runs without a ball leaving the infield. The Chiefs had a similar rally in the 2004 county final opposite MKA, once again coming back from 2-0 down in the seventh. Both of those games were at Pulaski Park.
18-Luann Zullo is 3-0 as a head coach in the finals, and she’s the only coach to win crowns at two different schools. She won a pair of championships at West Essex (1997-98) before leading her alma mater, Nutley, to the 2011 championship. Ironically, her first championship in ’97 came against Nutley.
West Essex won the 1998 ECT final, beating Belleville, 1-0. Head coach Luann Zullo (second from far right) and assistant Sergio Rodriguez (second from far left) are shown here with the team. (Click on photo for larger image)
19-Livingston coach Jason Daily is 3-0 in county finals, winning in 2006, 2012 and 2013. Daily’s teams have also been consistently in the Final Four, with recent appearances in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. Daily has been head coach at Livingston since 2001.
20-MKA is the only team to beat Caldwell in a county final, doing so in 2002, 4-1, for its second straight title and last to date. Two years later, Caldwell turned the tables and beat MKA, 3-2.
21-Livingston and Belleville had quite a rivalry in the 1980s. The schools met three times in a county final (1982, ’85 and ’89), with Belleville winning twice. In 1982, Livingston rallied from 4-0 down to stun Belleville, 6-4, in a state sectional semifinal. Five days later, the two met again for the county championship and Belleville won, 8-0, for its first ECT crown. A generation later, the two met in the quarterfinals of the 2001 county tournament, with Belleville prevailing by the mercy rule. A few weeks later, the teams met in the state sectionals, with Belleville winning a close 3-1 contest, en route to a sectional championship. The following year, Livingston went to Belleville in a sectional semifinal, and won. Livingston’s current head coach, Jason Daily, was in his second year as head coach in 2002.
22-Newark Academy made it from the play-in round all the way to the ECT semis in 2012, the first school to accomplish that feat. It stunned second-seeded and defending champion Nutley in the first round, 6-4, then defeated Caldwell in the quarters before losing to Mount St. Dominic.
23-It’s not often that sisters play against each other in a county tournament, but it happened in the 2011 championship game when Nutley, led by Eileen Purcell, defeated Mount St. Dominic, 3-0. The Mount’s junior catcher that year was Jamie Purcell, Eileen’s twin sister. The Purcells played four years of collegiate softball and were graduated with undergraduate degrees in 2016.
24-From 1993-1997, the final score of the championship game was 2-1.
25-Mount St. Dominic’s four runs in the 2013 county final was the most by a team which didn’t win the title during this century.
26-Gina Capardi (Caldwell), Sammi Rothenberger (Livingston), Kristen Mattia (Nutley), Mount St. Dominic’s Olivia Gemma and Madison Gemma of West Essex, Olivia’s sister, hit five of the more memorable homers in Ivy Hill history, since the field became the venue for the semis and finals in 2005.
Capardi christened the move to Ivy Hill in ’05, when she homered in the eighth inning for a stirring 1-0 win over Montclair in the championship game. Madison Gemma’s homer came in the finals, as West Essex pulled away from Montclair. The other three were hit in the semifinals. Rothenberger’s shot is still raved about, as the ball went into the trees in the 2013 semifinal. Mattia’s homer was a long 3-run blast as Nutley cut into a 4-0 lead against Livingston in 2011. Olivia Gemma’s 2-run homer helped Mount St. Dominic rally past Cedar Grove in the bottom of the sixth inning.
27-Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer and Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio each won his 500th career game, all for one school, in 2016. Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan is first, all time, in county history with well over 600 wins. Carl Corino of Belleville, who is retired, was the first to reach 500, back in 2005. Corino was honored in April, 2016, by having the ball park at Belleville named after him.
Bob Mayer and his Bengals celebrated the legendary head coach’s 500th win in 2016. Mayer has had some great runs at the ECT, including back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000. He was inducted into the Bloomfield High Hall of Fame in April, 2017.
28-West Essex won its fourth county title and first in nine years in 2016. It was the second crown under head coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget.
Madison Gemma (left) and Bridget Betley were keys to the Knights victory last year. The Gemma family has had its share of good memories in the county final, with six straight appearances. Olivia Gemma played in four straight ECT finals and led her team to a title in 2014. Madison played in the 2015 and 2016 finals and hopes to make a third straight appearance this season.