It was May 8, 2012, and two undefeated New Jersey high school softball teams were scheduled to play a 7 p.m. game at Ivy Hill Park.
Immaculate Heart Academy was ranked first in the state while Livingston was second. Both teams had standout pitchers and a marvelous lineup.
Unfortunately, the game never happened. Light rain at 4 p.m., which didn’t affect a nearby game as Columbia played Caldwell that afternoon, somehow forced a cancellation of a 7 p.m. game, when there was no rain and, in fact, the sun was out.
Since it was not a conference game, the contest could not be made up. But, five years later, it’s an interesting time to look back at what may have been, in The Game That Never Was.
Anthony LaRezza was IHA’s coach while Jason Daily led Livingston. LaRezza and Daily were friends and had high respect for each other’s program.
LaRezza would always have kind words for the opposition, but he particularly liked Livingston. Quite often, he’d be seen in the stands, watching Livingston play, on days when IHA was off.
“They were really good,” LaRezza would say of Livingston, in 2014, in looking back at that game. “We didn’t play Livingston, a lot, but it was fun when we did. And it was always a tough game. Jason is a great guy, and his teams are always prepared.
“I’m not sure who would have won that (2012) game. (Junior pitcher) Jess (Peslak) was incredible that season. She was unhittable.”
Peslak, dubbed Secretariat, would finish the 2012 season with some incredible numbers, including a 26-1 record, with a 0.32 ERA while leading Livingston to arguably its best season in the program’s history. Peslak fanned 307 in 175 2/3 innings of work while walking 37. She also had 19 shutouts, including five-no hitters and nine one-hitters. She fanned a season high 17 in a win over West Essex in the Essex County Tournament semifinals and recorded double figures in strikeouts 20 times.
Peslak, now a senior at Hofstra University and still pitching, opened the 2012 season by not allowing an earned run in her first 73 innings. She wound down the year by not yielding a run, earned, or unearned, from April 27 to June 5, a span of 82 1/3 innings during which she threw 11 straight shutouts while also making a few relief appearances. Ultimately, Peslak gave up one earned run in her final 88 2/3 innings.
I often said that LaRezza’s famous 2010 ‘Memorial Day speech’ was a classic, and it came on the heals a 1-0 loss to Livingston, at the IHA Tournament. In that game, Peslak, then a freshman, didn’t pitch, but she drove in the winning run.
Daily had equal respect for LaRezza.
“A great guy,” Daily would often say. “Anthony’s teams are very talented. They play hard and play with class. They learned from the best.”
IHA had a marvelous pitcher, too, in Steph Thomas, who was a sophomore in 2012. Thomas, of course, would go on to win a state-record 113 career games and is now a standout pitcher at Lafayette College. The eventual Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014, Thomas (aka Affirmed) would not only lead the state in career wins, but her 68 shutouts was also a state record.
In 2014, alone, Thomas was 31-2 with 285 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 193 innings, while pitching to an earned run average of 0.47. She also hit .532 with 11 doubles and 23 RBI. For her career, Thomas had 951 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.54. And she could flat-out hit, too.
LaRezza, a tough grader for his own players, said this to NorthJerseySports.com in 2014 about Thomas.
“I have said this before, but she might be the best player to come out of New Jersey in the history of New Jersey. There might have been better pitchers and there might have been better hitters, but there has never been a player that I know of that does that combination better and she does even more than that,” said LaRezza. “She hits, she runs, you see the way she fields her position. She takes hits away from leadoff batters that hit the ball hard up the middle. She just grabs it and throws them out. As far a pitcher that can do it all, I don’t know if there has ever been anybody better.’
So, who would have won that game in 2012? We’ll obviously never know. But here’s a look at the lineups from that season, as both teams had tremendous hitters, but it’s hard to tell how much offense would have been generated that night, with the quality of the pitching.
Kylie McLaughlin, CF Angelina McGuire, CF
Sammi Rothenberger, SS Danielle Ibarra, SS
Alexa Altchek, RF Rachel Pollard, RF
Jazzy Pignatello, 1B Abby Holmes, 1B
Jess Peslak, P Steph Thomas, P
Marina Lombardi, C Ally Vergona, C
Rachel Wasilak, 2B Carly Piccinich, 2B
Reid Singer, LF Emily Walter, LF
Carly LaGrotta, 3B Cassidy Trause, 3B
Kaitlyn Reilly, DH Erica Correa, DH
It should be noted that IHA and Livingston did play in 2013, at an early season tournament at Mount St. Dominic, and IHA won, 5-2.
“Different teams in 2013,” LaRezza once said. “The core players were still there, but Jess was injured when we played them that year and she wasn’t her usual dominant self. I’m still not sure if we would have won in 2012, but I would have liked our chances. We had great kids that year, too.”
IHA would finish 32-0 in 2012 and be ranked the state’s best team. Livingston would win a conference, county and state sectional title, but were defeated in the Group 4 semifinal by Hunterdon Central. The Lancers finished 29-1 that year.
After meeting in 2013, Livingston and IHA would go on to excellent seasons. The Lancers would win the conference, county and state sectional titles again, before losing in the Group 4 semifinal to Watchung Hills.
IHA would win another Bergen County and conference championship, before losing to St. John Vianney in the 2013 Non-Public A final.
Two years later, LaRezza would lead IHA to another state championship, with the famous Sean Reilly photo of LaRezza jumping for joy after the win. Two hundred forty three days after that title, LaRezza passed away, but his legacy remained strong, as IHA went on to another state championship in 2016.
Livingston would also win a third state sectional championship in five seasons in 2016, under Daily’s guidance. He remains one of the best coaches in North Jersey.
As for The Game That Never Was?
I’ll go with Livingston, 2-1, in 8 innings.