Mia Recenello and Mia Faieta grew up in Cedar Grove, NJ.
They played youth softball together.
They live about a 5 minute drive from each other’s home.
Their families are close friends.
They have the same first name.
They each have a younger sibling.
They’re both high school sophomores.
And when the inaugural NJSIAA Tournament of Champions for softball begins on June 6, at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University, both will have the honor of playing on the grandest of stages.
But, they won’t be playing for the same team.
Mia Faieta (top photo, back row, third from left) and Mia Recenello (bottom photo, top row, third from right) both celebrated state championships at Kean University on June 3 and 4. (Click on photos for larger images)
It’s true. Recenello, dubbed ‘The Natural‘ for a walk-off homer that hit the scoreboard during a game this season, plays at Immaculate Heart Academy, in Bergen County’s Washington Township. Faieta, AKA ‘California Chrome‘ for her stud work in the circle, pitches for her home town team, Cedar Grove High.
They’ve both been integral to their team’s incredible seasons. Despite battling a virus, Recenello, the team’s catcher, homered in the second inning of the Non-Public A championship game to give IHA a 1-0 lead. She also made three tremendous grabs of tough pop ups to secure key outs, as IHA defeated powerful Donovan Catholic, 5-1, for its third straight group championship.
The following day, it was Faieta’s turn. ‘Chrome’ was untouchable again, with that wicked riser. She struck out 13 and spun a perfect game as the Panthers defeated a tough Metuchen team, 4-0, for the program’s second Group 1 championship in the last three years.
Faieta’s run in the state tournament has been legendary. She’s pitched three perfect games, including the 21-for-21 game in the sectional semifinal, when Faieta fanned every batter she faced, over seven innings. She also leads the state in strikeouts.
And now, with the advent of the Tournament of Champions, both ‘Mias’ (as Faieta’s mom, Fran likes to call them) will continue their season this week. IHA earned a first-round bye while Cedar Grove will play in the first round of the T of C, opposite a really good Robbinsville team, which won the Group 2 title. If Cedar Grove prevails, it would play IHA in the semifinals on June 7.
And the batterymates that never were, on the high school level, could get a chance to meet up. The teams have scrimmaged, but haven’t played each other in the regular season.
Recenello, the daughter of Kristen and Sam Recenello and older sister to Talia, herself a rising softball talent on the Suburban level, speaks fondly of a long-term friendship with Faieta.
“Well I’ve known Mia since forever now, like 9 or 10 years old,” said Mia Recenello. “We both tried out for softball together and we were the only ones who didn’t make the ‘good’ team. As we got older, we continued playing together, we were quite the duo, and buddies to say the least.”
The camaraderie between the two was evident.
“Everyone knew how we played together, we had a chemistry and it always worked so well in games,”said Recenello. “Mia’s mom (Fran) is one of my biggest fans. She always had us working together, she would train me in catching and have me catch Mia as frequently as possible. The older we got, the better we got, to the point where we both were unstoppable together.”
Fate would intervene, when Mia Recenello met legendary IHA coach, Anthony LaRezza, while still in middle school. The chance to play for LaRezza in high school was difficult for Mia to turn down.
“If I didn’t meet Anthony, there was a chance Mia and I could be playing together today,” said Recenello. “But instead, we may play against each other. I miss catching for her, and I’m so proud of what she has made her pitching career into today.”
(Sadly, Mia didn’t get the chance to play for LaRezza, as Anthony died in Feb., 2016. But Mia, like all her teammates will say, plays for Anthony, every time out).
And Mia Faieta, the daughter of Fran and Paul Faieta and older sister to Alex, himself a freshman at Cedar Grove, speaks volumes of ‘The Natural’.
“We went to different elementary schools, so Mia and I didn’t really get to know each other until the fifth or sixth grade,” said Faieta. ” By the time we were in middle school, we were pretty close. Mia was always a catcher. I actually started as a shortstop, then became a pitcher the following year.”
Similar to Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team, Faieta chuckles when she recalled that both she and Recenello were cut from their first softball team, in sixth grade.
“Yeah, we both got cut,” she said. “A year later, we made the team.”
As close as the two are, they’re also competitors. Asked if they speak often during the high school softball season, Recenello noted “we barely speak during the season. Sometimes, I’ll shoot her a text, and when my team plays in Cedar Grove (in the annual Black and Gold Tournament), we always find each other and talk for a little while.”
“We catch up a little during the season, but it’s hectic for both of us. She has a commute every day to and from school, and she has practice, and I have my stuff going on with softball. The days fly by.”
While they both were part of a state championship last weekend, they haven’t had a chance to congratulate each other. Yet.
“I know people are saying we could play them in the semifinals,” said Faieta of Cedar Grove taking on IHA. “But we have a big game coming up, first, against Robbinsville, and they’re very good. I am friends with a lot of the girls on IHA. They’re really good people, too.
“But right now, my only thought is pitching well against Robbinsville.”
The families are always supportive. Recenello’s success is constantly echoed on Fran Faieta’s Facebook page, as is Faieta’s pitching on Kristen’s social media.
“We love Mia, we love Fran and Paul,” said Kristen. “The Faietas are the best. It’s been so exciting to see Mia pitching the way she has this year. We’re so happy that both kids are getting this chance.”
And Fran Faieta was quick to reply.
“Kristen is wonderful,” said Fran. “Sam is a tremendous dad and Talia is such a sweet girl. When I heard Mia had homered to get IHA off and running in the state championship, I was going crazy. I was so happy.”
Long after the games are played, the friendships will remain intact.
It’s what growing up together and being a part of wonderful families will do.