Long before Mia Faieta accomplished the 21-for-21 masterpiece which literally put her on the national stage, she had drawn interest from St. John’s University, for her pitching prowess.
And that initial attention went a long way for Faieta, a junior at Cedar Grove High, who gave the Red Storm her verbal commitment to play softball in Queens, New York, come the fall of 2019.
The eldest of two children, born to Fran and Paul Faieta, and the older sister to Alex Faieta, Mia had an incredible season for Cedar Grove in 2017, guiding the Panthers to a Group 1 championship, and a berth in the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, last June. Along the way, Mia pitched a gem for the ages, throwing a perfect game, in which she struck out all 21 batters she faced, as Cedar Grove advanced in the state sectionals, on May 26.
Faieta’s dominance in the circle, with that wicked fast ball and stirring riser, made her one of the state’s best pitchers in 2017. The righthander struck out nearly 400 batters in 176 innings of work. She pitched to a 0.76 ERA and lit up the state tournament, not only with the 21 strikeout effort, but in hard-fought wins over Verona for the sectional title, Roselle Park in the Group 1 semifinal and another perfect game in the Group 1 final, opposite Metuchen.
At the Tournament of Champions, she spun another beauty, as Cedar Grove edged Robbinsville in the first round. A night later, the memorable season ended with a loss in the semifinals to the eventual TOC champion, Immaculate Heart Academy, 3-0. Despite that loss, Mia was outstanding, holding the potent Eagles offense to one hit. After the game, Faieta went out of her way to credit IHA for a big win, and lauded the Eagles’ senior pitcher, Olivia Sprofera.
Cedar Grove finished the 2017 season with a 23-8 record.
Mia and her friend, Mia Recenello, who plays at Immaculate Heart Academy, grew up in Cedar Grove. The two remain friends today. Here’s an article about the ‘Tale of Two Mias’, written prior to the respective teams playing in the Tournament of Champions. (Click on photo for larger image)
The incredible run in the state tournament gave Mia a lot of attention, and not just locally. She would appear on television news shows, signed her first autograph, and threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, on June 10, before a Yankees-Orioles game.
“It was crazy,” said Faieta, with that perpetual smile and humbleness. “After (the 21 strikeouts), I had gotten a few calls, tweets and stuff. But then, it just took off. I mean, I’m at school, having lunch, and there’s someone who wants to interview me. I just wanted to eat.
“But it was a lot of fun. I was so nervous throwing out that pitch at Yankee Stadium. Looking back at it now, it was really special. The people in town were great, and so supportive.”
Mia signed an autograph for a young fan (left, wearing hoodie) after leading Cedar Grove to a win over Robbinsville in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions last June. (Click on photo for larger image)
When a young fan asked Mia for an autograph after a Cedar Grove win in the Tournament of Champions, she was surprised.
“I was so happy that he asked,” she said. “It was cool.”
Faieta informed St. John’s of her decision this past Labor Day.
“I knew that’s what I wanted, and I said ‘why am I waiting,'” Mia recalled, with her mom, and first pitching coach, smiling near by. “They had first seen me at a camp, they believed in me as a freshman, and I was really comfortable talking with the coaches.”
Fran Faieta was herself a top softball player at Cedar Grove, leading the 1984 Panthers to an Essex County championship, while playing shortstop. Fran played for the legendary coach Ray VanDerMay, who was a big part of helping Mia become a top player. Mia’s summer coach, Phil Delgado, along with high school coach, Nicole Velardi, have also been prominent.
“They’ve all provided a tremendous support base,” said Fran. “There were times I wasn’t able to get to all of Mia’s games, and they’ve always been there. Ray, Phil and Nicole are all tremendous people. They’ve been great with helping Mia become the player she is.”
(Fran Faieta had some health concerns a year ago, but she’s made tremendous strides).
Velardi, herself a top college player on the NCAA, Division II level, was thrilled that Faieta had made her decision so soon.
“St. John’s is a great school for Mia,” said Velardi. “Mia loves New York. She enjoys how busy the city is, and that’s why St. John’s is a perfect place for her. It’s an excellent school academically and has a good program. The Big East is a good conference for softball.”
Faieta agreed that her love for New York is genuine.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “New York is such a great city. There’s so much going on. The restaurants are great, the people, it’s just a special place. And now I’ll have a chance to experience a lot of it when I go to college.”
Delgado was also ecstatic.
“No doubt,” said Delgado. “I’ve been so blessed to have the chance to coach Mia. I mean, what a great kid, from a wonderful family. Mia is a loyal person. When St. John’s showed interest early on, that meant a lot to her. And she works so hard to get better each day. She’s such a determined kid.”
Mia’s dad, Paul, has stayed somewhat in the background, watching his daughter become a dominant high school pitcher. He’s a constant at the softball games, with a big smile. Recently, he accompanied Mia to Florida for a tournament. He recalls watching her become a stud pitcher.
“I remember being at a game, watching her throw and said ‘wow, she’s really good,'” said Paul. “We’re so proud of Mia, having this opportunity to play at St. John’s and get a great education.”
Mia’s ‘fame’ from last spring still carries on, according to Fran.
“People still stay to me, ‘your daughter is that pitcher?'” said Fran with a laugh. “It’s amazing how many people heard about her last season. But it was nice. Mia kept it all in perspective. Paul and I were proud of her for that. But then again, we’re proud of her for everything she does.”
While playing softball on the collegiate level will be exciting, education is also important to the Faieta family.
“School comes first with Mia,” said Velardi. “She’s a tremendous student, and that’s why she had the chance to make such an early decision. The best part is, she’ll be playing for us for another two seasons. Mia is a team-first person, and her personality is so upbeat.”
Mia enjoys working with younger softball players. She’s participated in clinics for 12U players. She’s also a member of the Key Club and Peer Leadership at school.
As Faieta, who will turn 17 this Thanksgiving, looks ahead, she’s not rushing her high school days, either.
“I’m looking forward to our upcoming softball season at Cedar Grove,” she said. “My family has always been there for me. They’re great. And my teammates are the best. We had a great run, getting to the Tournament of Champions last season. It was a nice experience and we’d like to get back there (in 2018).
“I’m glad to have made this decision to attend St. John’s. It’s the right place for me, and now I can focus on the rest of high school and working hard, on the field and in the classroom.”