‘Do you know the way?’…IHA getting its mojo in gear; ‘That’s Danica!’ is doing quite a job for Eagles; White and Gilchrist’s pitching, Corra, Carr, ‘The Natural’, Gyongyosi, Agnew and Thomas all contributing to a good run

The 2018 softball season had started a little slowly, at least in the annals of Immaculate Heart Academy. But the Eagles, with a young nucleus after the graduation last spring of stars Ally Dudek, Olivia Sprofera, Reese Guevarra, Reagan Jones, Sonia Sharma and Caroline Ventor have begun to find its footing as April turns into May.

The song ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?‘ could have a ‘Do you know the way to IHA?’ ring to it. And fans know the way to IHA means a high level of softball, which has resulted in three straight Non-Public A championships and the first Tournament of Champions crown last spring, in dramatic fashion, over Lodi Immaculate, in extra innings.

IHA’s 2018 early season schedule included setbacks against powerful Donovan Catholic, as well as Montgomery, St. John Vianney and Indian Hills.

Head coach Diana Fasano enjoys playing strong competition, and despite the team’s 1-3 start, the coach never wavered. Heading into this week’s action, IHA had won five straight and six of seven to improve to 9-5. The only loss during that run was a 2-0 setback to Watching Hills, at the Black and Gold Tournament in Cedar Grove. But later that evening, IHA played a second game at the Black and Gold and won a thriller over the host school, 2-0, in 10 grueling innings.

Read more about the IHA-Cedar Grove game here.


That game clearly has boosted the Eagles’ confidence and began the five game winning streak.

“We are starting to fire on all cylinders, playing good defense and hitting the ball offensively,” said Fasano. “We’re scoring runs, and pitching well. I’m looking forward to continuing to play together as a team and build on this foundation.

“You have to remember that we lost a lot of talented kids to graduation last season. And when you play some of the teams we have this season, it’s going to take time. Donovan Catholic has a tremendous team. They were the younger team the past two seasons (when the schools met for the Non-Public A crown) and this year, they’re the more experienced team. But we’re getting better.”

The pitching has been paced by sophomore right hander Ryleigh White, aka ‘Citation‘, a power pitcher who recorded 20 strikeouts in a complete game win over Cedar Grove and fanned 19 last week, in a victory over Paramus Catholic.

Ryleigh White, here with Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta and sporting identical ice bags on their right shoulders after a great game at the Black and Gold Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)

White’s batterymate is junior Mia Recenello, aka ‘The Natural‘. Recenello’s heroics in the win over Cedar Grove included an RBI triple in the top of the tenth inning to start a two run rally, as well as sliding head first into home plate with the game’s second run.

Mia Recenello and her family after the Black and Gold Tournament in Cedar Grove. ‘The Natural’ seems to thrive on the spotlight of big games. (Click on photo for larger image)

Senior centerfielder Danica Yatko has been a catalyst to the team, with her speed and ability to get on base regulary. She’s also become a dynamic defensive player and has robbed a few opponents of homers with the ability to lean over the fence and make improbable catches. And it was Yatko’s clutch squeeze bunt which plated Recenello with the insurance run, against Cedar Grove.

Danica Yatko has had a very good season at the plate, and in the field, for IHA in 2018. 

Even when Yatko makes an out, it’s news. When Danica was called out on a close play on the basepaths, in a recent game, the outrage was noticeable. (In a comical way). One fan yelled, ‘That’s Danica!’, in mock disappointment after she appeared to beat a grounder to first, but was called out. Yatko will attend San Diego State this fall.

The underclassmen have been key. Lindsay Gilchrist, a junior, is pitching very well for the Eagles, including a solid effort in the Watchung Hills game. She also plays in the outfield, when not pitching. Sophomore first baseman Cat Thomas continues to play well on defense and wields a dangerous bat. Second baseman Emily Gyongyosi, a junior, made a big play in the Cedar Grove game to save a run, and possibly the game, in the sixth inning. Ashlynn Corra, a sophomore, has taken over the third base responsibilities and is doing an excellent job.

Senior shortstop Kylie Carr, who will play at Manhattan College this fall, has three years varsity experience for the Eagles while another senior, Kelsey Agnew, is a reliable outfielder with a really good arm.

Winning a fourth straight Non-Public A title and a second straight berth in the Tournament of Champions won’t be easy. Mount St. Dominic will once again be a formidable opponent in the North, and the South is absolutely loaded, with Donovan Catholic, St. John Vianney and Notre Dame of Lawrenceville among the top teams.

But for now, all Fasano’s squad can do is take care of business and get better with each game. And it appears that old mojo has returned…..

It’s always good to know The Way to IHA.









By mike051893

Vardiman’s 2-hit gem, game-winning RBI, James’ defense, Liggieri’s aggressiveness help West Essex snap Verona’s win streak at 5; Colon brilliant in setback, with 13 K’s

When West Essex lost seven starters from a standout team last spring, it was obvious that the returning starters, namely Julia Vardiman and Lily James, would have to carry a bulk of the work load, as a number of youngsters learned the varsity game, in a baptism under fire, so to speak.

The Knights have responded well, after a slow start, and won perhaps its biggest game of the season on April 28, edging Verona, 1-0, in a Super Essex Conference American Division game, in Verona.

West Essex improved to 5-6 on the season, and snapped a 2-game losing streak while Verona, which had won five straight, fell to 6-7.

It was the first of two meetings between the teams, and the expected pitcher’s duel between Vardiman and Verona’s Christina Colon more than exceeded expectations.

Colon, a junior, recorded her sixth straight double-digit strikeout game and eighth in the last nine outings, by fanning 13 and walking two. She gave up one hit (perhaps two, based on the official scoring). The game’s only run came without a hit, in the sixth inning, as West Essex’s Alexa Liggieri led off by striking out, but reached safely on a passed ball, after the third strike. Liggieri stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Vardiman, the team’s leadoff hitter, followed with a sharp grounder to shortstop, scoring Liggieri. Vardiman was also safe at first on a late throw.

Team captains Lily James (left) and Julia Vardiman of West Essex were key to a big win for the Knights, at Verona, on April 28. (Click on photo for larger image)

Colon worked out of further damage, but Vardiman, also a junior, was up to the task. A marvelous shortstop in 2016 and 2017, Vardiman has made the move to starting pitcher this spring, to help her team after the graduation of 4-year starter Sami Huetter.

Vardiman appeared to get stronger as the game progressed and finished with seven strikeouts, three walks and a hit batter. She struck out five in the last three innings. In the  bottom of the sixth, Vardiman was especially impressive, after her team had gained the lead. She gave up a leadoff single, then retired the next two hitters on a pop up to the catcher and a strike out. Then, with the potential tying run at second, and two outs, Vardiman fell behind a Verona batter, 3-0, but came back to record a second strikeout to end the frame.

James, who moved from third base to shortstop this season, had West Essex’s best at-bat of the game, with a 2-out double, in the top of the fourth, but Colon fanned the next batter to end the inning. In a game on April 18, it was James who accounted for the game’s only run, an over-the-fence homer, as West Essex blanked Livingston, 1-0, in another complete game shutout for Vardiman.

Read more about that game here.


Vardiman and James are West Essex’s captains, and both seem to embrace the role, leading in different capacities.

Verona, which has lost four one run games and another by two runs, was unable to get its offense going, despite Colon’s outstanding effort. The Hillbillies are seeded fourth in the upcoming Essex County Tournament (ECT).

“We can’t ask for a better pitching performance,” said Verona coach Angela Salisbury. “We just have to hit batter, it’s as simple as that. We’ve lost a lot of 1-run games this year. I know we’re capable of being better offensively.”

Verona will play a huge game on Monday, when it takes a 5-minute bus ride to play at Cedar Grove, in what should be another tremendous pitcher’s duel, no matter who Cedar Grove puts in the circle.

For West Essex, which gained the third seed in the ECT, the win was crucial, as the Knights look to establish consistency in a tough division.

“We needed that one,” said West Essex assistant coach Jason Ahmed. “Both kids pitched really well. It was a fun game to watch.”

By mike051893

Verona keeps rolling, downs Columbia, 2-0, as Colon fans 13 and Stanisci drives in a pair; Columbia’s Hassler (2 hits) paces offense while John spins a 2-hitter in setback

Verona won its fifth straight game on April 26, with a 2-0 victory over Columbia, in a well-played game by both teams, in Verona.

The victory was Verona’s fifth straight after a 1-6 start, and the Hillbillies improved to .500, at 6-6. Columbia, which had won seven of its first eight, lost its second straight and is now 7-3.

The game featured an outstanding pitching duel between Verona’s Christina Colon and Catherine John, of Columbia. Colon, a junior, continued her streak of games with 10 or more strikeouts, with 13 K’s while walking two. She yielded just three hits.

John, a senior righty, pitched five no-hit innings, but in the third, a bunt single and 2-out double led to two unearned runs. Melanie Naeris reached on an error to start the frame and Cadden Pelfree beat out a bunt for a single. Renata Primmer sacrificed the runners to second and third, and after a strikeout, Kate Stanisci laced a ground rule double, which bounced over the centerfield fence, scoring both runners.

John fanned five and walked four, with three of those walks coming in the second inning after a new ball was put into play.

Hudson Hassler has become a stud player for Columbia. The sophomore shortstop had 2 more hits in today’s game against Verona. 

“The ball was so slippery,” said the upbeat John, who had struck out the first two batters in the second before the new ball came in. “I couldn’t get a good grip, but was happy to get through that inning without allowing any runs.”

Verona coach Angela Salisbury knew playing Columbia would be a tough assignment.

“They’re a real good team,” said Salisbury. “Every time we play them, it’s a close game. We had three games with them last year and they were all decided by a run, or two.”

Columbia outhit Verona, 3-2. Hudson Hassler, a sophomore shortstop, was 2-for-3 while Sophie Goldman had a hit. Columbia’s biggest threat came in the sixth when Hassler and Goldman each singled to start the inning, but Colon worked out of the jam with two strikeouts, sandwiched between a fly to right field.

Columbia coach Cliff Smith wasn’t surprised that Colon was a tough competitor.

“Her riser is really tough to hit,” said Smith. “I thought we hit the ball pretty well, but Christina made some big pitches, too. This was a typical game between Verona and our kids. We know we’re capable of playing at a good level.”

Columbia and Verona were both Super Essex Conference Liberty Division rivals the past few years. This season, the matchup was a crossover game, as Verona moved up to the SEC’s American, but the teams could meet again, in the quarterfinal round of the Essex County Tournament, on May 12.





By mike051893

Cedar Grove, Mount St. Dominic (the defending champs), West Essex, Verona and Columbia among the top seeds, as Essex County Tournament celebrates its 40th anniversary; Good news! Quarterfinals return to one site, for first time since 2009, as Verona will play host; Facts and figures, looking back at the first 40 tourneys

The 41st Essex County Softball Tournament will begin next week, with play-in games. As usual, this year’s tournament was a tough one to seed, as a number of teams had somewhat equal records, in the Super Essex Conference’s American and Liberty Divisions.

Mount St. Dominic, which has won seven titles, including crowns in 2014, 2015 and last year, is seeded second. Cedar Grove garnered the top seed this year, as the Panthers seek its first title since 2010. West Essex, the 2016 champion, gained the third seed while Verona is fourth and surging Columbia is the fifth seed. Verona and Columbia are both seeking its first championships.

The semifinals and finals will once again be played at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University, with the semis on May 18 and the finals, a day later. The semis and finals have been played there since 2005.

And good news, in that for the first time since 2009, the quarterfinals will be held at one venue. Verona will host it, on May 12, marking the first time since 2009 that the quarters will be played at one site.

Upsets have been a part of this tournament over the years. In 2016, 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. Mount St. Dominic has had similar domination against Essex opponents, from 2014 through this season.

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 seven 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 her team 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.

Two years ago, 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 in the 2016 semifinals, in a Willie Mays-1954 World Series moment.

ihp 5

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 MSDA played in the 2008 and 2009 finals and then, it was Livingston and MSDA. There were just three other rematches prior to 2009.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALivingston’s Jess Peslak had some tremendous encounters with coach Lorenzo Sozio’s Mount St. Dominic Lions, including the 2012 and 2013 county finals.

Here are some tid bits to get you ready for this year’s tournament.


This is the 41st ECT. Here are 32 facts and figures over the past 40 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 14 championship games.

3- Mount St. Dominic has won seven 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.

5-Mount St. Dominic pitcher Kelsey Oh led her team to a rare three championships, in 2014, 2015 and 2017, all in incredibly dominant fashion. Oh is now a freshman at the University of South Carolina and pitching really well for the Gamecocks.

6-A mother-daughter championship moment is possible this year. Cedar Grove pitcher Mia Faieta will lead the top-seeded Panthers into the tourney. In 1984, Mia’s mother, Fran, was a big part of Cedar Grove’s title team, which upset two-time defending champ, Belleville, 8-5, in the title game. Ironically, Cedar Grove’s current assistant coach, Cheryl Marion played for Belleville in that ’84 game.

Mia Faieta, here with her mother, Fran, at last weekend’s Black and Gold Tournament, in Cedar Grove. 

7-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.

8-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.

9-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.

10-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.

11-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. Mount St. Dominic will attempt to tie Caldwell for most back-to-back titles with three different runs this spring.

12-Caldwell coaches Mike Teshkoyan and Mark Teshkoyan have the most championships with eight. Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio is second, with seven titles. Sozio, who won his 500th career game in 2016, has guided the Lions to all seven of its championships.

13-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.

14-Cedar Grove’s crowns in 1984 and 2010 represent the longest gap between titles for a school in the tourney’s history.

15-Nutley waited 18 years between championships. (1993-2011).

16-Belleville’s Carl Corino coached in 12 county finals and led his team to the Final Four 16 times.

17-The highest scoring final occurred in 2015, with 19 runs scored. The second highest scoring final was in 1992 and 2016with 14 runs scored in both of those finals. Cedar Grove and Belleville collected 13 runs in the ’84 title game.

18-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.

19-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.

20-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.


31658_393721811721_640661721_4603106_4600613_nWest 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)

21-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.

22-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.

23-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.

24-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. After winning a pair of play-in games, the Minutemen 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.

25-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.

26-From 1993-1997, the final score of the championship game was 2-1.

27-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.

28-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.

29-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.

cc (2)The softball field in Belleville honors former coach Carl Corino. (Click on photos for larger image)

bm3Bob 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.

30-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.

West Essex won the 2016 championship. (Click on photos for larger image)

Madison Gemma (left) and Bridget Betley were keys to the Knights county title, in 2016.

31-The Gemma family had its share of good memories in the county final, with seven straight appearances. Olivia Gemma played in four straight ECT finals, for Mount St. Dominic, and led her team to a title in 2014. Madison played in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 finals and led West Essex  to a crown in 2016.

Olivia and Madison are the daughters of Angela and Mike Gemma. Both are now attending Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken.

32-For the first time since 2009, the quarterfinals will be contested at one site. Verona will host the quarters, on May 12, with games at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Pulaski Park, in Bloomfield, last hosted all four games nine years ago. This should be a great event, watching all the games at one venue.



By mike051893

Essex Softball: Watch out for Verona, with a stud pitcher in Christina Colon, good defense and timely hitting has Salisbury’s Hillbillies on a roll

Verona had opened the season slowly, losing six of its first seven contests. But that was a bit deceiving, as the Hillbillies lost three games by one run each, including a pair of 2-1 setbacks to the best teams in Essex County, in Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic. Verona also lost two games by two runs each.

But after the 1-6 start, Verona has gotten back on the winning trail, with four straight victories, including a 5-1 win on April 24, at Bloomfield, in a Super Essex Conference American Division matchup.

“Bloomfield always has a good team,” said Verona coach Angela Salisbury. “You know how it is in this division, every game is a battle. I think we showed we’re capable of playing well in the division. We haven’t seen West Essex yet, because of rainouts, but we’ll play them soon, and I’m looking forward (to a crossover game) with Columbia. They’re playing really well, too.”

Verona will stay in games, first and foremost, behind the pitching of right hander, Christina Colon. The junior had another outstanding game against Bloomfield, with 14 strikeouts and 2 walks, while scattering just 3 hits.

“Christina has been doing a nice job,” said Salisbury. “She throws strikes and has good velocity.”

Colon opened the regular season with a no-hitter, striking out 17 in a 1-0 home victory, against Bloomfield, in mid 30 degree temperatures, on April 5. She has struck out 10, or more, in six of her last seven games, including back-to-back 14 strikeout efforts in less than 24 hours, against Nutley and Bloomfield. In a tournament on April 21, she fanned a combined 22 batters in two games.

Verona (5-6) put itself in position for a possible top four seed in the upcoming Essex County Tournament with its win against Bloomfield on April 24. The Hillbillies opened a 3-0 lead in the second inning when Katie Stanisci led off with a walk and stole second. After a strikeout, Colon laced a single to move Stanisci to third. A stolen base and walk to Kate Ryan loaded the bases and Julia Rigney hit a two-run single to give her team a 2-0 lead. With two outs, leadoff batter Carlie Goldstein drilled a single to plate a third run.

Verona’s Julia Rigney slides into home plate, in a game against Bloomfield, as teammate Kate Ryan (13) watches. (Photo by Jerry Simon. Click on photo for larger image)

Bloomfield (5-6), which had won four in a row, scored its only run off Colon in the third. Verona got that run back in the fifth when Cadden Pelfree singled home Melanie Naeris, who had led off the frame with a single. Pelfree had another RBI in the seventh, when she hit a long ground rule double, which bounced over the centerfield fence, plating Annie Swanstrom, who had reached on an error to start the inning.

Colon struck out the side in the third and fifth innings and ended the game with a strikeout.

Verona has two big home games coming up. On April 26, Columbia visits, at 4 p.m. and two days later, there’s the first of two games against division rival West Essex, at 10 a.m., and on April 30, there’s a short drive for a big game with arch rival Cedar Grove.

Verona is also the sight of the Essex County Tournament quarterfinals. This will be the first time since 2009 that the county quarterfinals will be held at one location.



By mike051893

Essex Softball: Cedar Grove, Mount St. Dominic at the top of the rankings, as 41st ECT draws closer; Bloomfield, Millburn and Verona on winning streaks

The 41st Essex County Tournament is getting closer, and with it, some big games are approaching. Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic played an exciting game last week and will meet up again this coming Friday, at the Mount’s home field.

Most will agree that the Panthers and Lions are the top teams in the county and the favorites to meet in the ECT final in a few weeks.

Upsets have been a part of the tournament over the years, however, and this season has certainly been unpredictable.

After slow starts, Verona, Bloomfield and West Essex have played much better. Columbia and Millburn are off to fast starts, as well, at 7-2 and 9-2 respectively.

Here are the latest rankings.

FMTC Top 10

1-Cedar Grove (10-3): It edged Mount St. Dominic, in a tremendous game and played another classic last weekend, against IHA.

Mia Faieta (arms folded, standing) has pitched very well for the Panthers. (Click on photo for larger 

2-Mount St. Dominic (8-5): The defending ECT champions won 2 of 3 in Ohio last weekend, and are still the dominant team within Essex County, over the past five years.

3-Columbia (7-2): Six straight wins to start the season, including a win over Nutley gives the Cougars a high ranking this week.

4-West Essex (4-5): Knights had back-to-back wins over Livingston and Nutley last week.

Lily James, here with her parents, has been a key to West Essex’s recent surge. 

5-Verona (4-6): Hillbillies have won three straight, including a win over Nutley, and their pitching could make it very dangerous in the county tournament.

6-Nutley (5-6): Edged Livingston, in 8 innings, after losing in 8 to the Lancers six days earlier. Has a big early season win over an 8-3 Teaneck team.

7-Bloomfield (5-5): After 0-4 start, including 3 losses by a combined 5 runs, it has won five of its last six and Lexi Corio’s pitching could be a factor.

Lexi Corio had a good run in the 2017 Essex County Tournament and hopes to find similar success this year. (Click on photo for larger image)

8-Livingston (3-6): Lancers are always competitive, but it’s lost four of its last five, three of which have been by one run. Livingston has a good win over Verona.

9-Millburn (9-2): Millers have played well, winning six straight heading into this week’s action.

10-Caldwell (7-3) and Montclair (6-5): Mounties picked up a huge win over Columbia, rallying from 3-0 down, on April 23 to win, 9-5, while Caldwell has been pretty consistent all season.

By mike051893

‘Citation’ and ‘Chrome’ put on a show, as White (20 K’s) and Faieta (18 K’s) give the fans a night to remember

One could probably say it was just another game, but for those who watched Immaculate Heart and Cedar Grove play softball in the final game of the Black and Gold Tournament in Cedar Grove on April 21, it was hard not to marvel at the pitching efforts of both Mia Faieta and Ryleigh White.

Faieta, a junior from Cedar Grove, would strike out eight of the first nine batters she faced and finished with 18 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings of work, while giving up four hits (three of which came in the top of the 10th), walking six and hitting a batter.

White, dubbed ‘Citation‘, is a close friend of Faieta’s, since the two play on a club team together. She struck out her 20th batter to end the game in the bottom of the 10th inning, as IHA edged Cedar Grove, 2-0.

Mia Faieta and Ryleigh White, along with coaches Phil Delgado and Diana Fasano, at a NJFight gathering last winter. (Click on photo for larger image)

White, a sophomore righty, would scatter three hits and walk three.

“I had never been a part of the international tie-breaker,” said White, referring to the rule of putting a runner on second base to start the 10th inning, and beyond, when a high school softball game is tied. “I didn’t think too much about it, especially after Mia (Recenello) made that catch for the first out. After that, I was really confident we’d win it.”

White was referring to her catcher, Recenello, who made a beautiful catch of an attempted bunt to secure a crucial first out in the 10th inning. With two Cedar Grove runners on base, White induced a fly to right for the second out, then recorded her 20th strikeout to end it. She actually got stronger as the game progressed, and struck out seven in a row late in the game.

Faieta, a junior righty, was dominant as well. Dubbed ‘California Chome‘, Faieta allowed an infield single through nine innings of work while striking out 18. Afterward, she spent time talking to White, along with a few other IHA players.

It was about competition, but also friendship, and the game kept the fans on the edge of their seats for three hours.

Faieta (right) and White were all smiles after a tremendous game. (Click on photo for larger image)

By mike051893

‘Naturally’, IHA’s Mia Recenello would have a HAND in a huge win over her old friends from Cedar Grove

In the middle of what turned out to be a marathon contest between two outstanding teams on April 21, Immaculate Heart Academy catcher Mia Recenello was in the process of catching another be-be from pitcher Ryleigh White, when suddenly Recenello went running to the sideline, in obvious pain.

The junior had been hit by a foul pitch, and the impact caught her fingers, as well as the nail, on her throwing hand. Writhing, she attempted to catch her breath, and as the pain subsided, she had to convince herself that she’d be able to not only play, but catch and throw back to White, something which seemed routine just a few minutes earlier.

Recenello flexed the hand noticeably, and even kept her hand behind her back, while catching with the natural glove hand. Throwing back to the pitcher seemed to be an issue, but for the kid dubbed ‘The Natural’, because she hit a homer last season, which hit the scoreboard, similar to the epic movie with Robert Redford, it was time to grind it out.

Recenello not only did that, but she would come to bat in the top of the 10th inning and laced a triple to drive in the game’s first run. It was just the second hit allowed by Recenello’s long-time friend, Mia Faieta, of Cedar Grove, and it set the stage for two runs, as Recenello would eventually come home on a single by Danica Yatko and, appropriately, slid into the plate, hand first.

With a 2-0 lead, IHA bore down, as Cedar Grove would start a rally. But again, it was Recenello who made a huge defensive play, diving to catch a foul ball for the crucial first out.

Recenello resides in Cedar Grove and knows all the players on the Panthers’ roster. In fact, Recenello and Faieta were each cut from their first softball team, as 10 year olds, in Cedar Grove.

Mia Faieta (left) and Mia Recenello have known each other for a while. (Click on photo for larger image)

(Read about the early days of the ‘2 Mias’.


Following the game, Recenello was met by her parents and younger sister. She then sought out Faieta, who was chatting with White about the just-completed game between IHA and Cedar Grove. (Faieta and White are teammates on a club team in the summer and fall). The two Mias hugged and another game was completed.

Mia Recenello and her family, left to right, her dad, Sam, mom, Kristen and younger sister, Talia, along with the family’s dogs, were all smiles after an exciting victory at the Black and Gold Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)

Both young ladies had exemplified a championship character, and for Recenello, overcoming a painful injury to lead her team to a big win could go a long way in IHA’s quest to win another state championship in early June.

By mike051893

Columbia defeats Newark Academy to improve to 6-0, as Alexa Stephan (homer), Jordan Stephan, Goldman (3 RBI), John (2-hitter) and Hassler lead way; Nutley and Livingston play another nail biter and this time, the Raiders win, in 8 innings; Bloomfield defeats Dayton

Six games may not define an entire season, but Columbia’s 6-0 start has been impressive.

The Cougars’ latest win was a 13-1 triumph over Super Essex Conference Liberty Division rival Newark Academy, in Livingston, on April 20, in 5 innings. And while Columbia head coach Cliff Smith knew it was just one game, Smith was also hoping his team’s good start would coincide with next week’s seeding selections for the 41st Essex County Tournament.

“I’d like to think we could get a high seed,” said Smith. “But we can’t worry about that, as much as continuing to work hard. Right now, the kids are having fun and they were excited to play Newark Academy today. We have two games at a tournament at Gov. Livingston (on April 21) and a big conference game with Montclair (on April 23). If we keep playing well, we’ll be okay.”

Despite the score, all the runs came in the span of one inning. Newark Academy (3-3), which came in with a 3-game winning streak, took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on back-to-back doubles, but Columbia charged back in the top of the third, by scoring 13 times. The rally began on a leadoff homer by sophomore second baseman Alexa Stephan, as the ball sailed over the left centerfield fence to tie the game.

“She hit it well,” said Smith of Stephan, who later left the game after being hit on the elbow by a pitch. “At first, I didn’t think it was going out, but it kept traveling. I like the way our kids rally back after falling behind. This was a strange game, in that you don’t normally score the way we did in one inning. Newark Academy is a good team. We were able to capitalize with some good hitting and some walks, and next thing you knew, we had a big lead.”

Columbia coach Cliff Smith and Alexa Stephan following the Cougars win at Newark Academy on April 20. (Click on photo for larger image)

Alexa’s older sister, Jordan Stephan followed with a double and Ally Krause singled. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third and winning pitcher Catherine John singled in a run. Paige Carlson walked to load the bases and Cara Harrington and Claire Salinardo walked to force home a pair of runs. Hudson Hassler singled in a run and Sophie Goldman had the biggest hit in the frame, a 3-run double. Carlson later singled in another run in the inning.

John scattered two hits, struck out eight and walked just one in five innings.

Alexa Stephan’s aggressive play has led to more than her share of black and blues, including her elbow, when she was hit by a pitch.

“She battles,” said Smith. “Hopefully, she’ll be okay.”

Newark Academy third baseman Sam Burggraff made a tremendous catch in the game, running toward the fence on the third base line and hauling in a pop foul right before the ball hit the fence.

On the other side of town, Livingston and Nutley played another nail biter. This time, it was Nutley which won an 8-inning game, 4-3, over the Lancers. Six days earlier, Livingston had gone into Nutley and won a 7-4 game, in extra innings.

The Raiders improved to 4-4 with the win and will play a huge game, against West Essex, on April 21, at home, starting at 1 p.m.

Bloomfield won for the third time in its last four games, defeating Dayton High, 10-0, at The Pond, on April 20. After an 0-4 start, the Bengals are now 3-5.

The Bengals got a much needed win today. (Thanks again, to Jerry Simon. Click on photo for larger image) 







By mike051893

James’ solo homer in bottom of 6th lifts West Essex past Livingston, 1-0, as Vardiman and Gorman both pitch well; Cedar Grove’s Black and Gold Tournament set for April 21

Lily James’ prowess as a hitter generally revolves around scattering the ball into the gaps for extra base hits.

But in the midst of a scoreless game, at home, against arch rival Livingston, on April 18, L.J. did something she hadn’t accomplished at West Essex, hitting an over-the-fence homer. So when she connected on a pitch with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, she felt the ball had a chance to clear the fence.

“When I hit it, I thought it sounded good off the bat,” said James, who will play at Stockton University this fall, reuniting with one-time West Essex teammate Sami Huetter. “But as I’m running to first, I see their left fielder going back and running out of room, and then Coach (Andrea Mondadori-Llauget) said ‘it’s gone.’ I was really excited. We needed a run. Both pitchers were throwing the ball well.”

Lily James, with her mother, Anne and dad, Albert, after her solo homer won a big game for West Essex. (Click on photo for larger image)

James’ homer accounted for the game’s only run, as West Essex defeated Livingston, 1-0, in North Caldwell, in a Super Essex Conference American Division game. The win was the second straight for the Knights, which improved to 3-4 on the season. Livingston, which had won its last two games, fell to 2-3. The win was also the seventh straight for West Essex, over Livingston, dating back to 2015.

Pitchers Julia Vardiman of West Essex and Livingston’s Jess Gorman were both outstanding.

“That was a good game to coach,” said West Essex’s assistant coach Jay Ahmed. “Both pitchers threw well, there were no walks and the defense was excellent by both teams.”

Each pitcher scattered three hits. At one point, Vardiman retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out single in the seventh. She then retired the final two hitters to end the game.

Gorman retired 14 straight, before James’ homer in the sixth. She struck out five batters.

As James waited for parents, Anne and Albert after the game, a West Essex player walked by and proclaimed “Lily’s a stud!”

Could be…

The annual Black and Gold Softball Tournament at Cedar Grove will be held on Saturday, April 21. There are some outstanding teams participating.

The schedule is as follows:

At Field A, which is Panther Park.

Game 1: Johnson Regional vs. Pope John, 9 a.m.

Game 2: Lenape Valley vs DePaul, 11 a.m.

Game 3: Livingston vs. Immaculate Conception, 1 p.m.

Game 4: Newark Academy vs. Cedar Grove, 3 p.m.

Game 5: Immaculate Heart Academy vs. Cedar Grove, 5 p.m.


At Field B, L.R. Parks Field

Game 1: Immaculate Conception vs. Lenape Valley, 9 a.m. 

Game 2: Pope John vs. Livingston, 11 a.m.

Game 3: DePaul vs. Johnson Regional, 1 p.m.

Game 4: Immaculate Heart Academy vs. Watchung Hills, 3 p.m. 








By mike051893