Salinardo (HR, 2B, 2 RBI), Hassler, Goldman (3 RBI), Jordan Stephan and Alexa Stephan lead resilient 4-0 Columbia to SEC crossover win; Cedar Grove wins a close one in battle of top Essex teams; Bloomfield captures second straight, as Bretz (HR, 5 RBI), Corio, Quiles and Marte star

Columbia coach Cliff Smith thought he was witnessing deja vu a week later.

The Cougars coach had seen his team drop a 6-0 lead in a game at Millburn last week, only to watch Columbia rally with six runs in the seventh inning to win it.

Now, on April 17, Columbia had opened a 7-0 lead, at Nutley, in the fifth inning, before the Raiders stormed back to score five runs in the last of that frame. And again, resiliency had its say, as Claire Salinardo blasted a homer over the centerfield fence to lead off the top of the sixth, and the Cougars went on to a 10-5 Super Essex Conference cross over victory, which improved its record to 4-0 on the season.

“Yeah, I was thinking ‘here we go again’,” said Smith after the Nutley game. “You never count a team like Nutley out. They hit the ball, they’re so well coached and play hard. This was exactly what I wanted to see from our team today. Claire’s homer came at the right time. It’s a really big win for us.”

Columbia had come into the game ranked fifth in the FMTC Top 10, while Nutley was fourth. The seeding for the 41st Essex County Tournament should be announced some time next week, and Smith is hoping his team could get a higher seed.

Hudson Hassler, a talented sophomore shortstop, has been a key to Columbia’s 4-0 start. (Photo courtesy of Cliff Smith. Click on photo for larger image)

“There’s a lot to do before that,” said Smith. “We have a game with Belleville (on April 18) then at Newark Academy (April 20), two tournament games over the weekend and Montclair next Monday, at home. But this was a good step.”

The resiliency factor was also evident in that Columbia scored four of its runs, in three different innings, after two were out and no one on base.

Columbia scored first, in the top of the third. With two outs, Sophie Goldman drew a clutch walk and scored on a double by Salinardo. In the Columbia fourth, again with two outs, Paige Carlson reached on an error and later scored on a single by Cara Harrington and a subsequent passed ball.

The Cougars appeared to put the game away in the top of the fifth, as Hudson Hassler, Columbia’s stellar leadoff batter and shortstop, doubled to lead off the frame. Hassler moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a fielder’s choice by Goldman, who was safe at first. Salinardo drew a walk and winning pitcher Jordan Stephan singled in a run, to make it 4-0. Alexa Stephan followed with a hit to score a pair and Ally Krause hit a sacrifice fly to plate another run and give Columbia a 7-0 lead.

Nutley (2-4) rallied with five runs in the bottom of the fifth, on four hits, including a pair of doubles, and had the tying run at the plate, but Jordan Stephan struck out three in the frame and worked out of further damage.

Salinardo got one run back in the top of the sixth with her homer and Goldman hit a two-run single in the seventh, scoring Clementine Sherman and Hassler with insurance runs. Again, the two runs in the seventh came after two outs and none on base.



They are clearly the two best teams in Essex County so far in 2018, and the first of three possible games between Caldwell and Mount St. Dominic went to the Panthers, who rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to edge the Lions, 3-2, in nine innings, on April 17.

Mia Faieta pitched a complete game for Cedar Grove and also hit a solo homer to tie the game in the fifth inning. Kelly Toomey continued her outstanding play with a run-scoring double in the ninth which tied the game, 2-2, and led to Jules Cicala driving in the game-winning run later in the frame.

Fans won’t have to wait too long to see these teams play each other again. They’ll meet at Mount St. Dominic, on April 27.

In the meantime, both teams have big games coming up. Cedar Grove (7-2) has matchups with Newark Academy and Immaculate Heart Academy when its hosts the Black and Gold Tournament on April 21 while the Lions (4-4) play at Verona on April 18, then head to Ohio for the prestigious Wendy’s Invitational this weekend.



Bloomfield started slowly, losing its first four games, including three contests by a total of five runs, but the Bengals have come back strong, with two straight wins, in which it scored over 10 runs both times.

The Bengals downed long-time rival Belleville, 11-0, on April 17 and were to face a big test a day later, at Cedar Grove.

Katie Bretz slides into home against Belleville. (Bloomfield photos courtesy of Jerry Simon) 

Katie Bretz was 3-for-3 with 5 RBI and 3 runs scored, while winning pitcher Lexi Corio, Jamell Quiles and Melissa Marte had two hits each for the Bengals.

Corio spun a complete game, no-hit shutout.

Lexi Corio squares for a bunt in a win over Belleville. 


By mike051893

Coach Hill keeping it low-keyed, but Passaic Valley softball off to a good start, as Bernardo, Rodriguez, DiPasquale, Taylor Hill and Sol lead the way

Kathy Hill may not be a Bill Belichick advocate, but she certainly has the New England Patriots’ head coach mannerisms, when it comes to keeping the expectations somewhat modified.

The Hornets’ 3-1 start to the 2018 softball season clearly has Hill happy, but she also knows there’s a lot of big games ahead for her team.

Passaic Valley defeated Wayne Valley, 5-2, Wayne Hills, 12-1, and Fair Lawn, 5-0, to open the season last week, before dropping a hard-fought 5-4 game to West Milford, on April 9.

PV seniors, left to right, Monica Fontana, Sam Amico, Alyssa  Bernardo and Rachel Sol. (Click on photo for larger image)

The team had a busy week coming up, with a home game against Montclair on April 12, at 4 p.m., and then off to the Darlene Dondero Classic, on April 14, to play Clifton, in Wanaque, at 2:30 p.m. Looking ahead, the team will host Lakeland, on April 16 and Passaic, on April 18, with both games starting at 4 p.m.

This is Hill’s third season of her second tenure as the team’s head coach. When she returned in 2016, Hill had felt that the 2018 season could be the start of a good run for the program. And, so far, so good.

“We just want to stick to the plan,” said Hill. “And that’s to play the game with energy and good chemistry. I’ve seen that, so far. The kids have been really excited about the good start, and that’s nice to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with what I’m seeing, but I’ll keep saying the same thing. We have to stick to the plan.”

And while she didn’t say ‘we’re on to Cincinnati’, Hill is keeping the team’s good start close to the vest.

In the season opener against Wayne Valley, the Hornets were led by Jada Rodriguez, who was 2-for-4 with a double and RBI. Sam Amico, Brianna DeLuccia, Madison Leech and Rachel Sol also had hits for PV, with Leech’s hit a triple.

Alyssa Bernardo pitched a solid game for PV, spinning a complete-game, four-hitter and striking out five. The Hornets scored three times in the bottom of the third to break a 2-2 tie.

Versus Wayne Hills, Danielle Gaita had two hits and Devyn DiPasquale drove in a pair of runs, as PV opened a 12-0 lead after three innings. Bernardo and DiPasquale both pitched for PV, in the five inning game.

A big win over Fair Lawn, on April 7, was paced by a brilliant pitching effort from Bernardo, who tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout. DiPasquale and Sol had two hits each, with Sol driving in three runs and DiPasquale with two RBI. Freshman Taylor Hill scored a pair of runs and drew two walks.

Hill has also been pleased with the play of her four senior captains, Bernardo, Amico, Sol and Monica Fontana. The team lost the services of sophomore leftfielder Maiya Sanchez, who was injured in the season opener.

“We’re hoping to get her back this season,” said Hill of Sanchez. “She’s a good player, but, of course, we want her to be completely healthy.”

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Cedar Grove wins big games against Nutley and Chatham, as Toomey, Faieta, Fernandez, Kubu and Mandela star; Livingston rallies for 2 SEC wins; Zullo happy with her team’s progress; Columbia off to a 3-0 start with a young and talented infield; Luzzi’s speed at top of lineup gives Caldwell a new dimension; Collins and Corio lead Bloomfield to its first victory

Cedar Grove bounced back nicely from a pair of setbacks at the Anthony LaRezza Invitational on April 8, by defeating SEC rivals West Essex and Nutley, followed by an impressive victory last Saturday against Chatham.

The Panthers improved to 6-2 with those wins and showed versatility. The pitching was spectacular as Kelly Toomey spun two solid games against West Essex and Nutley, allowing a combined one run, while pitching no-hit ball versus Nutley, and Mia Faieta tossed a 1-hitter in the win over Chatham.

The Panthers’ offense, which has been impressive this season, was led by Ava Fernandez, Ava Mandela and Gianna Kubu, who singled in Fernandez with the game-winning run at Nutley on April 13.

Cedar Grove’s Kelly Toomey (left) and head coach Nicole Velardi. (Click on photo for larger image)

Fernandez had all three of her team’s hits in the win over Chatham and Kubu scored the game’s only run.

Weather permitting, the Panthers should be playing Mount St. Dominic this week, in a battle of the top two teams in Essex County, thus far. It will be the first of at least two meetings this season between the Panthers and Lions. A third matchup could occur in the 41st Essex County Tournament, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next month.



After losing its first two games to Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic, Livingston rallied back late last week with two exciting wins over Verona and Nutley. Head coach Jason Daily has stuck to his ‘catch the ball and hit the ball’ theory, and has stressed a emphasis on defense, long a Lancers staple to success.

Livingston has a young nucleus, to go along with solid veteran leadership in catcher Emma Cooney (the new ‘Charismatic‘) and shortstop Ashley Reuter. Pitcher Jess Gorman is a smart player, who can keep teams off balance with her pinpoint control.

Livingston coach Jason Daily addresses his team after an extra inning win at Nutley on April 14. (Click on photo for larger image)

Despite the near 80 degree temperatures at Nutley last Saturday morning, Daily wore his usual dark coaching attire, along with the always-present reflective sunglasses. He joked after the game that he probably lost a few pounds in the heat, but it was worth it since his team played well.



Her team had lost back-to-back close home games in the Super Essex Conference, but Nutley coach Luann Zullo was far from disappointed after Nutley’s 7-4 setback to Livingston, a day after falling to Cedar Grove, 3-2.

“I really like this group of players,” said Zullo. “They work hard. Do we make mistakes? Yes, but I’m also seeing a lot of improvement, too. We’re getting better and played well against two really good teams last week.”

Zullo also complimented Livingston, a team Nutley has long enjoyed a storied rivalry with.

“We have great games with Livingston. Jason always has his team prepared. I’ve coached against him for 18 years. We’ll battle for 7 tough innings, or sometimes more, then have a chance to talk afterward. He’s a great coach.”

Livingston and Nutley will play again on April 20, in Shangri La.



Columbia head coach Cliff Smith is seeing a lot of good things from a young team so far in 2018. The Cougars were off to a 3-0 start, including impressive wins against Westfield and Millburn. Versus Westfield, Columbia trailed 6-1 early, but rallied back to win, 8-7. Then, against Millburn, a day later, the Cougars opened a 6-0 lead, only to see Millburn come back to tie it, at 6. Columbia then won it, 12-6, with six runs in the top of the seventh inning.

“As a coach, seeing our team not get down after giving up a six run lead was good to see,” said Smith. “It’s one game, in a long season, but they’re all important.”

A sophomore-dominated infield gets better with each game. Hudson Hassler plays a stellar shortstop, Lucy Gagne has a rocket for an arm at third base, Alexa Stephan is a determined second baseman and Paige Carlson has tremendous range at first base.

In addition, Claire Salinardo, the team’s catcher against Westfield, threw out a base runner at second base, in the top of the seventh inning to end the game. Pitcher Jordan Stephan throws strikes. The senior is also a key leader of the team.



Nicolette Luzzi, a sophomore with good speed, is Caldwell’s new leadoff hitter. Luzzi’s wheels were a key, as the Chiefs edged Verona, 2-1, in Caldwell’s season opener on April 10. The right-handed batter hit a triple to the opposite field to lead off the bottom of the sixth, then stole home for what proved to be the game-winning run.

Taylor Stafford hit a solo homer for Caldwell in the bottom of the first and pitcher Carlie Corrigan tossed a complete game.

Caldwell will once again be in the mix to win a Super Essex Conference Liberty Division title.



After starting 0-4, including three losses by a combined 5 runs, Bloomfield got back on track on April 14, with a 12-3 win at Union City.

Bloomfield pitcher Lexi Corio is now sporting a face mask while in the circle. Photo by The Great Jerry Simon. (Click on photo for larger image)

Sophomore pitcher Lexi Corio pitched a complete game and Kristina Collins, a talented outfielder, had three hits, including a double, three RBI and two runs scored. Corio struck out six and scattered six hits.



1-Mount St. Dominic (4-3)

2-Cedar Grove (6-2)

3-Livingston (2-2)

4-Nutley (2-3)

5-Columbia (3-0)

6-Caldwell (3-1)

7-Millburn (6-2)

8-West Essex (2-4) 

9-Newark Academy (2-2) 

10-(Tie) Verona (1-4) and Montclair (3-3) 

By mike051893

Toomey spins a 2-hitter, drives in 3 runs to lead Cedar Grove past West Essex; Hail Columbia! Cougars win again and improve to 3-0, as Hassler (grand-slam), Salinardo and John excel; Conca, Kunz and Fogle guide Nutley past Bloomfield

Senior lefty Kelly Toomey had a brilliant game, as Cedar Grove defeated West Essex, 8-1, on April 11, at Panther Park.

Toomey, who earlier in the day announced she will attend the University of North Carolina-Wilmington this fall, gave up just two hits while striking out seven and walking one. At the plate, she was 2-for-3 with 3 RBI, including a 2-run double in the second inning, when Cedar Grove jumped out to 3-0 lead.

The Panthers scored two more runs in the third, due in part to some West Essex miscues and some clutch Cedar Grove batting to move base runners over. Toomey drove in her third run in the fifth inning when Cedar Grove scored three more runs.

Kelly Toomey and head coach Nicole Velardi after a Cedar Grove win on April 11. (Click on photo for larger image)

Toomey has been a consistent pitcher for the Panthers over the last four years. As a freshman in 2015, she pitched a complete game in the Group 1 championship, at Kean University, as Cedar Grove defeated Henry Hudson for its first state championship in 38 years. Her pinpoint control has long been a key to her success.

“Kelly is a tough competitor,” said Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi. “She works the corners well and has tremendous movement on the ball.”

Cedar Grove improved to 4-2 while West Essex fell to 1-3. The Knights lone run came in the sixth, as Jessica Coia doubled home Lily James. Rightfielder Amanda Broemmer of West Essex made the defensive play of the game with a tremendous catch in right field, with a perfect slide to shoe string the ball. She was also able to hold a runner at third from tagging and scoring on the play.

“West Essex has given us fits over the years,” said Velardi. “They have such a good program. This was a good win for us. I think our team is doing well. We’re getting better, with each game. We’ll play a good Nutley team on Friday, then face Chatham at home, on Saturday. Next week, there are more tough games coming up.”

The win snapped a 6-game losing streak by Cedar Grove to West Essex, dating back three years. Cedar Grove last defeated the Knights, 5-4, on April 22, 2015. West Essex swept three games from the Panthers in 2016 and 2017.

Columbia improved to 3-0 on the season with a 12-6 win over Millburn, in Millburn. Head coach Cliff Smith’s team has been impressive in the early going, as well as resilient. The Cougars led 6-0 against Millburn, only to see the Millers rally back to tie it, before Columbia won it with six runs in the top of the seventh inning.

The Cougars play an inspired brand of softball and today, were led by shortstop Hudson Hassler, who had three hits, including a grand-slam homer and drove in five runs. Claire Salinardo was 4-for-5 with three runs scored and Catherine John had two hits and drove in three runs.

Nutley got back on the winning track, with a 4-2 victory over Bloomfield. The Raiders improved to 2-1 while Bloomfield, which has lost three games by a combined five runs, fell to 0-3.

Melanie Conca and Sydney Kunz paced the Nutley offense while Isabella Fogle pitched a solid game.



By mike051893

Caldwell finally plays a regular season game, and wins a thriller, as Luzzi, Stafford and Corrigan star

In the history of Essex County softball, no program has won more games, or more county championships, than Caldwell High.

As the 2018 season begins, the Chiefs are optimistic about a good season in the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) Liberty Division. And to add to that statement, the Chiefs won its season opener, on April 10, against an SEC American squad, edging a very good Verona team, 2-1, in a night game.

Ten days after it was supposed to play a regular season game, the Chiefs had finally gotten on the field, after a rash of bad weather. Coach Mark Teshkoyan said the team hadn’t used its home field for nearly two weeks, before getting a chance to practice a day before playing Verona.

Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan (left) and Mark Teshkoyan have coached over 1,000 wins at Caldwell, in softball and soccer. (Click on photo for larger image)

Caldwell coaches Mike Teshkoyan and Mark Teshkoyan enter their 32nd season at the helm with an aggressive team, good pitching from Carlie Corrigan, consistent hitting from Taylor Stafford, and bolstered by sophomore transfer, and leadoff batter, Nicolette Luzzi.

Stafford homered in the bottom of the first, over the centerfield fence, to give Caldwell (1-0) an early 1-0 lead. Corrigan worked hard to keep a strong Verona team at bay throughout the game, inducing a number of come backers to the circle for outs at first base. And runs would be hard to come by for the Chiefs, too, as Verona pitcher Christina Colon gives up runs as freely as tossing a manhole cover.

“We got real good pitching from Carlie,” said Mike Teshkoyan. “There are no easy runs against a pitcher like Colon, too. She’s tough.”

Verona (1-4) would tie the game, 1-1, in the fourth, taking advantage of a one-out error and following through with three hits, including an RBI single by Carlie Goldstein, which scored Melanie Naeris. The Hillbillies out hit Caldwell, 5-4, with Colon picking up two of those hits, while also drawing an intentional walk.

With the game tied in the bottom of the sixth, Luzzi set the stage for a dramatic finish. She drilled a pitch to the opposite field and darted to third base for a lead off triple. Luzzi’s speed was certainly impressive, reminiscent of the great Kylie McLaughlin of Livingston, who made a habit of turning singles into triples.

Luzzi then took off on a delayed steal and swiped home for the go-ahead run.

“That was all her,” said Mike Teshkoyan afterward. “I didn’t call it. Nicolette knows the game well, saw an opportunity and took advantage. To be honest, it was a good move. With the way Colon was pitching, a run may have been hard to come by.”

Corrigan finished her complete game in the top of the seventh, and got a little help from the defense, with the final out a throw to third that caught a baserunner to finish the contest.

Corrigan scattered five hits, struck out four and walked two. Stafford collected two of Caldwell’s three hits.

Colon was outstanding, as well, fanning 11, walking none and proving again what a tremendous all-around player she’s become.

Just another day, or in this case, night, in the SEC.



By mike051893

Columbia, off to a 2-0 start, could be a big factor in balanced SEC Liberty Division, thanks to a talented sophomore-dominated infield, good pitching and aggressiveness at the plate

Columbia High softball coach Cliff Smith keeps a pretty even temperament, through wins and losses. So, as his team was off to a 2-0 start after an exciting come-from-behind win over Westfield on April 10, Smith took a few moments to smile, then congratulate an enthusiastic group of young players.

The Cougars rallied from an early 6-1 deficit to edge Westfield, 8-7, in Maplewood.

The bad weather put a crimp into the first week of the regular season, but with better forecasts in the immediate future, the teams should be able to make up a bunch of games, as well as maintain a busy schedule for the next six weeks.

Head coach Cliff Smith delivers a game ball as his team cheers following win against Westfield on April 10. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Teams without turf were in a bind, early on,” said Smith. “But things are coming around. Our field has been in good shape, and the kids are excited about the season.”

Smith, who can easily be confused with Livingston head coach Jason Daily, both in appearance and mannerisms in the coaching box, has a very young team, including a stellar infield, which is comprised of sophomores.

Versus Westfield, the Cougars were on their heals early as the Union County school swung the bats freely, especially in the first three innings, as the Blue Devils picked up seven hits, and took advantage of a few Columbia errors to open a 6-1 advantage.

Columbia is sporting a Cleveland Indians-type look with its caps this year. 

“Westfield didn’t take many strikes,” said Smith, with a chuckle. “They swung the bats, and to be honest, we needed that. We needed to adjust, stay focused and not get away from what makes us good. And, in the end, we did that.”

Columbia pitcher Jordan Stephan settled into a groove after the third and allowed just one run the rest of the game, while scattering four hits.

“Jordan throws strikes,” said Smith. “She didn’t didn’t change her approach in the early innings, which was good. She didn’t get frustrated, and stayed the course. That was encouraging.”

Down, 5-0, in the second, Columbia got a run back on a double by Stephan and later, a sacrifice fly by Cara Harrington. After falling behind 6-1, the Cougars scored four times in the bottom of that frame. Leadoff batter Hudson Hassler laced a double in the gap and Sophie Goldman followed with a single, putting runners on the corners. A wild pitch moved Goldman to second and Claire Salinardo walked to load the bases, with no outs. Stephan drove in a run when she reached safely on a fielder’s choice and Alexa Stephan drilled a 2-run double to make it 6-4. Clementine Sherman later walked with the bases loaded to force in the fourth run of the frame.

Columbia tied it in the fourth when Alexa Stephan drove in Goldman, who had led off with a bunt single, with a single of her own.

Westfield pulled ahead in the fifth, 7-6, and Columbia won it in the last of the sixth, scoring both runs with two outs, highlighted by Alexa Stephan’s fourth RBI of the game to plate Jordan Stephan with the winning run.

Columbia’s defense was paced by a talented infield. Hassler plays a stellar shortstop, Lucy Gagne has a rocket for an arm at third base, Alexa Stephan is a determined second baseman and Paige Carlson has tremendous range at first base.

In addition, Salinardo, the team’s catcher against Westfield, threw out a base runner at second base, in the top of the seventh inning to end the game.

Smith knows the season will present plenty of challenges.

“The SEC Liberty is good,” said Smith. “Every game will be important. We play Millburn next, and they’re very good. Newark Academy is solid, Caldwell is always tough, Montclair is playing well. We have to take care of our business. I try and set up as tough an out-of-conference schedule, as possible, because it will only help us as the season progresses.”





By mike051893

Essex softball: A reflective, and always competitive Daily takes stock, as a new season begins; Mount St. Dominic is still #1 in Essex, and will host a great tourney this weekend; Livingston’s Emma Cooney a ‘Charismatic’ player; Verona’s Colon stymies Bloomfield in season opener; West Essex wins, as James and Vardiman excel; Allen LaRezza enjoying softball, now as an umpire; Those Corios know how to make a big-time catch; IHA’s Yatko dives over CF fence to deny a homer

In his 19th season as head softball coach at Livingston High, Jason Daily has seen more than his share of successes, including multiple Essex County and Super Essex Conference titles as well as state sectional crowns. He’s won over 300 games for the Lancers.

With a new season, and a young team, Daily took a few minutes after his squad’s season-opening game at Cedar Grove to contemplate where this team is, and where it could be.

Jason Daily, in a light moment with a ‘Daily cutout’ after the coach won his 300th career game at LHS, in 2016. (Click on photo for larger image)

“We are young, but it still comes down to catching and the hitting the ball, simple as that,” said Daily. “We’ll get better, no doubt. I just want these kids to compete to the level they’re capable of.”

When Daily first started coaching, in 2001, his daughter was a toddler, and his son wasn’t born yet. Now, he has a daughter thriving in college and a son who is a sophomore in high school. And like many coaches, he juggles the time commitment to coach along with being a proactive parent.

“Goes by quick,” Daily said with a smile. “It really does. I’m so proud of my kids, for sure.”

Livingston had quite a run, from 2012-2014, as it dominated Essex County. At one point, the Lancers were 48-1 against Essex County opponents.

Mount St. Dominic Academy has put together a similar run, beginning midway through the 2014 season and extending into the early stages this year. At one point, the Mount won 35 straight against Essex teams, from April 2014 through April 2016, before a 1-0 loss to Nutley. The Lions are 56-4 against Essex-based schools overall, in the last four years, as well as winning three Essex County Tournament championships and a state crown in that span.

MSDA will host its annual tournament this Saturday, with some tremendous teams participating. And the weather should be perfect, with temperatures expected to be near 80 degrees. (Finally !)

Athletic director and head softball coach Lorenzo Sozio does an incredible job putting the Lions Softball Invitational together.

Livingston’s senior catcher Emma Cooney has been hitting the ball well, and is phenomenal on defense. She hit a double and homered in a game against Cedar Grove last week. In stud talk, she’s the new ‘Charismatic.’

Emma Cooney (right), here with Bridget Betley after a game last spring, is a dominant player for Livingston. 

The ‘other’ Charismatic. 

Bloomfield pitcher Lexi Corio has thrown the ball well in her first two games this season, but fell short in a 2-1 loss to Verona and a 4-2 setback against West Essex. Corio made an incredible catch of a line drive by West Essex’s Julia Vardiman, reminding many of the great catches Lexi’s older sister, Samantha, made when she wore the Bengals uniform from 2013-2016.

Verona pitcher Christina Colon has been outstanding in the circle, including a no-hitter, with 17 strikeouts in a season opening win against Bloomfield.

Lily James and Vardiman clearly make West Essex tick, and the two captains were key as the Knights rallied past Bloomfield, 4-2, on April 9, for the team’s first win of the season. James made an incredible throw to home plate to stop a potential Bloomfield run and was also outstanding at the plate. Vardiman has handled the pitching chores well, and is also a stud at the plate. West Essex lost six key starters from last year’s outstanding team.

Lily James (right) is a senior captain for West Essex this season. (Click on photo for larger image) 

Allen LaRezza, the older brother of the late Anthony LaRezza, has been a regular at Immaculate Heart Academy softball games since Anthony died in early 2016. Older brother, Joe LaRezza has also been at the games, as both men honor their youngest brother, who, of course, was a legend at IHA for many years. (Joe and Allen have thrown out the first pitch at the tournament which honors Anthony’s legacy and memory).

The LaRezza brothers have done a great job in supporting IHA softball in honor of their youngest brother, Anthony. (Click on photo for larger image) 

Recently, Allen told me he was taking up umpiring softball games. For a guy who was never that involved with the game, it’s certainly great to see Allen not only supporting IHA, but also giving back to a game that Anthony obviously loved.

Speaking of IHA, senior centerfielder Danica Yatko made an incredible catch for the Eagles, diving over the fence and holding on to what would have been a home run, in a game against Donovan Catholic, ironically at the Anthony LaRezza Invitational on April 8. Danica will be attending San Diego State in the fall.

Danica Yatko. 

Danica’s catch deprived Donovan Catholics’ Karina Gaskins of a homer. Yatko and Gaskins were teammates on the Intensity summer softball team.

And speaking of Donovan Catholic? Wow ! They are good. Not an easy out in that lineup, great pitching and tremendous defense.

The first FMTC, Top 10, for 2018. It’s a little crazy this week, since a lot of teams are just starting to play after all the bad weather.

1-Mount St. Dominic (1-1)

2-Cedar Grove (3-2)

3-Verona (1-3)

4-West Essex (1-2)

5-Nutley (1-1)

6-Bloomfield (0-2)

7-Millburn (3-1)

8-Newark Academy (1-2)

9-Livingston (0-1) 

10-Montclair (3-1) 






By mike051893

Essex Softball: Nutley edges Teaneck, 7-6, as Zullo begins her 20th season at NHS; Conca (HR), Hergenhan (3 hits), Wilde and Fogle excel

An exciting, and somewhat hectic trip to Florida in March was followed by a good performance from the Nutley High softball team, in its season opener on March 31, on a beautiful morning, in Nutley.

Head coach Luann Zullo’s team edged a feisty Teaneck squad, 7-6. The bad weather postponed a few league games earlier this week. On April 6, the team’s first road game takes it to West Essex, at 4 p.m. On April 9, Nutley plays at Mount St. Dominic and on April 11, the Raiders are back home to play Bloomfield. Both of those games are also at 4 p.m.

Nutley had the good fortune of playing nearly a week of softball in Florida, while the Northeast was inundated with snow and wind. The team’s expected return home was pushed back nearly two days because of a snow storm.

“It was a little hectic, but it all worked out,” said Zullo. “The weather was good in Florida, and we got a lot of work in, which helped. Our flight home got pushed back a few days, but we got home in good shape. I’ll tell you this much, this is a great group of kids to work with. They’re very coach able and don’t let things bother them. I couldn’t be happier.”

Zullo is beginning her 20th season at Nutley and 23rd as a head softball coach, having spent three seasons at West Essex. She’s the only coach in Essex County history to win a county title at two different schools.

Versus Teaneck last Saturday, Nutley opened an early 4-1 lead in the first inning, then held on as Teaneck battled back.

Nutley coach Luann Zullo, with players (left to right) Jillian Stack, Jackie Caruso and Isabella Fogle. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Teaneck was good,” said Zullo. “They’re well coached, very athletic and aggressive. I liked the way we hit the ball, too, and we played pretty good defense.”

The Raiders spotted the Highwaymen a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, then scored four in the last of the inning, which included a two-run homer by Melanie Conca. Teaneck’s left fielder actually made a tremendous play on the ball, but when she ran into the fence, the ball popped out of her glove and went over the wall.

Winning pitcher Coutney Wilde added a double in the first inning and Alexa Hergenhan drove in a run with the first of her three singles in the game. Hergenhan reached base in all four of her plate appearances.

“She’s a good player,” said Zullo of Hergenhan, who also scored twice. “We have a lot of kids who continue to get better with each day. I feel very good, even with the tough schedule we’ll play this year, that this team can do a lot of good things this season.”

Nutley extended its lead to 7-1 after four innings, but Teaneck made it interesting, scoring three times in the sixth and twice more in the seventh. Sophomore pitcher Isabella Fogle did a good job in relief to earn the save.

“Courtney pitched a good game,” said Zullo of Wilde. “She always gives us a good effort. And then Isabella came in and threw the ball well. Isabella has come along nicely, and her pitching will be important for us.”

Conca had two hits and scored two runs in the game and Jackie Caruso played an excellent defensive game in right field.

“It’s one game,” said Zullo. “But it was certainly a good start for us. I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can do this year.”

By mike051893

Finally on the field, Cedar Grove wins, 10-0, as Faieta spins another no-no, with a little ‘Chrome’, Ava Mandela has 3 hits and Brittany Taylor excels at 3B; Panthers welcome Coach Cheryl Marion Zenobi

In the winter that never ends, the Cedar Grove High softball team finally got a chance to get outside and play a game that counts in the standings.

And behind a no-hitter from junior righty Mia Faieta, the Panthers won a 10-0 decision over Hackettstown, in a 6-inning game on April 4, at Panther Park, under sunny skies and a steady wind.

Faieta’s last regular season home game was last May 26, when she shutout North Warren, 4-0, in a state sectional semifinal game. That was of course, when Faieta spun a perfect game, in every conceivable way, fanning all 21 batters she faced.

Mia Faieta (left) and head Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi hope they won’t be wearing wool hats too much longer this spring. (Click on photo for larger image)

Check out the highlights of that game, below.

This time around, Faieta, AKA California Chrome, was just happy to be outside and playing.

Mia, here with her parents, Fran and Paul, will play at St. John’s University, starting in the fall of 2019. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Oh yeah, for sure,” said the effervescent Faieta. “It was great to play a game. We were a little nervous at the beginning, but that was a good thing. We’ve only been outside two times since the start of practice. We had a few scrimmages, but for the most part, it’s been sharing gym time with the other spring sports teams. We made the best of it, but this winter has been almost impossible.”

Faieta was quick to credit her defense.

Brittany Taylor made a great play at third base,” said Faieta, of the sophomore, who made a quick start on a bunt and threw the runner out of first base to preserve the no-hitter.

Bound for St. John’s University in the fall of 2019, Faieta struck out 16 and walked two in the season opener.

Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi was also pleased to get a game in.

“We were so tired of being inside,” said Velardi of the multiple nor’easters that socked the East Coast in March and again in early April. “The kids wanted to play, and it was nice to be outside.”

Ava Mandela was 3-for-5 for the Panthers, with three RBI and Jules Cicala drove in a pair of runs.

Cedar Grove also has a new assistant coach in Cheryl Marion Zenobi, a long time Belleville High educator and graduate. Velardi, also a Belleville High grad, has known Zenobi for a long time.

“It’s so good to have her with us,” said Velardi. “Cheryl is really enjoying it. She was once a head coach at Belleville, in two sports (basketball and softball) and her knowledge is a plus for us.”

Cheryl Marion Zenobi is the newest addition to the Cedar Grove coaching staff. (Click on photo for larger image)

Cedar Grove will remain home for a game against Livingston, on April 6, in the team’s first Super Essex Conference game of the season.

Weather permitting, of course.


By mike051893