Essex softball: Season starting to wind down, as NJSIAA tourney kicks into high gear; Cedar Grove wins 41st ECT as Fernandez, Kubu and Faieta star; Columbia with a come-from-behind win over Caldwell, as Jordan Stephan drives in winning runs; Reuter and Cooney both pick up their 100th career hits, in the same inning, no less

The great Anthony LaRezza once made what I like to call the “Memorial Day Speech”, back in 2010. His message was simple, a high school softball team’s season could easily end before Memorial Day weekend, so taking any game ‘off’ could come back to play a factor in late May.

As long as the winter season seems, the spring campaign flies by. And this year, with all the bad weather, makes it seem that much faster. So, here we are, with Memorial Day weekend approaching. The 41st Essex County Tournament is in the books, as the two best teams in the county met for the crown last weekend.

The NJSIAA Tournament is underway. And while a loss in the state tourney essentially ends a team’s season, there are also some key SEC games that will decide conference championships over the next week.

Among the Essex County teams that could make a deep run in the state tourney are Cedar Grove, the defending Group 1 champions, Mount St. Dominic, the 2014 Non-Public A champ who can play with anyone, with good pitching and some tremendous bats and Newark Academy, who is playing well and are motivated to win, in Non-Public B.

Never count Livingston out in North 1, Group 4, as the Lancers won the 2016 crown and seem to playing its best softball of the season. Caldwell and Verona were scheduled to meet in a sectional quarterfinal, as were Millburn and Columbia, so two of those teams are assured of at least a semifinal berth this Friday.

Speaking of Livingston, congratulations to seniors Emma Cooney and Ashley Reuter on collecting their 100th career hits. And to make it even more interesting, both players got the magical hit in the same game, and the same inning, as Livingston won at Bergen Tech, in the first round of the state tourney last week.

Livingston coach Jason Daily is flanked by the latest 100 hit players in Emma Cooney (left) and Ashley Reuter. Both young ladies are headed to college to play athletically. Cooney will play softball at Willam Paterson and Reuter plans to play soccer at Northeastern University. (Click on photo for larger image)

Columbia and Caldwell played an exciting game last Friday, with the Cougars rallying from 2-1 down in the bottom of the seventh to edge the Chiefs, 3-2, Jordan Stephan, a senior, stepped up big, hitting the game-winning, 2-run single to plate the winning runs. Jordan’s younger sister, Alexa, was the on-deck batter and Jordan said afterward she didn’t want her sister to have to deal with winning the game.

Columbia could win the conference title with another win over Caldwell, this Friday, but it won’t be easy.

One of Essex County’s all-time best softball coaches, Carl Corino, was back in town for the ECT final and joined his former player and later assistant coach, at Belleville, Cheryl Marion afterward. Marion is now an assistant coach at Cedar Grove and Corino enjoyed a nice moment as Marion and the Panthers celebrated a hard-fought county championship over the defending champion, Mount St. Dominic.

Carl Corino and Cheryl Marion, following the 2018 ECT softball final, at Ivy Hill Park. (Click on photo for larger image)

Corino won 507 games in 25 seasons at Belleville, from 1980-2005. He led the Bucs to three county titles, as well as 12 appearances in the ECT final and 16 trips to the ECT’s ‘Final Four.’

In the county final, Mia Faieta pitched an excellent game for the Panthers while Gianna Kubu drove in the game-winning run and Ava Fernandez continued her MVP-type season with some key hits, as well as scoring the winning run. It was Cedar Grove’s fifth county title and first in eight years.  It was the first time the Panthers defeated the Lions in the ECT finals, in four tries.

Faieta also joined her mom, Fran, as a county softball champ at Cedar Grove. The same is also true of Cedar Grove’s Chloe Weinstein, whose older sister, Briana and mother, Kim, were county champs for the Panthers. Briana was on the 2010 title team while Kim and Fran played on the 1984 Panthers. (See article for more info).

Here’s the updated FMTC Top 10.

1-Cedar Grove (21-5): The Panthers won its first ECT crown in eight years and are the top seed in the state sectional, as coach Nicole Velardi’s team looks to repeat as state champions. Cedar Grove has won two of the past three Group 1 titles and a talented group of seniors hope to make it three state championships soon. Cedar Grove pitching had accounted for four straight shutouts, through May 21, and five in the last six games.

2-Mount St. Dominic (21-6) : The Lions will face a good Paramus Catholic squad in the first round of the state sectionals and, with a win, would most likely take on Immaculate Heart Academy, in the North Non-Public A semifinal, on May 29, at IHA.

3-Verona (10-12): The HIllbillies were slated to play at Caldwell in the state sectionals. The teams met early in the regular season, with Caldwell winning, 2-1. Verona has faced a tough schedule, however, and are always a challenge with Christina Colon pitching.

4-Newark Academy (9-9): This team has to be buoyed by a strong run in the ECT, as the Minutemen made it to the semifinals for the first time in six years. Head coach Sergio Rodriguez’s team is seeded second in the North, Non-Public B.

5-West Essex (8-12): The Knights have played well this season. They were eliminated from the NJSIAA tourney in 10 innings on May 21, and are hoping to win a few regular season games to conclude its year. Lily James is winding up a tremendous 4-year career in red, black and white. She’ll play at Stockton University this fall, reuniting with former teammate Sami Huetter.

Lily James put together a tremendous season for West Essex in 2018, as her parents witnessed. (Click on photo for larger image)

6-Livingston (10-11): The Lancers are gearing for a run toward a second sectional title in the last three years and fourth in six years.

7-Columbia (15-7): Head coach Cliff Smith has the Cougars playing  well, with an SEC Liberty Division crown within reach, as well as a possible run in the state sectionals.

8-Millburn (17-8): The Millers were scheduled to play Columbia in a sectional quarterfinal. The teams split two regular season games in the SEC Liberty Division.

9-Caldwell (15-6): Another solid season for this long time successful program. Caldwell was slated to host Verona in a sectional quarterfinal game and also hopes to hang another banner as a conference champion.

10-Nutley (10-12): Raiders were eliminated in state tournament, and while the 2018 campaign is pretty much concluded, there’s a lot of excitement, already, about how good this team could be over the next few years, with some talented freshmen set to join a good nucleus of returning players.

By mike051893

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