Belleville football coach Jermain Johnson announces his new coaching staff for 2018

He’s had the job now for about two months, and Jermain Johnson is very pleased with the way things are going now that he’s the head football coach at Belleville High.

Johnson recently named his coaching staff, which includes some familiar names.

“I’m really happy with the coaching staff,” said Johnson, a Bloomfield native who was the defensive coordinator the past five seasons at Wayne Hills. “I did all the interviews and am very confident with my choices. They’re great guys, hard working, and most of all, are all-in when it comes to Belleville, these kids and what I want to accomplish.”

Jermain Johnson (left), here with Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly during a 2013 football clinic at Belleville High, is now the new head coach at BHS.

Eric Magrini, who most recently worked with Johnson at Wayne Hills will be the offensive coordinator. Magrini was a standout player at Wayne Hills and later played at Montclair State. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Montclair State Hall of Fame. Magrini and Johnson both played at Montclair State.

“Eric and I obviously go back a while,” said Johnson. “He was a dynamic player in high school, and college, knows the offensive side of the ball really well and will do a great job.”

Joe DiGiacomo, who worked with Johnson when the latter was head coach at Paterson Eastside, will coach middle linebackers and the offensive line this season.

“Joe recently coached the offensive line at Paterson Kennedy,” said Johnson ,”He’s another guy I have a lot of trust in. We’ve worked together in the past and he’s excited about coming here.”

Belleville High head wrestling coach Joe Pizzi is also on the staff. Pizzi, who was an assistant coach on the previous football staff for the Bucs, will lead the special teams.

“Joe is a great young coach, already, in wrestling and he knows these kids well,” said Johnson. “He teaches in the school system and when I met with him, it was an easy decision to bring him on board.”

The staff also features familiar names in Chris Balz, Dan Giangrande and Nick Giangrande.

“Dan and Nick both played at Belleville,” said Johnson. “They’re tremendous young men, and hard working. Our kids will relate to both well. Chris is a good young coach, who can do a lot for this team.”

Belleville opens the regular season in early September, but there’s plenty of work to do before that.

“We can begin working with the kids on June 11,” said Johnson. “There’s a busy summer coming up, with 7-on-7’s in July, then before you know it, we put the pads on, in August. In the meantime, the kids are working hard in the weight room. We had over 30 kids in the other day. I had my first parents meeting and I couldn’t be happier with the support I received from them.

“Our Booster Club is excited about the team, as well. I’ve gotten nothing but tremendous encouragement from everyone in town. There’s a lot to do, but I’ll tell you this much, with the coaching staff in place, and with a good work ethic, we have a chance to do some good things this coming season.”


By mike051893

Gilchrist spins a shutout and hits her first varsity homer, as IHA wins 11th straight; Fernandez ‘Justifies’ her marvelous talent, with 100th career hit; Mount St. Dominic continues to roll; Nutley defeats Bloomfield, as Fogle stars; Bengals’ Jones a stalwart behind plate; Columbia’s Jordan Stephan and Bloomfield’s Collins each collect their 100th hits

Lindsay Gilchrist has quietly put together a solid season for Immaculate Heart Academy. The junior added to that success with an outstanding all-around game, pitching a complete-game shutout and hitting a homer, as IHA downed Ridgewood, 7-0, on May 8, in Ridgewood.

Gilchrist struck out eight, walked one and gave up just five hits. Her homer, over the left centerfield fence, was her first varsity round tripper.

The win was the 11th straight for IHA (15-5). During that run, IHA pitching has accounted for nine shutouts. Ryleigh White, playing her first varsity game in right field, hit two more homers, and a double. Citation also drove in three runs for the Eagles. Sophomores Ashlynn Corra and Cat Thomas each had a pair of hits and second baseman Emily Gyongiosi hit a double for the Eagles.

Lindsay Gilchrist, here with her mother, Jeanine and dad, Geoffrey, along with the family’s best friend, after a big time performance on May 8, at Ridgewood. (Click on photo for larger image)

Congratulations to Cedar Grove’s Ava Fernandez, who got her 100th career hit in a game at Mount St. Dominic, on May 8. Fernandez, a senior who missed a lot of the 2017 season with an illness, has been a catalyst to Cedar Grove’s solid season this year. Her return to the lineup down the stretch of last season helped the Panthers to qualify for the first-ever NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, after winning the Group 1 title. Fernandez, along with fellow Cedar Grove senior Kelly Toomey hope to be a part of three state championship teams at Cedar Grove, sometime next month.

As far as a softball ‘stud’, call Ava ‘Justify.’

Ava Fernandez celebrates an impressive milestone. She will play at Springfield College beginning this fall. Photo courtesy of the Fernandez family. (Click on photo for larger image).

The other ‘Justify’.

Mount St. Dominic is certainly the hottest team in Essex County softball. The Lions won its ninth straight game on May 8, downing arch rival Cedar Grove, 6-2, in Caldwell, to improve to 15-5. The win also avenged an earlier loss to the Panthers. Cedar Grove and Mount St. Dominic are tied for first in the Super Essex Conference’s elite American Division.

Dani Dabroski had a huge game for Mount St. Dominic, with two hits, including a triple, and three RBI and Sarah Taffett homered and drove in a pair of runs.

Mount St. Dominic is looking to repeat as Essex County Tournament champions, for the third time, as well as winning the eighth county crown in the program’s history, later this month. MSDA has won seven titles in the last 22 seasons. Only Caldwell has repeated as a county champion on three different occasions.

Nutley got back on the winning track with an impressive 9-1 win, at Bloomfield, in a night game on May 7. The Raiders improved to 9-10 on the season. Brianna Cruz and Alexa Hergenhan each had two hits for Nutley, which opened a 5-0 lead after one inning. Isabella Fogle was outstanding the circle, pitching a complete game for the Raiders. Fogle struck out six and walked three while scattering five hits.

Bloomfield’s Lexi Corio hit a homer in the bottom of the sixth inning while Corio’s batterymate, Rachel Jones, played an excellent defensive game behind the plate. At one point, Nutley assistant coach Mike DiPiano turned around and said, from the dugout, “She (Jones) is tremendous. She makes all the plays.”

Speaking of Bloomfield, centerfielder and team captain Kristina Collins picked her 100th career hit, on May 8, at North Bergen. Collins, a senior, had three hits against North Bergen and has 101 for her career. Melissa Marte pitched a complete game for the Bengals, allowing just one hit and Corio and Jamell Quiles, both sophomores had three hits each.

Bloomfield players congratulate teammate Kristina Colllins on her 100th career hit. (Photo courtesy of Joe Corio. Click on photo for larger image)

May 8 was also a big day for Columbia High senior Jordan Stephan, who collected her 100th career hit for the Cougars.





By mike051893

Essex Softball: HUGE weekend nears, as ECT quarters return to one site for first time since 2009, at Verona; Cedar Grove, MSDA remain atop rankings; ‘Serging’ Newark Academy cracks Top 10; Big Green Machine, Millburn, West Essex, Verona and Columbia making a move

For the first time since 2009, the quarterfinal round of the Essex County Tournament will be held at one venue, on Saturday May 12.

The last time that happened, Bloomfield’s Pulaski Park was the host. Now, it will be Verona’s turn, on its turf field, right by Verona High. Fans can come to Verona at 9 a.m., and spend the entire day watching four excellent games. It should be a real exciting day of softball, beginning with fourth-seeded Verona taking on fifth seeded Columbia. These two generally play very close, low-scoring games.

The other games on May 12 will feature top-seeded Cedar Grove against ninth-seeded Livingston, second-seeded and defending champion Mount St. Dominic taking on 10th-seeded Millburn and third-seeded West Essex facing a ‘Serging‘ Newark Academy squad, which is seeded 11th.

Here is the updated FMTC Top 10.

1-Cedar Grove (13-4) Panthers got a tremendous game from Mia Faieta, who fanned all 15 batters she faced in a first round ECT game, on May 5. Kelly Toomey is also a marvelous pitcher, giving Cedar Grove two tremendous options in the circle.

Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta pitched a no-hitter against Verona, on May 1, then fanned all 15 hitters she faced on May 5. (Click on photo for larger image)

2-Mount St. Dominic (13-5) Lions are on a major roll, with seven straight wins through May 6, all by double digits, including a win over last year’s TOC finalist, Lodi Immaculate.

3-West Essex (7-7) Never count this team out, as long as Julia Vardiman is pitching and Lily James’ intensity burns brightly.

West Essex captains Lily James (left) and Julia Vardiman. (Click on photo for larger image)

4-Verona (8-8) Hillbillies are one of those teams no one wants to face in a tournament game. Christina Colon is pitching beautifully. If the bats come around, watch out.

The imposing delivery of junior righty Christina Colon makes Verona a very tough team for the rest of the season. (Photo courtesy of Angela Salisbury. Click on photo for larger image)

5-Millburn (15-4) The 10th seeded Millers won an exciting game over seventh seeded Caldwell in an ECT game last weekend. Millburn gaining a lot of confidence with each game.

6-Columbia (10-5) A marvelous defensive team, especially in the infield, makes the Cougars a dangerous team. Sophomore shortstop Hudson Hassler is a stud. #hudthestud

A talented Columbia infield, made up of all sophomores, gives coach Cliff Smith a lot of optimism for now and the future. (Click on photo for larger image)

7-Newark Academy (7-7) Typical of a Sergio Rodriguez-coached team, the Minutemen are getting hot at the right time. Sam Burggraf hit a 3-run homer for the Minutemen in a huge win over Livingston last week.

Newark Academy’s Maddy Mudrick, here with assistant coach Damariz Mercado, after collecting her 100th career hit last week. (Click on photo for larger image)

8-Livingston (8-9) In the words of Phil Delgado, never, ever, count out a Jason Daily-coached team. Livingston is back in the county quarterfinals and is starting to amp up its game. Jess Gorman has pitched well all season while batterymate Emma Cooney is a joy to watch play. Freshman pitcher Jess Bullion had a tremendous debut in a win over Caldwell.

Livingston’s Emma Cooney, here with her dad, Jim, after a 3-for-4 effort in a win over Caldwell, on May 4. (Click on photo for larger image)

9-Caldwell (11-5) The Chiefs may be out of the ECT, but they’ll be a force in the state tournament, and are vying for another conference championship. Nicolette Luzzi spurs the offense at the top of the lineup.

10-Nutley (8-10) Raiders have been a little inconsistent, which happens with a young team, but with a few weeks before the state tourney begins, they’ll look to right the ship.

By mike051893

Joseph Norton: Husband, Father, Grandfather, Coach and a wonderful man

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time re-written every line?

It was indeed a different time. Playing little league baseball in Belleville, at Marotti Field, back in the summer of 1971 epitomized an era of innocence.

Playing night games there, with a great scoreboard, those tremendous dugouts, the PA system, large crowds and, of course, the hot dogs after the game, made playing ball in Belleville something really special.

Wearing that green and gray flannel uniform, with the green hat, symbolic of playing for Biancardi, made me feel like I was in the major leagues. I often called Marotti Field was ‘Shea Stadium’, because I was (and still am) a St. Louis Cardinals fan, thus the National League favoritism.

The 1971 Biancardi little league team. That’s me, back row, second from right, next to Mr. Norton. (Click on photo for larger image)

But what made those days so nice was the great coaching we had, from ‘Red’ Clenighan, our manager, and Joe Norton, the assistant manager.

Last week, Mr. Norton passed away. He was 81.

If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?

Like so many who raised families in Belleville ‘back in the day, Mr. Norton was a working man. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know, for sure, his first name was Joe, until recently, because I never called him anything but Mr. Norton. And for that matter, I just learned Joe’s beloved wife’s first name is Lillian. That’s just the way things were, growing up in town.

Anyway, I can still remember the scores of each game I played for Biancardi in 1971. I still remember my batting average, I remember every big game we won that year, and the tough losses, too.

Memories, may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget

I often reminded George Zanfini, many years ago, that the influence coaches had on us kids remain for a lifetime. And when I posted on social media the other day the news of Mr. Norton’s passing, the outpouring of affection from men now ages 45-60 was noteworthy.

It speaks of a life well lived. It speaks of Mr. Norton being a wonderful husband, dad and later on, proud grandfather. It speaks of respect and pride

And it’s why men like Mike Marotti, Doug Cantarella, Red Clenighan, Joe Norton, Mike Limongelli and Chick Puleo provided the next generation of kids, now middle aged men, memories for a life time.

When Dave Norton, Joe’s son, wrote me a note the other day, thanking me for a few words I wrote on his dad, I essentially said thank you, to him, for sharing his dad with so many kids.

Life goes on, but I’ll never forget those days. Thank you, Coach Norton.

So it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were.

By mike051893

As Derby Day nears, a ‘Charismatic’ Cooney leads Livingston past Caldwell; Bullion outstanding in Big Green Machine debut; Caldwell’s Stafford makes incredible catch at first base

Emma Cooney has been the model of consistency all season for a young Livingston squad, which has struggled to find an identity. But the Lancers’ performance against Caldwell on May 4, in Shangri La (Livingston’s home field) may have signified the start of a turnaround for the proud program.

Cooney, a senior and an incredible catcher, is also Livingston’s leadoff batter. And against Caldwell, she set the one quickly, lining a single in the bottom of the first, stealing second and third and coming around to score on Ashley Reuter’s hit. Livingston would go on to win, 8-2, to improve to 7-9 on the season. It was also Livingston’s fourth win it its last five games.

Cooney (AKA Charismatic) finished 3-for-4 at the plate, with three runs scored. The one time she was retired came on a wicked line drive which was knocked down by the pitcher and thrown to first for the put out.

Livingston catcher Emma Cooney, here with her dad, Jim after a big Livingston win on May 4. (Click on photo for larger image)

The game also marked the varsity debut of freshman pitcher Jess Bullion, who threw six outstanding innings, yielding two runs on just three hits. She struck out the first two batters she faced and also showed good control, walking two batters.

Jess Gorman (Livingston’s durable starting pitcher) has thrown a lot of innings,” said Livingston coach Jason Daily. “We’re playing a county game tomorrow (at Nutley), so we wanted to give Jess some down time. Jess Bullion has been doing a good job on the junior varsity. Her control has improved and I felt she was ready for this opportunity. She did a really good job.”

Gorman came in to pitch a scoreless seventh inning to seal the victory.

The other Charismatic.

Livingston scored its second run in the bottom of the third, again with Cooney as the catalyst. Charismatic singled, was sacrificed to second and went to third on a single by Reuter, who promptly stole second. Julie Moresco then singled home two runs to make it 3-0. Livingston would score once in the fourth, on a run scoring hit by Hailey Reuter, twice in the fifth on a two-run single by pinch hitter Briana Melucci, and again in the sixth, when Cooney laced a long triple into the gap and eventually scored on a throwing error.

Caldwell’s first baseman Taylor Stafford made the defensive play of the game, in the bottom of the sixth, diving to make a tremendous catch of a line drive which would have easily been a double. Also playing well in the field for Caldwell was sophomore shortstop Nicolette Luzzi.

Livingston’s performance was reminiscent of the games played by some outstanding Lancers teams of the past, which included consistent hitting, effective base running and solid pitching.

“We’re getting better,” said Daily, in his usual black attire, despite the 85 degree heat. “This was encouraging today. Let’s hope we can carry it into the next few games, and beyond.”




By mike051893

At Columbia, the defense never rests, and the result is a big win over Bloomfield, as Jordan Stephan and Alexa Stephan collect 3 hits each, Gagne plays a superb 3B with 2 hits, and John, Krause and Hassler also excel

Good defense and timely hitting were a staple to Columbia’s fast start this spring. After starting 7-0, the Cougars lost five straight games, most pretty close, before getting back on track with a 9-5 victory over Bloomfield on May 3, in Maplewood.

Columbia’s all-sophomore infield defense has been spectacular this season, with Lucy Gagne turning in a tremendous defensive effort at third base against Bloomfield, Hudson Hassler playing her usual stellar shortstop, Alexa Stephan’s solid play at second and Paige Carlson’s continued consistency at first base. Add in the play of senior catcher Ally Krause, and it’s easy to see why Columbia head coach Cliff Smith is optimistic about his team, for not only this season, but the future.

“We needed this game,” said Smith after the win over Bloomfield. “We haven’t hit that well, but today we swung the bats much better. The warm weather helps.”

Head coach Cliff Smith, flanked by (left to right) 3B Lucy Gagne, shortstop Hudson Hassler, 2B Alexa Stephan and 1B Paige Carlson. All four infielders are sophomores for Columbia. (Click on photo for larger image)

Columbia (8-5) collected 16 hits, with Jordan Stephan and Alexa Stephan leading the way with three hits each. (Disclaimer: When Jordan and Alexa, who are sisters, were a combined 4-for-4 by the third inning, their dad walked by and before I could say ‘hey, they’re 4-for-4’, he was quick to say don’t jinx it).

Hassler, starting pitcher Catherine John, Krause and Gagne had two hits each. John pitched into the sixth inning, before giving way to Jordan Stephan, who finished the game.

The Cougars opened a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After two were out, Claire Salinardo and Jordan Stephan singled and Alexa Stephan singled home Salinardo. In the second, Krause reached on an error to start the inning before singles by Carlson and Gagne loaded the bases. Hassler drove in the second run on a ground out. Krause, Gagne and Hassler all had RBI singles in a three run third inning to extend Columbia’s lead to 5-0.

Bloomfield (6-9) rallied back with four runs in the fourth inning on back-to-back two-run singles, but Columbia got the four runs back in the bottom of the fifth on five singles and RBI’s by Hassler, Jordan Stephan, Alexa Stephan and Gagne.

“When Bloomfield cut it to 5-4, I got a little concerned,” said Smith. “Teams like Bloomfield are never out of a game. They play hard all the time. But I liked the way we battled back and scored a few more runs.”


By mike051893

Just when you thought they were out….Newark Academy rallies back with 4 straight wins as Mudrick (100 career hits) and Burggraf lead the way

There’s a great line in the Godfather series, when Michael Corleone declared, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

While there’s no comparison between the  Newark Academy softball team and a movie, the line does have some meaning, as the Minutemen have rallied back after it appeared to be really down, following a 3-7 start.

Head coach Sergio Rodriguez’s squad won its fourth straight game, impressively, on May 3, defeating town rival Livingston High, 5-3, at Newark Academy’s home field, in Livingston, to improve to 7-7. A day earlier, the team, seeded 11th, upset 6th seeded Bloomfield, 16-11, to advance in the Essex County Tournament. Just four days earlier, Newark Academy had lost, 10-2, to the Bengals.

“We’re starting to come around,” said Rodriguez, who is in his 12th season as head coach. “We struggled for a while, but we’re starting to find our rhythm.”

Maddy Mudrick collected her 100th career hit in the win against Bloomfield. Mudrick, a senior, will play at the University of Chicago, starting this fall.

Maddy Mudrick, here with Newark Academy assistant coach Damariz Mercado, following her 100th career hit, ironically at Bloomfield, where Mercado played her high school ball, before a standout career at Rowan University.  (Click on photo for larger image)

The Minutemen were buoyed by a 3-run homer off the bat of Sam Burggraf, against Livingston.

Sam Burggraf

“Sam lives in Livingston, so I knew it meant a lot to her to play well in that game,” said Rodriguez of the junior third baseman. “She’s such a competitor.”

Newark Academy, which will most likely play West Essex in the quarterfinal round of the Essex County Tournament, on May 12, in Verona, has also been led by Mallory Shaw, Sam Keller and Caitlin Clancy. 

Newark Academy players celebrate Maddy Mudrick’s 100th career hit, on May 2, in Bloomfield. (Photos courtesy of Sergio Rodriguez. Click on photo for larger image)


By mike051893

Faieta (no-hitter, 13 K’s), Fernandez (3 hits), Taylor and Peterson lead Cedar Grove past Verona, 2-0; New FMTC Top 10, with some changes

Mia Faieta spun a no-hitter, with 13 strikeouts, Ava Fernandez was 3-for-3 and Katie Peterson drove home Brittney Taylor twice, leading Cedar Grove past arch rival Verona, 2-0, in a Super Essex Conference American Division game.

Cedar Grove improved to 11-4 on the season while Verona fell to 6-8. Seven of the Hillbillies eight losses this season have been by a combined 10 runs, including four one run losses.

Of Faieta’s 13 strikeouts, eight were on called third strikes.  The junior righty walked seven and hit a batter.

“I was throwing a mix of pitches, fast balls, change ups, breaking pitches,” said Faieta afterward. “I know I have to do better on the walks. I tried working the corners and missed on a few.”

Faieta’s fast ball did keep Verona off balance. The Hillbillies have played solid defense and are receiving outstanding pitching from junior Christina Colon, but hits and runs have been hard to come by. After winning five straight games, Verona lost its last two games, to West Essex and Cedar Grove, both by shutout.

Katie Peterson drove in both runs, as Cedar Grove won a big conference game. (Peterson and Taylor photos courtesy of Nicole Velardi. Click on photos for larger image)

Cedar Grove scored in the third when Taylor led off with a sharp bunt single and went to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Peterson, a freshman, batting second in the lineup, singled to score Taylor and Fernandez, who had doubled in the first inning, followed with her second hit, a single that moved Peterson to third, with Fernandez moving to second on the throw. Colon got out of further trouble by recording a strikeout to end the inning.

Brittany Taylor, batting eighth in Cedar Grove’s lineup, had a bunt single and later walked. She eventually scored both runs, as the Panthers edged Verona, 2-0. 

In the fifth, Taylor, a sophomore, started another rally with a leadoff walk, the only free pass Colon allowed in the game. Pinch hitter Chloe Weinstein bunted Taylor to second and a ground out by Ava Mandela advanced Taylor to third. Peterson reached on an error to score Taylor and a wild pitch moved Peterson to second. Fernandez then lined a hard single to center, but Peterson was called out at home to end the inning.

Ava Fernandez had a big game against Verona, with 3 hits. 

Faieta struck out the first two batters she faced in the seventh before an error on a fly put a Verona runner on third base. The game ended on a ground out.

Colon scattered six hits, struck out eight, walked one and allowed just one earned run.

Here are the latest rankings.


1-Cedar Grove (11-4) Panthers rallied back after a loss to St. John Vianney over the weekend to defeat a good Verona squad. Cedar Grove is 8-0 against Essex County opponents.

2-Mount St. Dominic (11-5) Lions are on a roll, with five straight wins through games of May 1. All five victories came by 10 runs, or more.

3-West Essex (6-6) Knights came back with two big wins, over Verona and Bloomfield. Julia Vardiman led the way in both games, with complete games in the circle and a pair of homers in the Bloomfield game.

4-Verona (6-8) The pitching couldn’t be better, with Christina Colon doing a masterful job. Verona had won five straight, before losing two close games, to West Essex and Cedar Grove.

5-Nutley (7-8) Raiders work hard in every game. Team had a big win over West Essex, before losing to tremendous squads in Indian Hills and Mount St. Dominic.

6-Millburn (12-3) Millers got a huge 1-0 win over Columbia, on April 30.

7-Bloomfield (6-7) Jamell Quiles is an outstanding third baseman for the Bengals while Katie Bretz has starred at shortstop and Lexi Corio continues to pitch well.

8-Caldwell (9-3) Chiefs have been consistent all season long, including a good win over Montclair.

9-Columbia (7-5) The hot bats have cooled off a little for the Cougars, who have been close, but dropped five straight games, including a 1-0 loss to Millburn and a 4-2 setback to a strong Hanover Park squad.

10-Livingston (5-8) The Big Green Machine has lost a bunch of heartbreakers, including four losses by one run each, but things could be turning around, with back-to-back wins on April 30 and May 1.





By mike051893

Vardiman turns in another tremendous effort, blasts 2 homers, including 3-run shot in the 6th, tosses complete game, as West Essex rallies past Bloomfield, 6-3; Corio, Bretz lead Bengals offense

Essex County softball has a number of accomplished and long-tenured coaches, all of whom have committed their talents to one school for the better part of two decades.

Mike Teshkoyan and his brother, Mark Teshkoyan, are in their 32nd season at Caldwell, with incredible success. They’re the winningest coaches in Essex softball and have over 1,000 victories, coaching softball and soccer for the Chiefs.

Bob Mayer is closing in on 30 years at Bloomfield and is a member of the elite 500 victory club. He’s also in multiple Halls of Fame.

Lorenzo Sozio is in his 23rd season at Mount St. Dominic. ‘Soz’ has also eclipsed 500 wins, has won seven county championships for the Lions, numerous conference titles and a Non-Public A state championship, in 2014.

Luann Zullo is in her 20th season at Nutley, after a good run at West Essex. She’s won a county title at both schools (the only coach to accomplish that feat) and led the Raiders to the Group 3 championship game in 2010.

Jason Daily’s record at Livingston is tremendous. He’s won three county titles, as well as multiple state sectional and conference titles. This is Daily’s 19th season with the Lancers.

West Essex’s Andrea Mondadori-Llauget is beginning to climb that plateau, as well. She’s in her 14th season with the Knights, and has already won two county titles and multiple state sectional championships. This season, ‘Mondo’ has a very young team, after graduation took its toll last spring.

Julia Vardiman and West Essex coach Jason Ahmed after West Essex defeated Bloomfield, 6-3, on April 30, on a rainy day in North Caldwell. Julia received the game ball.  (Click on photo for larger image)

Despite a slow start, the Knights are starting to find its rhythm, led by senior captain Lily James and junior captain Julia Vardiman. On April 30, despite a rainy day, West Essex (6-6) returned to the ,500 mark with a come-from-behind 6-3 win over Bloomfield.

This game was all about Vardiman, who went from being an All-Everything shortstop to the team’s starting pitcher this season. Vardiman’s athletic abilities make her a skilled pitcher. Her bat has always been a big part of West Essex’s offense, and yesterday, it was the difference. Vardiman, the Knights’ leadoff batter, homered over the centerfield fence, in the bottom of the first, to give her team a 1-0 lead.

Bloomfield (6-7) would rally back, as Katie Bretz hit a two-run double and pitcher Lexi Corio homered over the right centerfield wall, to take a 3-1 lead. But West Essex chipped away to tie it by the fifth, and then, in the bottom of the sixth, Vardiman stepped to the plate with two outs and two on. She delivered, in a huge way, with a three-run homer to give West Essex a 6-3 lead.

Lexi Corio continues to pitch well for the Bengals. 

Vardiman went back to the circle for the seventh inning and bore down to register the final three outs. It was West Essex’s second straight win, after a 1-0 gem over Verona on April 28.

With the Essex County Tournament on the immediate horizon, West Essex, which gained the third seed, is certainly going to be a threat. The Knights have been to the last three county finals and won it all, in 2016. While they might not be a favorite to do that this season, don’t count out Mondo’s team. The confidence is building and a young nucleus is improving with each game.

By mike051893