Since she first stepped onto the field as a precocious freshman shortstop for an Essex County and state championship team in 2016, Julia Vardiman has never lacked confidence in her abilities.
Now as a senior on a young West Essex softball squad this spring, Vardiman seemingly has embraced her role as the team’s leading pitcher, as well as that tenacious edge which makes her a stud, both in the circle and at the plate.
Vardiman spun a pair complete-game victories as West Essex defeated Super Essex Conference American Division foes Nutley, 4-2, and Verona, 3-2, to improve to 2-1 on the season. Vardiman bore down when her team needed it most, holding Verona to a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, when the Hillbillies appeared to be in position to score multiple runs.
Her offense was also on display, as Vardiman had two hits against Nutley, at home, including her 100th career hit, and had a big double to spur a rally, at Verona.
Julia Vardiman was joined by her teammates after collecting her 100th career hit in a game against Nutley, on April 3. (Click on photo for larger image)
West Essex also got clutch hitting from Jordan Ruffer, Jenna Sperduto, Gianna Waack and Jessica Cola to defeat a good Verona squad.
Despite graduation taking a major toll over the past few years, including Alexa Vardiman, Bridget Betley, Amanda Garofalo, Sami Huetter and Lily James, the Knights appear ready to be a force in the SEC American.
Vardiman, here with assistant coach Jay Ahmed last season, made the difficult transition from starting shortstop to the team’s No. 1 pitcher. (Click on photo for larger image)
Verona will also be tough, especially with senior pitcher Christina Colon. Despite falling short against West Essex, Colon struck out 15 batters and has recorded 44 strikeouts in her first three games, as Verona opened 2-1 through games of April 4.
Livingston and Columbia met up in an important early season SEC Liberty game, in South Orange, on April 3, with Livingston rallying from 3-0 down after five innings to storm past the Cougars, 8-3.
Columbia coach Cliff Smith noted Livingston’s aggressiveness.
“They’re always so well coached,” said Smith of the Lancers. “We had a 3-0 lead, could have been 4-0, after five, but Livingston never stops battling. They take pitches deep into the count, they’re so aggressive on the base paths and can wear you down. We’ll learn from this game. I like our team, and what’s good about softball is that there’s another game coming up. We want to win the conference, and to do that, we’ll have to beat Livingston.”
Columbia’s team captains this year are Hudson Hassler (left) and Cara Harrington. (Click on photo for larger image)
Columbia’s sophomore pitcher, Sydney Waldon, pitched well and worked out of jams in the first and fourth innings to keep Livingston off the scoreboard. Junior shortstop Hudson Hassler, a team captain this year, drew three walks and spurred a pair of rallies.
Claire Salinardo continues to excel behind the plate and had an important hit to drive in a pair of runs for Columbia. Olivia Miller has also been important to Columbia and showed her mettle when, with her team down five runs in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, fouled off numerous pitches before getting on base.
“That was impressive,” said Smith. “That’s the kind of play we need to have. We need to be aggressive in all aspects of the game and little things like that at-bat means a lot.”
Columbia took a 1-1 record into its scheduled game, at Montclair, on April 5.
No FMTC Top 10 this week, since the season is still pretty young.