Essex Softball: A 3-peat for Cedar Grove, as Faieta (2-hit shutout, 16 K’s), Cicala (3 RBI), Weinstein, Bocchino and Kubu lead Panthers past Hasbrouck Heights, 7-0; Excellent seasons for West Essex, Nutley and Columbia come to end in sectional finals; Verona tied with Hanover Park when rains came, game will be completed on May 30, in Cedar Grove

Jules Cicala knew this would be a special plate appearance.

Cedar Grove’s junior catcher was batting with the bases loaded and two outs, in a scoreless game, with the North 1, Group 1 state sectional title very much on the line, in the bottom of the fifth inning.

“I had to step up in that situation,” said Cicala afterward. “This was the time. I had been struggling a little at the plate the past few games. We had battled to load the bases, with two outs. I had to get a hit there.”

Cicala certainly did, lining a long double into the right centerfield gap which cleared the bases and opened the floodgates to an eventual 7-0 win by top-seeded Cedar Grove over second-seeded Hasbrouck Heights, at Panther Park, on May 29.

Cedar Grove’s Gianna Kubu, with her mom, Ginamaree and dad, Joseph, after Cedar Grove won its third straight state sectional championship.

By winning a third straight North 1, Group 1 title, Cedar Grove (24-4) will take on Whippany Park, the winner in North 2, Group 1, in the Group 1 semifinal at Ivy Hill Park, starting at 5 p.m., on May 30. The winner of that game will advance to Kean University this weekend to play in the Group 1 championship game.

A happy group of Panthers, along with coaches, after a state championship.

After a scoreless contest for 4 1/2 innings, Cedar Grove would score five times, in the bottom of the fifth, after two were out and no one on base. It began with a seeing eye, infield single by Paige Scheid, followed by a walk from Chloe Weinstein and single by Gianna Kubu to load the bases, and setting the stage for Cicala.

“It was a fastball, outside, and I just went with it,” said Cicala of what proved to be the game-winning hit. “It felt pretty good off the bat.”

With two outs, Scheid, Weinstein and Kubu were running on contact and Cedar Grove third base coach Pete Velardi waved them all in, giving Cedar Grove a 3-0 lead.

The Panthers then extended the advantage to 5-0 in the fifth on a two-run single by Gianna Bocchino, which plated Cicala and Katie Peterson.

That was more than enough for senior righty Mia Faieta, who has been outstanding in the state tournament. Faieta gave up just two hits and was overpowering for most of the game.

Cedar Grove added a pair of runs in the sixth, keyed by a double from Brittney Taylor and a triple by Weinstein.

Excellent seasons for West Essex and Nutley came to an end in their respective sectional finals on May 29. West Essex lost, at home, to West Milford, 3-1, in the North 1, Group 3 final, and finished 14-11, while Nutley fell to Chatham in the North 2, Group 3 final. The Raiders were 18-11 this season, including 13 wins in its last 17 games.

Columbia’s season was completed on May 28, when it lost in the North 2, Group 4 final, to North Hunterdon. The Cougars finished 16-12.

Verona’s sectional final, in North 2, Group 2, was suspended because of rain. The Hillbillies will continue its game with Hanover Park, on May 30, at Panther Park, starting at 2:30 p.m.

By mike051893

Belleville, New Jersey’s own Lonnie Bunch III ascends to the top of his profession, as the new Secretary of the Smithsonian; Bunch is the first African-American in the 173-year history of the Smithsonian to be named its Director

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The words of Dr. King transcended race. It brought about the need for change, and with it, opened the doors for so many men and women of color to find opportunity, once thought unheard of.

For Lonnie Bunch III, a journey to greatness, truly, if you’ll pardon the Frankie Valli, ‘Jersey Boys’ analogy, started in Belleville, New Jersey.

Dr. Lonnie Bunch at his office, in Washington.

“It sure did,” said the affable and brilliant Bunch, as he spoke from his sprawling Washington, D.C. office, on the top floor of the beautiful National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian Institution Museum, of which he is the Founding Director. “Those were some times. I wouldn’t have traded them for anything.”

Bunch has been the Founding Director of the museum since 2005, over a decade before the structure was opened to the public.

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture, located on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

On Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened at the hallowed Mall in D.C., near the Washington Memorial, and was dedicated by President Barack Obama.

On May 28, 2019, Lonnie was formally appointed secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, becoming the first African-American leader in its 173-year history, after being approved by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents.

According to the Washington Post, Bunch will become the 14th secretary of the institution, responsible for a $1.5 billion annual budget that supports 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo. He is the first Smithsonian director to ascend to the secretary’s post in 74 years and starts his new job June 16.

Growing up in Belleville, NJ

Bunch’s love of History had elevated him to greatness. He is regarded as one of the nation’s leading history and museum professionals.

Bunch is a 1970 graduate of Belleville High School, where he played football and baseball. He grew up in Belleville, NJ, and attended School #5 as a child.

“We were the only black family in the neighborhood at the time,” Bunch recalled. “And those were different times, for sure. I was fascinated by the vast population in town of the Sicilian heritage. I wanted to know more about it, and at the same time, the culture of my family, too.”

To say Belleville was a diverse community in the late 1960’s would not be accurate. But Bunch soon learned that growing up in a mostly white community would teach him a level of mental fortitude which has carried on in his professional life. Bunch found himself fascinated by the differences in culture.

“I remember walking up and down Greylock Parkway many times as a child,” recalled Bunch. “I learned how to run, and when not to run.”

During the summer of 1967, the neighboring city of Newark was ravaged by racial violence.

“I was horrified by the Newark riots,” Bunch said. “They were happening pretty close to Belleville. We had all seen in television what was going on.”

Bunch recalls a day when he was walking home and stopped by a Belleville police officer during that turbulent summer.

“I’m a 15-year-old kid, and, like I said, there weren’t many African-American children growing up there at time. The police officer had me up against the police car, asking what I was doing there. When he asked my name, and I told him, he let me go, and said to get home. Everyone in town knew our name. That had an effect, but, again, they were tough times for everyone.”

Less than a year after the riots, the nation was devastated by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings were a great influence to Lonnie Bunch.

“As a youngster, my parents would bring me to the television set to watch Dr. King’s speeches,” recalled Bunch. “I was a northern kid, obviously, growing up, and Dr. King was a southern man. But I’ll tell you, as I became an adult, I have been guided, profoundly, by Dr. King’s vision.”

Bunch’s family was extremely close.

“My grandparents settled in Belleville back in 1919,” he said proudly. “I’m actually Lonnie Bunch, III. My grandfather, the original Lonnie, was a sharecropper as a young man who would later become a dentist. My grandmother, Leeanna, was a force of nature in my life. I didn’t get to know my grandfather very well. He passed away when I was young. But he was a great man.”

Dr. Bunch’s father, Lonnie, II, also attended School #5 in Belleville. He would marry a Southern woman, Montrose, whom he met in college. Lonnie’s parents would become school teachers and the educational background of his parents was clearly a factor in love of school, and particularly, history.

Lonnie’s dad has since passed. He remains very close to his mother, and was proud to have her at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in 2016.

Family, Education and meeting 6 presidents

Lonnie also has a younger brother, Gregg, who was graduated from Belleville High in 1975, and continues to live in New Jersey today. Gregg was a standout sprinter for the Bellboys track team for three years.

After graduating from Belleville High 49 years ago, Lonnie went to college at Howard University, before transferring to American University, in Washington. He would earn his Bachelors and Masters in American History and African History. Bunch and his wife, Maria, have two adult daughters, Sarah and Katie. In 2015, Lonnie and Maria became grandparents for the first time to Harper Brace,.

Bunch, who has written many books, was curator of the California African American Museum and later, curator at the National Museum for American History, at the Smithsonian. In 2000, he was named president of one of the nation’s oldest museums for history, the Chicago Historical Society.

Bunch has been in the presence of six United States presidents, something which really seemed to resonate, as he discussed his background.

It was a great honor to meet with Lonnie at his office in Washington.

“Yes, that is something, now that I think of it,” the humble man said. “I’ve met Presidents Reagan, Ford, Carter, Clinton, Bush (43) and Obama.”

Bunch was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Commission for Preservation of the White House in 2005 and reappointed to the Commission by President Obama. 

He was also greatly influenced by Franklin D. Roosevelt and FDR’s vision for dealing with crisis, as well as an admirer of Abraham Lincoln’s compassion, and the ending of slavery.

With all his worldly accomplishments, Bunch can’t help but recall the influences he continues to have from his native Belleville.

“I’ve had so many wonderful friends in Belleville, who have been happy for my successes,” he said. 

In 2010, Bunch was named to the prestigious Belleville High School Wall of Recognition.

Ann Schneider was one of Bunch’s favorite high school teachers. “She was brilliant,” Bunch said. “Ann nurtured me in history, and used to give me different books to read.”

She was ecstatic to contribute to this article.

“I am a charter member of ‘his’ museum, and an admirer of (Lonnie’s) work,” said Schneider. “Lonnie was an enthusiastic and thoughtful student. Adept at advancing his own ideas, he skillfully and respectfully commented on the ideas of others.  He wanted to know things, found history interesting — a gift to a teacher. 

“If you have not seen it, you may be interested in ‘Call The Lost Dream Back’, his book of essays published in 2005. Of special importance would be the first chapter about his family and early life — mentions of Belleville. 

“One great quote, page 25: ‘Ultimately, history became my weapon of choice in the struggle for justice and racial equality, and the shield that gave me courage to face the challenge of race in my own life.’” 

Bunch also credited Belleville High School principal Raymond O. Smith, a World War II veteran, for teaching him the Japanese language, and culture.

“I actually ran a project for the Smithsonian in Japan,” he said. “And Mr. Smith was the reason why I enjoyed it so much. His teachings really stuck with me.”

The world has indeed changed. When asked if he, as a child, could have envisioned an African American as the nation’s president, he chuckled. “I would have said you were crazy,” Bunch said. “But it’s happened. Our country is amazing.” 

As he prepared for the great day in September, 2016, when the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, he was excited, but a little wistful. 

“I wish my grandparents could be there to see it,” Bunch said. “I know it would have been very special for them. And while the day approaches, I’ll think of my days growing up in Belleville. It shaped my life, in so many ways.”

By mike051893

Chet Parlavecchio recalls the late Bart Starr as a legendary player, excellent coach and as good a man as you’ll ever meet

It was nearly 37 years ago, but Chet Parlavecchio remembers like it was yesterday.

Having just completed a tremendous college football career at Penn State from 1978-1981, Parlavecchio, a linebacker for the Nittany Lions, was hoping to pursue his dream of playing in the National Football League, and was anticipating being selected in the fourth round of the 1982 draft.

Chet Parlavecchio (No. 94) playing for the Green Bay Packers.

“I’ll never forget it,” said Parlavecchio when reached by phone on May 26. “Here I am, sitting in my apartment, with my girlfriend (now his wife, Jean) and I’m miserable. My dream of playing professional football looked like it was going down the drain. The fourth rounded ended, I wasn’t chosen yet, and I didn’t know what to do. I was literally crying.”

A little later, the phone rang, and Parlavecchio, not in the mood to get any phone calls, answered with an abrupt ‘Hello’.

Bart Starr, during his playing days with the Green Bay Packers, along with coach Vince Lombardi.

“On the other end, is a female voice, with a southern accent, saying ‘Hi Chet, how are you?’ And I’m like, whoever you are, hang up the phone! I can’t talk now. And the woman says, ‘No Chet, I think you’ll want to take this call.'”

Parlavecchio, still thinking the call was a waste, was then stunned to hear the next voice.

“Chet, this is Bart Starr. I want to welcome you to the Green Bay Packers.”

And that’s how Chet Parlavecchio was introduced to the NFL. Starr, of course, was the Packers’ head coach from 1975-1983, after a Hall of Fame playing career, for Green Bay, which included quarterbacking the Packers to five NFL championships and being named MVP of Super Bowls I and II.

On the day that Bart Starr died, on May 26, 2019, at the age of 85, Parlavecchio, like so many others, heaped praise on Starr’s legacy.

“He was a very nice man,” said Parlavecchio, who was selected in the sixth round of the 1982 NFL draft. “You have to remember, growing up, I was a huge Green Bay Packers fan. Everyone in my family loved the Packers. Vince Lombardi was a Jersey guy. I grew up idolizing Ray Nitschke. I wanted to be just like him. Ray was the ultimate linebacker. My (older) brother Marc was a huge fan of Jim Taylor (a legendary Packers running back).

“So when I got drafted by the Packers and received a phone call from Bart Starr, you have no idea what that meant.”

When Parlavecchio first arrived at Lambeau Field, he made a beeline to the end zone, where Starr had scored the epic touchdown on Dec. 31, 1967, against the Dallas Cowboys, in the famous NFL championship game, dubbed by most ‘The Ice Bowl.’ Starr scored, on a quarterback sneak, with just 16 seconds left in the game, to rally Green Bay to a 21-17 win in subzero temperatures.

“Coach Starr came over and said something like ‘Chet, what are you looking at?'” said Parlavecchio. “And I told him, ‘this is where you scored that touchdown, in front of that post.’ Coach Starr was pretty good about it. He even told me that he almost fell on that touchdown.”

Starr (15) scoring on the classic block by Jerry Kramer (64) against Dallas, in the Ice Bowl, Dec. 31, 1967.

Parlavecchio would make the 1982 Packers squad, but injured his knee in the final pre-season game, and would sit out the season. He would return for the 1983 season. Eventually, he played for the St. Louis Cardinals and concluded his NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts.

“When I had my first knee surgery, Coach was there to encourage me, in the hospital, that I could make it back,” said Parlavecchio. “He was the first one there.”

Bart Starr as the Packers’ head coach.

While his playing career would be over by 1984, a new football career would await Chet, as a coach. He began his career on the sidelines at Bloomfield High, in 1987. Trips to New Jersey high schools at Irvington, Passaic Valley, Clifton, Elizabeth and again Passaic Valley, where he will begin his fifth season at the helm this summer, followed.

Parlavecchio was also an assistant for a year at Temple University and was an assistant for three years with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, as a linebackers and special teams coach, after his closest friend and college roommate, the Hall of Famer, Mike Munchak, was named the Titans head coach in 2011.

Four players from the 1982 draft went to the Hall of Fame, including Munchak, Marcus Allen, Andre Tippett and Morten Andersen.

“That was some draft, for sure,” said Parlavecchio. “I played with a lot of those guys in the Senior Bowl and against some of them during the (college) season, when I was at Penn State.”

But on this day, the thoughts went back to Bart Starr.

“He was always good to me,” said Parlavecchio, today a husband, father of two and grandfather of two boys. “He drafted me, looked out for me, was a gentleman and a legend.

“Bart was truly a wonderful man.”

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Columbia’s Hudson Hassler embracing captain’s role, as Cougars prepare for state sectional championship game; Coach Cliff Smith credits rugged SEC schedule for team’s success

As Columbia prepares for a chance to win its first state sectional title in 40 years, the Cougars’ rise to this level has taken on a one-out, one-inning, one-game approach.

Columbia (16-11) will travel to North Hunterdon, in Annandale, on May 28, as it looks to complete an incredible run in North 2, Group 4. The school’s lone championship came in 1979.

Columbia players are reveling in a chance to win a state title, on May 28. (Courtesy of Steve Miller)

“I’ve seen that (1979) banner many times in the gym,” said Columbia coach Cliff Smith, who was 11 years from birth the last time the Cougars won a title. “We’d certainly like to add another this year.”

Columbia, the fifth seed, won two one-run games to start its quest in the section, edging Edison and Bayonne, before a stunning 5-2 victory over top-seeded Westfield, on May 24, in the semifinals. The Cougars trailed in that game, 2-0 before tying it in the fourth and winning, with three runs in the top of the seventh inning.

Cougars have won 16 games and hope to add a state title to its 2019 resume . (Courtesy Steve Miller)
#2 Cara Harrington
#4 Gabby Redfern
#5 Samantha Carlton
#6 Liza Erickson
#8 Lucy Gagne
#9 Paige Carlson
#10 Sydney Waldon
#12 Sydney Rednik
#16 Julia Erickson
#17 Alexa Stephan
#18 Ellie Mischel
#20 Olivia Miller
#22 Julia Ethan
#25 Hudson Hassler
#32 Quinn Joy
#33 Claire Salinardo
#48 Lillie Austin

Two of the three state wins have come on the road, and Smith has been impressed with his team’s resiliency. Playing teams like Livingston (twice), Mount St. Dominic, West Essex, Bloomfield, Hanover Park, Montclair (twice), Cedar Grove (twice), Nutley and Caldwell have provided the Cougars a stern test.

“I don’t want to say this run is unexpected, because I knew going into the season that this group had the talent to do this,” said Smith, who was a standout catcher at Seton Hall Prep and teammate of eventual Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello. “I wanted to put together the toughest schedule I possibly could, in order for them to be tested all season long and not be nervous playing in close games. We have done a great job in always staying within striking distance to give ourselves a chance late in games.”

The usually reserved Hudson Hassler (No. 25) is especially happy, as her team enjoys a big-time run in state tourney. (Courtesy Steve Miller)

Columbia’s junior shortstop, Hudson Hassler is a team captain, along with senior Cara Harrington. Hassler, who collected her 100th career hit earlier this season, is excited about the team’s progress.

Hudson Hassler (left) and Cara Harrington. (Courtesy Suzanne Hassler)

“What’s really exciting is that not many people were expecting us to make it this far,” said Hassler, who has made a verbal commitment to play on the collegiate level at Ithaca College, beginning in the fall of 2020. “We have faced some really good teams and competition, and we’ve just been taking it one game at a time, going into every game relaxed and optimistic. “

Smith has liked his team’s loose approach.

“We have done a great job in always staying within striking distance to give ourselves a chance late in games,” the coach said. “In every game so far this postseason, we have been trailing, and had to come from behind to win those games late. We have embraced the role of the underdog, because no one believed we would make it this far, but us.”

The smiles are a result of a lot of hard work, at Columbia. (Courtesy Steve Miller)

The team coming together has impressed Hassler.

“We have been working very cohesively for the past few games, and everyone has done their part,” said Hassler. “”What’s special about our team is that most of us have been playing together since we were 8 years old, so at this point we’ve all figured out how to work with each other, which has allowed us to excel. We also know how to pick each other up, and have each other’s backs, which is key.”

Columbia’s pitching has been paced by Sydney Waldon, whose control has been excellent and tenacity has helped the shut the door for opponents in close state games.

Olivia Miller had a tremendous game against Westfield, with three hits and 4 RBI.

“Hudson is doing what Hudson does during the state tournament, and it is no surprise that she had some huge at bats for us, against Westfield,” said Smith. “It’s almost like as she goes, so does our offense. Olivia Miller was huge as well against Westfield, and is playing a great left field as she has done all season long.

“Sydney has really stepped her game up in the circle and has given us a chance to win in every game, and doing a great job slamming the door in the seventh inning. We are playing so relaxed and you can tell we are having fun out there, which I think has been the key to us making it this far. My coaching staff (Candace Mitola, Bill Mullen and Jen Cruz) have done a great job as well, getting the girls to buy into their roles on the team and into what I have been preaching since the tournament started, which is one out, one inning, one game at a time.”

(Mitola, in her first year with the Cougars, was a standout player at Cedar Grove, helping the Panthers to a county title in 2010 and a pair of state sectional crowns. She’s now an educator.)

The success of not only Columbia, but our other Essex teams is infectious. Essex County will send five teams to sectional finals on May 28, and the camaraderie among the coaches has been impressive. When Nutley coach Luann Zullo found out Columbia had won, she and her entire team let out an emphatic cheer.

“I’m so happy for Cliff,” said Zullo, whose team will play Chatham in its sectional final. “He’s a really good guy and has done a tremendous job. It’s great to see our conference so well represented.”

Coach Smith (wearing red pullover, encourages his team. (Courtesy Steve Miller)

It’s not often that a team from the Super Essex Conference’s Liberty Division has made it to a state championship game. In fact, Columbia may be one of the first.

Hassler and her teammates are enjoying a long Memorial Day weekend but knows the intensity will amp up when the team practices on May 27.

“We know exactly what attitude we need going into Tuesday’s game, and we know that we have nothing to lose,” she said.

By mike051893

Essex Softball: 5-for-5, as Cedar Grove, West Essex, Verona, Columbia and Nutley all advance to sectional finals, on May 28; Hassler, Miller, Vardiman, Coia, Stoeckel, Conca, Quiles, Colon, Reed, Ryan, Faieta and Scheid all excel

The rigors of the Super Essex Conference schedule have certainly paid dividends for five Essex County schools, all of which won its sectional semifinal games on May 23, or May 24, and will play for a state sectional championship on May 28.

Cedar Grove continued its quest for a third straight state sectional title, on May 24, defeating a tough Butler squad, 2-0, at Panther Park. Mia Faieta was outstanding in the circle, again, and freshman Paige Scheid had the key hit, a 2-out, 2-run single, as Cedar Grove improved to 23-4 on the season.

Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi and freshman Paige Scheid.

Cedar Grove, the top seed, will host second seeded Hasbrouck Heights for the championship on May 28.

Verona began the Essex County run when the Hillbillies defeated Parsippany, 11-0, on May 23. Christina Colon continued her domination by pitching a third straight shutout in the North 2, Group 2 tournament.

On offense, Faith Reed and Kate Ryan had three hits each while Melanie Harris had two hits and drove in four runs. Megan Meehan, Jacqueline Louden and Samantha Costigan had two hits each for Verona.

In three games, Colon has fanned 42 batters in 19 innings. Verona will play at defending champion, and top-seeed Hanover Park for the championship.

Verona last played for a section title in North 1, Group 1, two years ago.

Nutley will be in the North 2, Group 3 sectional final for the first time in four years when it plays at Chatham, in a 6:30 p.m. game, on May 28.

Coach Luann Zullo’s team blanked Mendham, 5-0, on May 24, as freshman pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel pitched a 3-hit gem.

Nutley coach Luann Zullo, here conferring with Belleville coach Chris Cantarella, will lead Nutley into the sectional final for the sixth time during her tenure with the Raiders.

Nutley improved to 18-10 on the season and won for the 13th time in its last 16 games. Jamell Quiles and Melanie Conca had two hits each. Conca also had two doubles, drove in two and scored a pair of runs. Lorianne O’Connor continues to be a force at the top of the lineup and Julia Ciccone was 2-for-3, with two stolen bases. Brianna Cruz also drove in a run.

Jamell Quiles has been a force at the plate for Nutley. (Courtesy of Ingrid DiPasquale)

Nutley has won sectional titles during Zullo’s tenure in 2006, 2010 and 2015 and also appeared in the 1999 and 2005 sectional finals. The 2010 team advanced all the way to the Group 3 final.

Columbia’s only state sectional title came in 1979. Forty years later, the Cougars are in position to win a championship, after defeating top-seeded Westfield, in a North 2, Group 4 semifinal, on May 24.

Columbia improved to 16-11, and will travel to North Hunterdon for the championship game on May 28. Columbia head coach Cliff Smith noted his team’s ability to stay loose and have fun in pressure-packed games.

Columbia celebrates a huge win over top-seeded Westfield. (Courtesy of Suzanne Hassler)

“No doubt, these kids are having fun,” said Smith. “No one expected us to get this far. We were very loose today coming into the Westfield game.”

Columbia trailed, 2-0, before tying the game in the fourth. The Cougars then won it with three runs in the top of the seventh. Hudson Hassler drove in the game-winning run and had three hits. Olivia Miller had a tremendous game, as well, with thee hits and four RBI while winning pitcher Sydney Waldon scattered eight hits and struck out five in a complete-game effort.

West Essex also won an incredible game, defeating Indian Hills, 6-5, on May 24, in Oakland. The Knights are seeking a third state sectional crown since 2010, when it hosts West Milford for the championship, on May 28.

Jessica Coia homered for the Knights and Julia Vardiman won another big game in the state tourney. West Essex had opened a 6-1 lead before Indian Hills began to rally back.

West Essex players are all smiles after a win over Indian Hills. (Courtesy Toni Vardiman)

“It was a crazy game,” said West Essex assistant coach Jason Ahmed. “The first part was a slugfest, then turned into a pitcher’s duel. Both teams hit the ball well. Indian Hills has a great coach (in Joe Leicht) and are always an excellent team.”

West Essex led, 6-5, in the bottom of the seventh. Indian Hills had runners on first and third, with two outs. The batter lined a hard drive which Vardiman snagged for the final out.

“That was typical Julia,” said Ahmed. “She just competes, battles and finds ways to win. She’s something else.”

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Montclair sends Testa off with a nice finale, thanks to coaches, teammates and the umpire; Mounties have best season since 2011

Montclair coach Mike Goldstein had it all planned.

In Montclair’s last game of the 2019 season, Goldstein would send senior shortstop Francesca (‘Frankie’) Testa off the field to a nice ovation, with two outs in the last inning, with (hopefully) her team winning the game.

“It was all there,” said Goldstein with a laugh. “I almost blew it though. The umpire helped me.”

Montclair had a 3-1 lead, at Hoboken, under the lights on May 22. It was the bottom of the seventh, and there was one out. A line drive was caught for the second out, and a throw to the plate almost nailed a runner for what would have been a game-ending double play.

“It was a close play,” recalled Goldstein. “She (the umpire) could have called the runner out and the game would have been over. But the call was safe, and that gave me the chance to go out to the circle and take Frankie out of the game.”

(Here’s a video of Frankie’s farewell to MHS softball and her emotional moment with family and friends).

Not knowing what was about to happen, Testa seemed put off, for a second, when Goldstein told her she was coming out.

“She basically said ‘you’re taking me out of my last game, with two outs?'” recalled Goldstein. “And I said something like ‘yes, Frankie, you’re out.'”

Testa reluctantly began to leave the field, then realized her teammates were lined up to cheer her, and say thanks. And waiting near the Montclair bench was Frankie’s parents, who were there to hug their daughter, as well as her teammates. The players from Hoboken and the umpire also applauded.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Goldstein “Frankie was a tremendous player for this program and I wanted to do something to make sure she knew how important she was to our success.”

Montclair went on to win the game, 3-2, and clinched a 14-12 record, the programs best mark in eight years.

“We have some talented young kids coming up,” said Goldstein of the 2020 season. “But we don’t have the success we did this year, without Frankie.”

Earlier this season, Testa had collected her 100th career hit. She will play college softball, beginning this fall, at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa.

Testa’s departure was reminiscent of a moment that then Montclair head coach Dan Roberts did for the team’s best player, Deja Davis, in 2013.

So when Montclair went out to play defense, Davis took her usual spot, at shortstop. But after the first at-bat, Roberts went to the mound, called his entire starting team into the circle and replaced Davis, so that she could be recognized by her teammates.

The Livingston and Montclair fans all applauded, as did players and coaches from both sides.

It was a simple, but eloquent gesture by Roberts and heartfelt by those in attendance.

Goldstein was an assistant coach to Roberts that season and remembers the moment.

“Dan did a really good job honoring Deja,” said Goldstein. “Those things mean a lot to the kids, and it stays with them.”

By mike051893

Essex softball: Mount St. Dominic captures 8th ECT crown; Columbia, Verona (Colon, 35 K’s in 2 games), Nutley (Cruz-grand slam homer), Cedar Grove, MKA and West Essex all advance to sectional semis; Solid season for young Montclair team; Belleville and Nutley played a great game on May 18, as O’Connor and Quiles lead Raiders

Mount St. Dominic won its eighth Essex County Tournament (ECT) championship on May 18, defeating defending-champion Cedar Grove, 3-0, in the final at Ivy Hill Park.

The Lions received a tremendous pitching effort from Sophia Kiseloski and a big RBI double by Kasey Sekula in the top of the first helped MSDA to a 2-0 lead.

Both pitchers, Kiseloski and Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta, threw the ball well. Kiseloski fanned 10 and walked two while Faieta struck out 11 and walked four. MSDA added an insurance run in the top of the sixth inning.

The win marked the eighth championship for head coach Lorenzo Sozio, who now has the most titles in the 42-year history of the ECT. Sozio has led MSDA to 15 championship games.

Caldwell’s 10 team championships are still the top in the tourney’s history while MSDA is second, with eight crowns.

A number of Essex County teams have advanced to the sectional semifinals. West Essex won an exciting game over Passaic Valley, 5-4, in North 1, Group 3 while Nutley rallied to defeat Matawan, 6-4, in North 2, Group 3, as Brianna Cruz drilled a grand-slam homer.

West Essex celebrates a big win over Passaic Valley in state tournament.

Verona has played well, winning two games to make it to the semis in North 2, Group 2, with a pair of shutouts, both by senior righty Christina Colon, who fanned a combined 35 batters in the two wins.

Montclair Kimberley defeated Montclair Immaculate to get to the semifinal in North Non-Public B and Columbia earned a game against top-seeded Westfield in North 2, Group 4, with a pair of wins.

Cedar Grove’s quest for a third straight sectional title and fourth in the last five seasons included a hard-fought 2-1 win over Kinnelon on May 20, in North 1, Group 1.

Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi (center) hopes to lead her team to another state sectional title.

Montclair won a good game on May 18, edging Paramus Catholic, 5-4, as Milani Davis, Frankie Testa and Luella ST Pierre had two hits each and Aliyah Andrews pitched a complete game. The Mounties were 13-12 heading into its season finale against Hoboken.

Belleville and Nutley played a nice cross-over game, at the Corino Softball Complex at Clearman Field, in Belleville, on May 18. The Raiders won, 3-0, as freshman pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel was outstanding for Nutley while senior shortstop Melanie Conca excelled at the plate and in the field.

Lorianne O’Connor and Jamell Quiles had two hits each for Nutley.

Lorianne O’Connor

Earlier in the week, Belleville won its 20th game for the first time since 2003.

There’s more on the game in the link below.

Here’s the latest FMTC Top 10

1-Mount St. Dominic (24-4)

2-Cedar Grove (22-4)

3-West Essex (13-9)

4-Nutley (16-10)

5-Livingston (19-8)

6-Caldwell (15-10)

7-Columbia (14-11)

8-Verona (11-13)

9-Bloomfield (10-10)

10-Belleville (20-3) and Montclair (13-12)

By mike051893

Vardiman will definitely ‘have another’, as West Essex advances in NJSIAA Tourney; Waack, Coia play key role in tough 5-4 win over a good Passaic Valley team; Hornets’ freshman Savannah VanWinkle sparkles with 4 hits

West Essex softball coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget couldn’t help but show her enthusiasm after her team had won a thrilling 5-4 victory over Passaic Valley in a North 1, Group 3 quarterfinal, in Little Falls, on May 20.

West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget encourages her team after a win at Passaic Valley, on May 20.

West Essex, the seventh seed, improved to 13-8, as the Knights won for the 10th time in the last 12 games. Passaic Valley, the second seed, completed a tremendous season with a 19-2 record.

Mondadori-Llauget noted her team’s difficult regular-season schedule and how it prepared her team for the game with Passaic Valley.

“They have a very good team,” said Mondadori-Llauget of Passaic Valley. “I told our kids, no lead is safe against them. I knew if we got the lead first, they’d battle back, and they did.

“But I have to credit the schedule we played this year, with three games against Mount St. Dominic, two against Cedar Grove, and playing teams like Nutley, Caldwell, Verona and Livingston. The SEC prepares you for the state tournament, no question.”

Julia Vardiman (left) and Gianna Waack after a hard-earned win in the state tournament, against Passaic Valley.

West Essex had opened a 4-0 lead through 5 1/2 innings, thanks to superb pitching from senior righty Julia Vardiman, as well as Vardiman’s offensive production, including a pair of stolen bases which led to West Essex’s fourth run, in the top of the fifth inning.

Also contributing was senior centerfielder Gianna Waack, who accounted for her team’s first two runs with a hard-earned walk and later, hustling out a grounder which eventually led to a run. Waack also scored a run and drove in one.

Jessica Coia continued her timely hitting for West Essex, with two hits while Vardiman was 2-for-3 with three stolen bases and two runs scored, including the game-winner.

Waack (the best last name in softball bar-none) would actually drop a fly ball which eventually tied the game for Passaic Valley, in the bottom of the sixth, but the senior never wavered, and in the seventh, her sacrifice fly scored Vardiman from third for the game-winning run.

“I knew I was going to drive Julia in,” said Waack afterward. “I didn’t let my error in the previous inning get me down. We just had to get back on track, and when Julia walked to lead off the seventh, I thought we’d find a way to win.”

Vardiman (AKA ‘I’ll Have Another‘) also battled through a tough sixth inning, when Passaic Valley stormed back to tie it. She actually had to work out of a bases-loaded jam, retiring the next two batters to keep the game tied and setting up the dramatic seventh inning.

“I just knew I had to find a way to help us win this game,” said Vardiman afterward. “The sixth inning was tough, but I felt confident in my team, and we got it done.”

Passaic Valley would threaten in the bottom of the seventh when freshman left fielder Savannah VanWinkle, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, laced a long 2-out double over Waack’s head. VanWinkle had a marvelous day, finishing 4-for-4. VanWinkle also made two outstanding catches in left field.

Vardiman retired the next PV hitter on a fly to center, which, appropriately, Waack caught for the game’s final out.

“I’m glad I was able to make that final catch,” said Waack. “This was a really good game.”

West Essex will travel to Oakland, on May 23, to play Indian Hills in the sectional semifinal. Indian Hills rallied from a 6-1 deficit in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Old Tappan, 7-6.

By mike051893

A new season nears for Wayne Hills football, as annual ‘Spring Fling’ draws players, parents and fans; Coach Pat Cosgrove begins 33rd season on staff

The Wayne Hills football program enjoyed a tremendous season in 2018, which included the program’s 10th state sectional championship, as well as a Bowl Game title at MetLife Stadium, on Nov. 30, against Phillipsburg.

The team has enjoyed the fruits of that title, but now, a new season will begin soon. Official practice will commence on, or around, June 10 and with that, the team’s annual ‘Spring Fling’ brunch was held on May 19, at the high school.

Left to right, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, Wayne Demikoff and Mayor Christopher P. Vergano. (Photo by Dawn Dellechiaie)

“It’s great to see everyone here,” said head coach Wayne Demikoff, who is beginning his seventh season as head coach and 21st with the program. “We’re looking ahead now, to a new season. We’ll open up in South Carolina, and hopefully we’ll end it at MetLife again.”

Among the guests at the brunch was Wayne mayor, Christoper P. Vergano and Wayne Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback.

Coach Demikoff addresses the audience at the Spring Fling. (Photo by Dawn Dellichiaie)

Mayor Vergano spoke of community pride and the excitement of a new season. Dr. Toback reminded the players that high school football only comes around once, and to enjoy every minute.

When he saw assistant coach Pat Cosgrove sitting at one of the tables, Mayor Vergano was quick to recognize the long-time coach.

Coach Pat Cosgrove

“How many years for you on staff?” asked Vergano to Cosgrove.

“I started (at Hills) in 1987,” said Cosgrove. “It goes by quickly.”

Coach Cosgrove is the longest-tenured coach on the Hills staff. He has been at Hills for all 10 championships and can tell you pretty much every statistic the team has every compiled. Cosgrove came to Hills with head coach Chris Olsen in 1987. He had also served with Olsen at previous coaching stops before Hills.

Also on hand was Tony Giampapa, a long-time supporter of the program with his never-ending commitment and devotion to the players and coaches.

“Tony never wants to be recognized, but he does so much for us,” said Demikoff.

Even though Dawn Dellechiaie’s son and nephew have graduated from the Wayne Hills program, she will continue to serve a major role with the Booster Club, as well as providing photos for the team.

Demikoff spoke with pride on the tremendous amount of community service his players have put in during the off season, as well as the work the teams has devoted to the weight room, preparing for a new campaign.

“We also have kids who are tutoring those who need work with their classes,” said Demikoff. “That’s a big part of what makes a team, a team.”

Graduation has hit hard, with 10 seniors on the 2018 team now preparing to play college football.

For the fifth straight year, Wayne Hills will open the season on the road, and out of state. This year, the Patriots will travel to Columbia, South Carolina to face Ridge View High School, on Aug. 30, starting at 7 p.m.

With the season starting early, the preparation will soon amp up. The team will begin 7-on-7 competition in June, including a trip to the fabled roof at Union City. Then, it’s off to East Stroudsburg, on June 30, for the annual 4-day camp.

When Hills returns, there will be a busy month of July, with practice and more 7-on-7’s. After the mandatory 10-day break toward the end of July, the team will then begin practicing in pads, with the usual heat acclimation process. The first scrimmage will be in Pennsylvania, followed by a return trip to Phillipsburg, where the team scrimmaged last year.

The ‘game scrimmage’ is again at Union City, and then it’s time to prepare for the trip to South Carolina.

“It’s coming up really quickly now,” said Demikoff. “Think about it. We’re into mid May. Less than a month from now, we begin practice. In six weeks, we’ll be going to East Stroudsburg, then a busy month of July.”

By mike051893

Mount St. Dominic coach Lorenzo Sozio wins record 8th Essex County Tournament championship, as Lions defeat Cedar Grove, 3-0

Congratulations to Mount St. Dominic Academy softball coach Lorenzo Sozio on winning a record eighth Essex County championship, as his Lions defeated defending champion Cedar Grove, 3-0, on May 18, at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University.

Sozio and his wife, Jayme, have three young sons.

Sozio was tied with Caldwell coaches Mike Teshkoyan and Mark Teshkoyan, who are 7-1 in Essex County finals, with Caldwell’s last crown coming in 2005. The tournament just celebrated its 42nd renewal.

Sozio took over as head coach at MSDA in 1996 and led the Lions to its first-ever championship that season, with a win over Bloomfield in the final. (Sozio is a Bloomfield High grad).

Championships for Mount St. Dominic were also won in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017 and this year.

Sozio, who has also held the athletic director position at Mount St. Dominic since 2000, has guided the softball program to 15 county finals, including consecutive appearances in 2000-2001, 2007-2009, 2011-2015 and 2017-2019.

Caldwell coaches Mike Teshkoyan (let) and Mark Teshkoyan have been coaching softball since 1987. The duo has eclipsed 1,000 combined wins, in softball and soccer.

Mike Teshkoyan sent his congratulations to Sozio on May 19.

“That’s a tremendous job,” said Teshkoyan, who has been at Caldwell since 1987 and guided the Chiefs to county titles in his first two years on the job. “It’s not easy winning one of those, much less eight.”

In addition to winning eight county titles, Sozio also guided Mount St. Dominic to a Non-Public A state championship in 2014. He eclipsed the 500 victory plateau in 2016.

Mount St. Dominic received a tremendous pitching performance from Sophia Kiseloski, in shutting down a potent Cedar Grove offense. The Lions scored a pair of runs in the first inning and never looked back.

Both Mount St. Dominic and Cedar Grove will be back in action this week for NJSIAA action. Mount St. Dominic will seek a title in Non-Public A while Cedar Grove is gearing for a championship in Group 1. A possible fourth meeting between the schools could occur in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions in early June.

Mount St. Dominic has won two of the first three games with the Panthers. Both teams are in line for the SEC American Division title, with Cedar Grove already assured of a conference championship.

By mike051893