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.
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.
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.