‘Whatever it Takes’: Wayne Valley softball has a good mix of youth and experience, led by team captains Hendershott, McAtee, LaMorges and Hayeck; Now it just hopes to get on the field

Wayne Valley High’s softball team may hold a dubious distinction in 2020.

The Indians probably played the only scrimmage in the state of New Jersey, on March 12, when it traveled to Nutley. The following day, the NJSIAA shut down high school sports, for the time being, on the heals of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Over two weeks after that scrimmage, the state of spring sports in New Jersey remains in limbo. The regular season won’t start on April 1, as scheduled, and for that matter, probably won’t have any games in April.

The Wayne Valley softball team after a scrimmage at Nutley, on March 12. The players and coaches are hopeful this wasn’t the only game they’ll play in this spring.

Wayne Valley coach Chris Helm, like so many other coaches, is hoping his team will get the chance to get on the field before the school year concludes in late June.

Coming off a 9-13 season last spring, the Indians’ motto for this season is ‘Whatever it Takes.’

And that could be even more prophetic with the current state of affairs in the country.

On the field, the team will be led by senior captains Sami Hendershott and Molly McAtee, along with junior captains Gianna LaMorges and Lexi Hayeck.

Sami Hendershott. (Above pitching and below, at the plate) All photos courtesy of Chris Helm.

Hendershott, a pitcher, is a two-year captain and four-year starter for the Indians. Wayne Valley’s two most impressive victories last season came against an eventual state sectional champion, in West Milford, and Hendershott pitched in both contests.

“Sami will be going to Wilkes University to play softball,” said Helm. “She’s one of the top five hardest working athletes I have ever coached.”

McAtee, an outfielder, is a two-year starter.

Molly McAtee.

“Molly made some big-time plays in the West Milford games last year, and in both wins against Wayne Hills,” said Helm. “She’s a great leader, who is going to be a tremendous success in whatever she chooses in life.”

Gianna LaMorges.

Emily Chen, a senior outfielder, is in her first year of varsity softball.

“Emily is a dedicated, smart, and a true program kid,” said Helm. “She is an absolute pleasure to coach, and is a great role model for the younger girls.”

LaMorges had a tremendous season in 2019, earning All-County and All-Conference accolades. Hayeck was an All-Conference catcher last season.

The other juniors on the roster are shortstop Sam Namendorf and Amy Chicketano, a runner. The sophomores are Gabby Perez, who pitched varsity in 2019 and Tristan Morales, an outfielder.

Lexi Hayeck (16) at first base.

Freshmen  Alyssa Giovatto, Cameron Rosenberg, Julia Schaeffer and Ava Gordon could also see action this spring.

Helm noted the highlights from 2019 were the two wins against West Milford, the first time in program history that the team had swept the season series from its Passaic County rival, as well as a sweep of Wayne Hills and a big late-season victory over Lakeland, where Perez pitched well.

The Indians also battled the state’s top-ranked public school, Cedar Grove, for a full seven innings.

As for 2020, Helm likes what he saw, in limited practice.

Coach Chris Helm hopes to have plenty of these meetings with his team in 2020.

“We’re looking forward to great senior leadership, with Hendershott, McAtee and Chen,” the coach said. “The young players also have good experience with LaMorges, Hayeck, Namendorf, Morales and Perez. 

“I’m also excited for our talented new young kids, in Rosenberg, Giovatto, Schaeffer, and Gordon.”

Now, if only the team can get back on the field.

Time will tell.

By mike051893

Where winning is well-established, West Milford High softball looks to continue that tradition in 2020

Winning championships in softball at West Milford High has been a norm for over two decades.

And as head coach Nikki Gwinnett begins her ninth season as the team’s head coach and 19th campaign on the staff, she does so coming off a championship season, but also a lot of questions on whether there will be a chance to repeat the title in 2020.

Gwinnett was Jim Dransfield’s assistant for many years and part of a marvelous run of seven county titles, between 2002-2011 as well as a pair of state titles in 2002 and 2003.

Gwinnett was also on hand when Dransfield joined an elite fraternity in 2010, with his 500th career victory. Since taking over as head coach in 2012, she’s led West Milford to eight straight winning seasons.

Highlanders celebrated a state sectional championship in 2019.

In 2019, West Milford brought home another sectional title, defeating West Essex in the final, 3-1. The Highlanders also advanced to the Passaic County Tournament final.

Of course, this season had started well, with good weather for early March, before the Coronavirus pandemic escalated.

“We’re all hoping we’ll be able to get back on the field,” said Gwinnett.

Gwinnett’s assistant coaches in 2020 are Mark Mickens, Andrea Jones, Candice Oltmanns and Bill Van Dyk.

The team captains are Anna Brand and Courtney Cienki. Both are third-year varsity players. Brand missed the 2019 season with an injury after playing at an All-County level a year earlier.

Cienki was a big part of last year’s state title run. She’s expected to take over the pitching chores this spring and could also play first base.

“We graduated 10 seniors from last year, including eight starters,” said Gwinnett.

Amanda Gerold will return to her shortstop position. Samantha Araujo, an outfielder, had 24 hits as a freshman last season. Unfortunately, a knee injury has sidelined her for 2020.

Brand should be playing third base. As a sophomore in 2018, she had 32 hits, so her bat will be key this spring.

The team’s varsity roster also includes sophomore catcher Rachel Chandler, sophomore infielder Victoria Holm, juniors Ava Dragonetti (outfielder), Emily Ginder (catcher) and Rehna Khan (infielder). Outfielders Ashley Stein and Kayla Siemer are seniors.

“The team traveled to Danbury, Ct., in the winter to play live games (with the summer coaches),” said Gwinnett. “We had weight room and speed workouts in the off-season and participated in weekly off-season hitting and fielding workouts.

“We had a motivated team this season. I hope that we can play some of the season.”

By mike051893

Ken Johansen: Proud husband, dad and grandfather, as well as a huge Belleville High sports fan

I first met Ken Johansen some 37 years ago, when his second eldest child, Desiree, began playing sports for Belleville High School.

Ken, along with another good friend, Bob Marion, would sit in the stands on a regular basis, watching their daughters play basketball in the winter and softball in the spring. At either home games, or on the road, there would be Ken, and usually Bob, watching and cheering.

Ken would be a fixture at Belleville sporting events for a decade. Desiree and later Stacey Johansen were star athletes, followed by Ken and Rosemarie’s twin sons, Kenny and Kevin.

Through it all, Ken Johansen, who ran a successful plumbing and heating business in town, hardly said a word, except to watch his kids play sports. He would smile at just about everyone, tell a few jokes and was a supportive parent.

Ken Johansen died on March 29, 2020. He was 78.

A resident of Belleville for over half a century, Ken was a veteran of the United States Air Force. More importantly, he was a man who loved his family. He and Rosemarie have five children, Danielle, Desiree, Stacey, Kevin and Kenny.

You’d often see Ken’s plumbing and heating vans riding around town, from one home to another.

“Not sure how he managed to be at every game for every sport, for all of us, but he did it and loved every minute of it,” recalled Stacey, a phenomenal softball player who went on attend Brown University. “It has not sunk in yet, but I know he will be missed by many.”

Desiree Johansen would be an excellent student-athlete at BHS for four years, helping the softball team win a county title in 1983, while playing third base.

Stacey, a tremendous pitcher, would lead the 1989 softball team to a county title while being a big part of the 1987 squad, which won a state sectional crown.

In 2000, Stacey would be named among the greatest athletes of the 20th Century, by the Star-Ledger, the only Belleville High athlete to earn that acclaim.

Kevin and Kenny Johansen would follow in their sister’s footsteps, excelling in basketball and baseball from 1990-1993.

Today, Kevin and his brother-in-law, Frank Ferry, have taken over their dad’s business while Kenny is a successful educator at his alma mater.

Ken Johansen was most comfortable when talking about his children. He’d often invite me to his home on Smallwood Avenue, either to have dinner, or watch films of his kids playing sports. Stacey was actually a pitcher in the Belleville Little League and did a tremendous job.

I often said that Ken reminded me, facially, of another ‘Ken’, the great Kenny Rogers. And it’s kind of ironic that the two were called home just nine days apart.

Among Kenny Rogers’ greatest songs was ‘Love the World Away.’ And if anyone did that, it was Ken Johansen, who loved his family beyond anything else.

God Bless you, Ken. Thanks for your friendship. I’ll never forget you. Say hello to Bob Marion. I’ll see you guys again, one day.

Here are the lyrics to that song.

Every now and then when the world steps in
Stealin’ all our time away
It soon takes so much
We forget to touch
That’s when I know it’s time for me to say

Take my hand
Let’s walk through love’s door
And be free from the world once more
Here’s my arms
We can hide today
And love the world away

Once again we’ll be where our hearts are free
And the time is ours to share
Love will always stay just a touch away
Come with me
All the magic’s waiting there

Take my hand
Let’s walk through love’s door
And be free from the world once more
Here’s my arms
We can hide today
And love the world away

By mike051893

In times of peril, Sunrise Bagels in Wayne, NJ, a good friend to Wayne Hills football, providing an ‘Oasis’ to those in need

Ziad Majbour is up at the crack of dawn, every day, doing what he loves the most.

More many years, Ziad fed countless of students, teachers and administrators at Wayne Hills High School, along with local businesses near his popular ‘Sunrise Bagel’ store, on Berdan Avenue, in the Point View Shopping Center, in Wayne, NJ.

The recent Coronavirus outbreak has slowed business at Sunrise, some 60 percent. Yet, Ziad’s determination hasn’t wavered. In fact, he’s working extra hard to help those who could struggle to eat regularly, by donating between 10-15 dozen bagels, per day, to the Oasis, a Haven for Women and Children, located on Mill Street, in Paterson, NJ. Ziad began donating the bagels a little over a week ago.

Sunrise Bagels provides pick up, curbside service and delivery to its customers, as well as the usual foot traffic. (Photos courtesy of Ziad Majbour)

“For a while, we had been giving away bagels at the end of the day to local customers, but there wasn’t a huge demand,” said Ziad, a resident of Wayne. “One day, I had posted on Facebook that I had extra bagels and I was recommended to Oasis, and that’s how it started. It feels good to be able to help others.”

Sunrise Bagels has been a good friend to so many in Wayne.

“Players on the Wayne Hills football team have always been regulars,” said Ziad, who has owned the store for three years. “They’re great kids. And (Wayne Hills football coach) Wayne (Demikoff) is a regular customer. But with the high school closed, we lost a lot of business from early-morning customers, as well as with the office complex near the school, which is also closed. We’re trying our best to keep up, but, like so many other (local businesses), our numbers are down.”

10 to 15 dozen of bagels, per day, are being donated to the Oasis, in Paterson.

Read more about Wayne Hills football’s desire to help local businesses and medical professionals here. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2020/03/29/1000-meals-to-start-wayne-hills-football-program-giving-back-to-its-community-in-big-way-with-meals-for-our-medical-heroes-while-assisting-local-eateries/

Despite the drop in business, Ziad’s desire to assist women and children in need has provided a nice partnership with Oasis.

“It’s something I intend to continue, long after this crisis is behind us,” said Ziad.

The store is also providing free bagels to those in need, daily, from Monday-Saturday, 2:30 to 3 p.m. and Sunday, from 1:30 to 2 p.m.

With the new challenges that local eateries are facing, Ziad has added delivery service for his food, as well as curbside pick up. The shop remains open to foot traffic.

“It has helped,” said Ziad of the additional measures to keep business upbeat.

Demikoff noted how Sunrise, which has been in business for a quarter century, along with so many others in the community, have long supported his football program.

“They’ve always been there for us,” said Demikoff. “And now, we need to do whatever we can to help them. We all take things for granted, like going to breakfast and lunch, but in times like this, you realize how important we are to local business.”

Ziad Majbour (right) and Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff. Photo by Troy Demikoff.

Ziad Majbour is a resident of Wayne, where he and his wife are raising three young daughters. He owns a second business, Bagel Stop & Deli, which is on Valley Road, in Wayne.

“We’ll continue to work hard,” said Ziad. “Serving the community of Wayne is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’m very appreciative of our customers who continue to be there for us. We all want things to get back to normal.”

By mike051893

Passaic Valley High softball team can’t wait to get back on the field, as Hornets hope momentum of last year’s 19-2 season resonates into a championship

Kathy Hill has always kept a pretty even demeanor. So when I asked how she was doing, by phone, on March 29, she laughed, a little, and said, “we’re hanging in there.”

Welcome to what 2020 has turned into, as families throughout the country, especially in the NY/NJ Metropolitan area, endure a new world

Hill is Passaic Valley High’s softball coach. Just a few weeks ago, her team had begun practice with a lot of anticipation for the upcoming season. The Hornets had finished 19-2 last season, in a breakout year at PV, and with a majority of those players set to return this spring, the excitement was obvious.

Left to right: Taylor Hill, Devyn DiPasquale and Brianna DeLuccia, all juniors in 2020, are hoping to get on the field soon.

“Everything was in place,” said Hill of the start of practice, on March 6. “The kids were in good shape, the weather was really good, and we were able to get a lot of work in, outside, which isn’t always the case around here, in March.”

Just a week into practice, and with scrimmages about begin, the Coronavirus outbreak took a drastic turn for the worse, and with it, schools closed throughout the state. And with the closures came the suspension of athletic practices and games in NJ high schools.

Social distancing has kept players away from each other, but technology has been a big help.

“These kids are all pretty good friends,” said Hill. “They’re keeping in touch, remotely, They’re doing their schoolwork, on Google classroom, and doing what they have to do, to stay in softball shape. Our players had worked hard in the off-season, and I know they’re committed to staying in good shape.”

Off the field, Hill has tried to keep a positive attitude, as well.

“My house is really clean,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve done a lot of cooking and we’re able to eat dinner at a decent hour. Other than that, I wish we were on a normal spring softball schedule.”

While coaches are not allowed to interact with their players, in person, Hill has a unique situation. PV’s leadoff hitter and shortstop, Taylor Hill, is, of course, Kathy and George Hill’s daughter.

“George has spent some time with Taylor, on fielding and hitting, in our backyard,” said Kathy Hill. “It’s different, with Taylor. She’s my daughter, so the interaction is different. I know all the kids are doing their best.”

The Hornets hope that gatherings like this will be the norm, soon. This was taken shortly before the 2019 season opener.

One of Taylor Hill’s closest teammates is junior Devyn DiPasquale, PV’s starting second baseman since her freshman year.

DiPasquale has used her family’s backyard to get her work in, as well.

“As far as what I’ve been up to since school has been closed, I’ve been doing some kind of practice everyday,” said DiPasquale. “My (younger) sister and I throw, give each other ground balls, do different footwork drills, hit into our bow net and she catches me when I pitch, as well.”

DiPasquale credited her teammates, and coach, with keeping such a positive approach to the season.

“As far as my team staying sharp, I know we are all trying really hard to stay on our game until they clear us to start our season. We’ve been in contact with each other, as well as with Coach Hill. Coach has done a really good job at keeping us invested in the season and in our goals.

Shana Donnelly (left) and Brianna DeLuccia, here in a 2019 photo.

“She sends motivational videos and all different workouts we can do at home to stay in shape. So, overall I feel like everyone is really trying to just push through, as well as they can, and are working extra hard by themselves. When we finally do get to play together again, it will be like we never stopped.”

Passaic Valley had a tremendous 2019 season. Its two setbacks came in the Passaic County Tournament and in the NJSIAA sectional round.

“We have set up a tougher out-of-conference schedule for this year” said Hill. “I believe that will help us be better prepared for the bigger games at the end of the season.”

Devyn DiPasquale is keeping a positive outlook on the 2020 season, as are her teammates and coaches.

The seniors on PV’s 2020 roster are Jada Rodriguez, Alex Ward, Maiya Sanchez, Bella Guarente, Shana Donnelly and Michaela Raguseo.

Among the juniors are Hill, DiPasquale, Brianna DeLuccia, Madison Leech, Rachel Alecci and Teresa Payne. The sophomores are Jenna Alesandrelli, Sophia Payne and Savannah VanWinkle.

Kathy Hill, like so many other coaches, is hopeful for a season, especially for the seniors.

“It would be such a shame if those kids can’t experience a happy senior year,” the coach said. “We were supposed to scrimmage Lenape Valley (on March 30) and then open the (regular) season (on April 1) against Teaneck.

“Now, we just want to get the chance to start playing again. If we can play in May and into June, that would be great.”

DiPasquale concurred.

“I’m really hopeful we are able to at least salvage a little bit of our season,” she said.

By mike051893

1,000 meals, to start: Wayne Hills Football program giving back to its community, in big way, with ‘Meals for our Medical Heroes’, while assisting local eateries

The epidemic which has reached global proportions has also created havoc locally.

So many are trying to step up to help small businesses during a difficult time, and the Wayne Hills football program is part of that effort.

Contributing to local charities has long defined the Wayne Hills football program.

“As an organization that relies heavily on our community for support of our program, we feel the overwhelming need to give back to our own and surrounding communities in their time of need,” the program commented in a recent release. “With that in mind, Wayne Hills Football Booster Club has started a collection to help support our brave, strong, heroes on the front lines at hospitals.  These individuals are risking their own health and safety to take care of countless others.  They are sacrificing time with their families. 

Wayne Hills coach Wayne Demikoff, here with sons Tyler and Troy, and dad, Wayne, Sr., resides in Wayne, NJ, and has long been an advocate for supporting businesses in the town.

“They are working with very little resources to keep them safe.  They are fighting battles and encountering heartache every single day.  Figuring out what to eat needs to be the LAST thing on their minds, and we want to help.”

The Patriots players have participated in charity runs. They also took part in a ‘Color Run’, in 2016, to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital (below).

While the medical professionals are doing a tremendous job, with little time off, local restaurants have felt the pinch, as well.

“We saw a need for those businesses, as well as the doctors, nurses and other professionals in the medical field,” said Tony Giampapa, a past president of the Booster Club, and currently, a trustee. “We can feed two birds with one apple.

Enter the Wayne Hills Football Booster Club’s “Meals for our Medical Heroes”, which will help collect monies to assist the local restaurants, while feeding the heroes on the front line of this battle.

In 2019, Wayne Hills supported young Zach Galasso and his family, before a game.

Under the program, all monies collected will go toward providing meals to doctors, nurses and hospital personnel.  Meals will be ordered by the Wayne Hills Football Booster Club, on behalf of the parents/families that have donated. The booster club will also match any donation made.

The program will be using the loyal food sponsors for this effort. The list of sponsors includes The Brownstone, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Manhattan Bagel, My Salad, Outback Steakhouse, Pizza One, Positano, Preakness Gourmet Deli, Primo Pizza, Sunrise Bagels, Bagel Buffet and Anthony Francos of Wayne.

The team has also donated turkeys to the needy during Thanksgiving.

Wayne Hills head football coach Wayne Demikoff has long appreciated the support from so many in Wayne.

“As a program, we want to do whatever we can to help those businesses that have been so great to us,” said Demikoff. “These are very difficult times. We’re proud to be there, in any way we can.”

The Booster Club further expounded on its commitment.

Winning championships has been a part of the Wayne Hills’ football heritage, but what the community is facing now will require a big effort from a lot of people.

“The Wayne Hills Football Booster club encourages our football families to do the same and support our food sponsors,” the club noted. “They are really hurting right now.  It’s our time to return the support by ordering food and gift cards and recommending them to your family and friends.”

The Meals for Medical Heroes will begin by focusing on St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson and Wayne, and Chilton Medical Center for providing the meals. If enough money is collected, other hospitals and local charities could be added.

The Patriots have also helped deliver Christmas presents to children.

Giampapa noted that the Medals for Medical Heroes hopes to feed 1,000 medical professionals, to start.

“A special thanks to our very generous sponsors for donations already made including Right Way Driving School and RWC Windows, Doors & More,” noted the Booster Club. “We are in conversations with many others currently interested in helping as well.  We’re off to great start!”

Monetary donations can be made the following ways:

Mail/Drop a check payable to Wayne Hills Football, Inc., 4 Farm View Court Wayne, NJ, 07470.

Venmo to @marco-brunetti. Please note Covid19.

Credit Card Payments (please update the quantity to accommodate your desired donation amount): https://www.waynehillsfootball.com/store

In addition to Meals for Medical Heroes, Giampapa also reminded those, who are able, that purchasing gift cards is a good way to help local eateries.

“A lot of these restaurants could use gift card purchases,” said Giampapa. “This way, they have some much-needed cash up front, and, of course, they’ll be good for whatever the consumer wishes to purchase down the road.”

By mike051893

Nearly 8 years later, and ‘The Game That Never Was’, remembering what might have been between Livingston and IHA on the softball diamond, at Ivy Hill

It was May 8, 2012, and two undefeated New Jersey high school softball teams were scheduled to play a 7 p.m. game at Ivy Hill Park.

Immaculate Heart Academy was ranked first in the state while Livingston was second. Both teams had standout pitchers and a marvelous lineup.

Unfortunately, the game never happened. Light rain at 4 p.m., which didn’t affect a nearby game as Columbia played Caldwell that afternoon, somehow forced a cancellation of a 7 p.m. game, when there was no rain and, in fact, the sun was out.

Since it was not a conference game, the contest would not be made up. But, nearly eight years later, it’s an interesting time to look back at what may have been, in The Game That Never Was.

Kylie McLaughlin (left) and Alexa Altchek were key players for the 2012 Lancers.

Anthony LaRezza was IHA’s coach while Jason Daily led Livingston, 2012 Daily is beginning his 20th season as the Livingston’s top coach. LaRezza passed away in February, 2016.

LaRezza and Daily were friends and had high respect for each other’s program.

LaRezza would always have kind words for the opposition, but he particularly liked Livingston. Quite often, he’d be seen in the stands, watching Livingston play, on days when IHA was off.

“They were really good,” LaRezza would say of Livingston, in 2014, in looking back at that game. “We didn’t play Livingston, a lot, but it was fun when we did. And it was always a tough game. Jason is a great guy, and his teams are always prepared.

“I’m not sure who would have won that (2012) game. (Junior pitcher) Jess (Peslak) was incredible that season. She was unhittable.”

Jess Peslak was 26-1 in 2012.

Peslak, dubbed Secretariat, would finish the 2012 season with some incredible numbers, including a 26-1 record, with a 0.32 ERA while leading Livingston to arguably its best season in the program’s history.

Peslak fanned 307 in 175 2/3 innings of work while walking 37. She also had 19 shutouts, including five-no hitters and nine one-hitters. She fanned a season high 17 in a win over West Essex in the Essex County Tournament semifinals and recorded double figures in strikeouts 20 times.

Livingston coach Jason Daily, with All-State players Kylie McLaughlin (left) and Jess Peslak, in 2012.

Peslak, a graduate of Hofstra University who is now in law school, opened the 2012 season by not allowing an earned run in her first 73 innings. She wound down the year by not yielding a run, earned, or unearned, from April 27 to June 5, a span of 82 1/3 innings during which she threw 11 straight shutouts while also making a few relief appearances. Ultimately, Peslak gave up one earned run in her final 88 2/3 innings.

I often said that LaRezza’s famous 2010 ‘Memorial Day speech’ was a classic, and it came on the heals a 1-0 loss to Livingston, at the IHA Tournament. In that game, Peslak, then a freshman, didn’t pitch, but she drove in the winning run.

Daily had equal respect for LaRezza.

“A great guy,” Daily would often say. “Anthony’s teams are very talented. They play hard and play with class. They learned from the best.”

IHA had a marvelous pitcher, too, in Steph Thomas, who was a sophomore in 2012. Thomas would go on to win a state-record 113 career games and went on to a tremendous pitching career at Lafayette College.

The eventual Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014, Thomas (aka Affirmed) would not only lead the state in career wins, but her 68 shutouts was also a state record.

Steph Thomas (center) with then-assistant coach Diana Fasano and Anthony LaRezza, in 2014, after Thomas became the state’s all-time winningest pitcher.

In 2014, alone, Thomas was 31-2 with 285 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 193 innings, while pitching to an earned run average of 0.47. She also hit .532 with 11 doubles and 23 RBI. For her career, Thomas had 951 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.54. And she could flat-out hit, too.

LaRezza, a tough grader for his own players, said this to NorthJerseySports.com in 2014 about Thomas.

Steph Thomas celebreated win number 113 with her grandparents, nearly six years ago.

“I have said this before, but she might be the best player to come out of New Jersey in the history of New Jersey. There might have been better pitchers and there might have been better hitters, but there has never been a player that I know of that does that combination better and she does even more than that,” said LaRezza. “She hits, she runs, you see the way she fields her position. She takes hits away from leadoff batters that hit the ball hard up the middle. She just grabs it and throws them out. As far a pitcher that can do it all, I don’t know if there has ever been anybody better.’

So, who would have won that game in 2012? We’ll obviously never know. But here’s a look at the lineups from that season, as both teams had tremendous hitters, but it’s hard to tell how much offense would have been generated that night, with the quality of the pitching.


Kylie McLaughlin, CF Angelina McGuire, CF

Sammi Rothenberger, SS Danielle Ibarra, SS

Alexa Altcheck, RF Rachel Pollard, RF

Jazzy Pignatello, 1B Abby Holmes, 1B

Jess Peslak, P Steph Thomas, P

Marina Lombardi, C Ally Vergona, C

Rachel Wasilak, 2B Carly Piccinich, 2B

Reid Singer, LF Emily Walter, LF

Carly LaGrotta, 3B Cassidy Trause, 3B

Kailyn Reilly, DP Emily Correa, DP

Sammi Passeri, Runner Steph Schulz, Runner

It should be noted that IHA and Livingston did play in 2013, at an early season tournament at Mount St. Dominic, in Caldwell, and IHA won, 5-2.

“Different teams in 2013,” LaRezza once said. “The core players were still there, but Jess was injured when we played them that year and she wasn’t her usual dominant self. I’m still not sure if we would have won in 2012, but I would have liked our chances. We had great kids that year, too.”

IHA would finish 32-0 in 2012 and be ranked the state’s best team. Livingston would win a conference, county and state sectional title, but were defeated in the Group 4 semifinal by Hunterdon Central. The Lancers finished 29-1 that year.

After meeting in 2013, Livingston and IHA would go on to excellent seasons. The Lancers would win the conference, county and state sectional titles again, before losing in the Group 4 semifinal to Watchung Hills.

Always influential coaches, Anthony LaRezza and Jason Daily helped younger coaches. Phil Delgado (standing next to Anthony) was very close to LaRezza and always respected Daily.

IHA would win another Bergen County and conference championship, before losing to St. John Vianney in the 2013 Non-Public A final.

Two years later, LaRezza would lead IHA to another state championship, in sadly, his final game as coach.

Two hundred forty three days after that title in 2015, LaRezza passed away, but his legacy remained strong, as IHA went on to another state championship in 2016, led by coach Diana Fasano. And a year after that, Fasano would guide IHA to the first Tournament of Champions crown.

Livingston would win a third state sectional championship in five seasons in 2016, under Daily’s guidance. He remains one of the best coaches in North Jersey.

As for The Game That Never Was?

I’ll go with Livingston, 2-1, in 8 innings.

By mike051893

Sarfati begins 10th full season with one of her strongest softball teams at Montclair Kimberley Academy

Jess Sarfati’s coaching tenure at Montclair Kimberley Academy includes a few years as an assistant coach, before taking over the reigns, officially in 2011.

Now, as she starts her 10th season at the helm, Sarfati feels this year’s team can bring back memories of those squads which included Molly Herforth and Andrea Huelsenbeck, over a decade ago, when winning Non-Public B state titles came on a regular basis for the Cougars.

During happier teams, MKA was on the softball field. Photos courtesy of Jess Sarfati.

“We were really looking forward to the season,” said Sarfati. “But right now, we’re in a holding pattern.”

Of course, Sarfati is referring to the NJSIAA mandate that there be no athletic events, as the state, the country, and for that matter, most of the world, deals with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sarfati had been an assistant to John O’Dell for two seasons, including a Non-Public B championship in 2009, then Kathy Hill for the 2010 campaign.

From 1999-2009, MKA won eight Non-Public B crowns, including four straight and five in six seasons, while appearing in 10 championship games. It hasn’t been to the final since that ’09 championship campaign.

This season, the Cougars have a strong senior class, led by team captains Geena Pacifico, Amanda Mack and Emily Talkow.

Mack, a catcher, will play at Penn State University, starting this fall while Talkow, the team’s shortstop, is headed to Washington University, in St. Louis, Mo. Pacifico is expected to be MKA’s number one pitcher this spring.

The team roster also includes seniors Jaime Fuchs, Jillian Fishback and Ava Cappitelli.

The junior class includes Annie Turvey and Leah Wohl while the sophomores are Lucy Jacobowitz, Lara Pramanik 2022, Jackie Tsai, Ava DiLorenzo and Amanda West.

The freshmen are Nat Yu, Amara, Alex Berra and Maddie Wheeler.

Sarfati’s coaching staff remains the same since she took over in 2011, with Donna Bruno and Isabel Alexander returning.

MKA was supposed to leave for its annual trip to the Disney Complex, in Florida, for the usual spring training on March 23.

“We were able to cancel the trip just in time,” said Sarfati. “Even with that disappointment, our seniors were so upbeat. They wanted everyone to stay positive. They’re such a good group of kids, and I really hope they get the chance to play.

“I know it’s a tough time, but we’re still hoping maybe, in a few weeks, they’ll get a chance to play.”

By mike051893

Essex Softball: Mondadori Llauget begins her 16th season at West Essex with a young, talented team that will be led by captains Liggieri, Coia and Apito

As Andrea Mondadori Llauget begins her 16th season as head softball coach at West Essex, she does so with an impressive resume.

Mondadori Llauget has guided the Knights to five Essex County championship games, as well as two county titles, in 2007 and 2016. In addition, she’s led West Essex to multiple state sectional titles.

Lilly James (left) and Julia Vardiman were a big part of West Essex’s recent success on the softball diamond.

But Mondadori Llauget, like her many coaching counterparts, both locally and throughout the state, has never seen anything like what 2020 has provided, in the form of a pandemic.

And like her counterparts, ‘Mondo’ remains somewhat optimistic that perhaps her team can play a few games before the school year concludes in late June.

Andrea Mondadori and Jay Ahmed address their team after an exciting win over Passaic Valley in the NJSIAA Tournament last spring.

An educator at West Essex, Mondadori Llauget has a relatively young team this season. The Knights have had its share of successes over the years. Last year’s team, a feisty group, led by senior pitcher Julia Vardiman (who is now a freshman at the College of New Jersey) had a tremendous run in the state sectionals, advancing to the finals, before losing to West Milford, 3-1.

West Essex hopes to celebrate another team title, as it did in 2016 after winning an Essex County Tournament championship.

West Essex had started 3-6 last season, then won six straight before a 1-0 setback to Cedar Grove. The Knights closed the season with 11 wins in its last 16 games, along with three victories in the NJSIAA Tournament and posted a 14-11 record.

West Essex’s recent success, the team has an 92-40 record, over the last six seasons, gives rise to a level of confidence among the returning players this spring.

The team captains this season are Alexa Liggieri, Jessica Coia and Fran Apito.

Coach Jay Ahmed and Julia Vardiman after a 2018 game.

“We have a nice group of seniors,” said Mondadori Llauget. “And I really want them to be able to play this spring. I feel bad for all the kids, but, of course, the seniors are a top priority for this year.”

Mondadori Llauget’s coaching staff includes long-time assistant Jay Ahmed along with Monica Onorata, who is new to the staff, but certainly a familiar face to the program. Onorata played softball at West Essex and was graduated in 2016.

This year’s roster includes seniors Julia Rubenstein, Leah Buccino and Emily Suhey, juniors Olivia Emmolo and Nikki Simonetti, sophomores Alissa Gallion, Nicole Massaro, Juliana Palazzo, Jessica Moresco, Bella Slaeen, Jordan Ruffer, Julia Guerriero, Julianna Tornatore and Nicole Connington and freshmen Courtney Turanick and Olivia Simonetti.

Teamwork has always defined West Essex softball, even in little things like helping to tie a shoe.

“We have some other younger players that were going to get some varsity opportunities into the scrimmages,” said Mondadori LLauget. “Courtney Turanick, who was injured before the season began, was set to be cleared March 17.

“Olivia Simonetti made the varsity squad as a freshman, after six practices. There are some other younger players that we were looking at as well. We really didn’t have a concrete lineup set, we were in full tryout mode prior to the stoppage.”

Now, it’s just a matter of wait and see, and hopefully there will be some good news for the team soon.

By mike051893

If only it can get back on the field, Nutley High baseball has high hopes for 2020

Less than three weeks ago, the Nutley High baseball team had begun practice with a high anticipation of the 2020 season.

Now, there are serious questions as to whether the team will have a season, after the Coronavirus outbreak, which has devastated the entire country. 
Nutley coach Bob Harbison admits he’s never seen anything like this before, and he’s part of a long list of coaches and school administrators who realize there’s little they can do, except hope for a major improvement in the weeks to come.

“We lost some talented kids to graduation, including two who are now playing Division 1 baseball, in Marty Higgins (St. John’s University) and Josh O’Neill (Stony Brook U.). But I liked what I was seeing from the kids in practice.”

Nutley coach Bob Harbison addresses his team during a Greater Newark Tournament game in 2018.

The Raiders began practice on March 6 and had an ambitious pre-season schedule, before the start of the regular season on April 1. Now, of course, with no scrimmages and no end in sight to resume school, it’s questionable whether the Raiders will even play varsity baseball this spring.

“We’re hoping,” said Harbison. “Even if the season starts in early May, maybe we can get six weeks of games in.”

Harbison’s coaching staff includes Phil Agosta, JD Vick, Frank Sasso, Chris Weinstein and Augie Mustardo. 

Trevor Santos, a senior lefthander, who will play baseball at Manhattan College starting this fall, is one of the key Raiders for 2020. Santos could be the team’s number one pitcher, as well as a centerfielder.

Kevin Hogan, also a senior, is a pitcher and first baseman. Hogan plans to play at Felician University this fall.

Nutley has had a lot of success in post-season play. In 2018, the team advanced to the GNT final.

Also expected to pitch this season for Nutley are Andrew Budine, Joe Delanzo, Cameron Schilp, Jake Walsh,  Ryan Breihof, Damian Quiles and Lou Delitta. 

Thirty two players make up the roster for the Raiders’ junior varsity and varsity teams. The infield features Hogan at first base, Dominick DiNorscio and Delanzo playing second, Justin Lucia and Dylan Santos playing shortstop and Anthony Haines at third base.

Lou Rafaelli, a junior, will start for the third straight year behind the plate while the outfield candidates include Dan Jennings, Andrew Ponzoni and John Coppola in leftfield,Trevor Santos in center and Andrew Connor and Felix Gonzalez in right field.

“I think we’ll have a better overall lineup, from 1 to 9 this season,” said Harbison, who guided Nutley to a 22-7 mark in 2019. “We were really excited about the season and we’re still hopeful. I really hope we can get on the field. It would be especially good for our seniors.”

By mike051893