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The Wayne Hills High School community, like so many schools in New Jersey, have stepped up in its effort to support First Responders, in Wayne, during this difficult time.
The latest team to contribute, at Hills, is the softball program, which began selling face masks.
“We wanted to do something for the First Responders in town,” said Marc Galasso, whose daughter, Jillian, is a senor captain of this year’s squad. “I had gotten the idea from another softball coach, and we thought selling face masks, with the team’s logo, would be good.”
Wayne Hills softball coach Rayna Caruso was on board with the idea, as well as the school’s administration, which was very supportive.
“I’ve seen the great job the (Wayne Hills) football program has done, with providing meals for medical professionals,” said Galasso. “And the high school has been selling tee-shirts and sweat shirts. We thought this would be nice.”
Read more about the football program’s success with Medical Heroes, here:
All orders must be submitted by midnight, May 3. The face masks will be delivered on the week of May 25.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Galasso. “The store reported 284 face masks were already purchased (through April 27). We’re really excited about the chance to contribute to our First Responders. I’ll be speaking with the town next week, to see where the monies could best be donated.”
Galasso also noted that the players are happy about the chance to contribute.
“The program wants to help in any way possible,” said Galasso. “These are obviously different times.”
Hudson Hassler remains optimistic. But she’s also a realist, and well beyond her 18 years.
Hassler, a star shortstop, is hoping she’ll play her senior year of softball at Columbia High, but also comprehends that it may not happen.
“I’m staying optimistic,” said Hassler, the youngest of there daughters born to Suzanne and John Hassler. “After last season, when we made a good run in the state tournament, we came into this season with a lot of hope. We were eager to possibly win a state sectional championship and continue to see this program get stronger.”
Columbia had an excellent season in 2019, finishing with a record of 16-12, along with an appearance in the North 2, Group 4 final.
Hassler, who will attend Ithaca College this fall and continue playing softball for the NCAA, Division 3 power, has been Columbia’s shortstop for three years. She was a team captain in 2019 and will hold the same title in 2020.
She has been compared, quite favorably, to another standout shortstop for the Cougars, Kyrsten VanNatta, an All-State player in her senior year, some eight years ago. VanNatta went on to play at Marist College and was graduated in 2016.
“I never saw Kyrsten play,” said Hassler. “But I heard she was something special.”
Hudson is very excited about playing at Ithaca. Emily Holden, a former standout player at Nutley High, just completed her softball career at Ithaca this spring.
“I had a chance to hang out with Emily when I visited Ithaca,” said Hudson. “I really enjoyed talking with her. And since Emily will be continuing her schooling there, it will be nice to see her when I get to college.”
Hassler’s favorite player is former New York Yankee Mark Teixeira. She wears number 25 on her jersey, since that was Tex’s number.
“I used to love to play first base, because that’s where he played,” said Hudson. “Eventually, I began to play other positions, including shortstop.”
Hassler’s high school coach, Cliff Smith, admitted he could write a book about his star shortstop.
“When people ask me about Hudson Hassler, I hope they have time on their hands because I have a lot to say about her,” said Smith. “Hudson is not just the best player I’ve ever coached, but also one of the best people I’ve ever coached.
“Hudson’s softball knowledge is unbelievable, and it shows when she plays. She is one of the hardest workers I’ve been around, and also one of the most coachable. Hudson does anything I ask of her.
“I’m extremely sad that this pandemic has shut down Hudson’s senior year, because she was ready for a fantastic season. She was on pace to set the all time hit record. Overall when thinking about Hudson, I just think about what a privilege and honor it has been to coach such a wonderful young woman.”
Hudson also plays summer ball for NJ FIGHT, which is coached by Phil Delgado.
“I love playing for FIGHT,” she said. “Coach Delgado had me play second base last summer. It was good to learn a new position. I’m not sure where they want me to play in college, but I’ll be ready.”
While the NJSIAA hasn’t made a decision on whether there will be spring sports in 2020 for New Jersey high school athletes, Hassler, while seeing the glass as half-full, is also a logician.
“Like I said, we all want to play,” she said. “But I’m also proud to say that we, as a team, have made strides for the program’s future. I’ve loved every minute of playing here. I really believe Columbia softball has a bright future.”
In college, Hassler is considering a major in Communication Management and Design.
While she is a softball standout, Hassler also played field hockey at Columbia, in the fall. She had nine goals and seven assists in the 2019 season, and was the team’s offensive MVP.
“I really loved playing field hockey,” she said.
While the softball team cannot practice together, the virtual world has kept the players unified, and social distancing doesn’t stop Hudson from working out, on her own, or with her father.
“We use Google Classroom for school work,” said Hudson. “I have an AP test coming up soon, in Psychology, which I’ll take on line this time. That will be different.
“My team gets together on ‘Zoom’, to talk, along with the coaches. There’s also videos we can share on hitting and staying in shape.
“At home, I work in my backyard with hitting and fielding. I’ll throw the ball as much as I can, and when my father gets home from work, I play catch with him.”
A goal-driven player, Hassler was hoping for a chance to break the school record for career hits, at Columbia. Currently, VanNatta holds the mark, with 141. Hudson had eclipsed the 100-hit plateau as a junior in 2019.
“It would have been nice to have a chance to break the record,” she said. “But it’s a part of life. These are different times, for sure.”
Hudson was born seven months after the 9-11 attacks. Her mother had originally liked the name, and after the impact on New York City, felt even more sentimental about naming her youngest daughter, Hudson Rose Hassler.
Hudson has gained an even stronger appreciation for the game of softball.
“One thing I’ve realized is how much work I can still put into being a better player,” she said. “There’s so much that goes into being really good at this game. I’m excited about playing in college and all that goes into the next phase of my life.
“And, if possible, I’d love to get back on the field this season and play with my high school teammates.”
It seemed like yesterday when Emily Holden was wearing the Maroon and Gray of Nutley High and pitching lights out for the school’s varsity softball team.
Holden was Nutley’s starting pitcher in 2016, leading the Raiders to a 23-7 record. She struck out 287 batters in 190 innings while walking just 45. Holden had followed Carly Anderson as Nutley’s pitcher after Anderson graduated in 2015. Both Holden and Anderson would go on to tremendous collegiate careers, with Holden playing at Rowan University.
After graduating from Nutley in 2016, Holden went on to a tremendous career as a student-athlete at Ithaca College, in upstate, New York. She’ll earn a degree in Clinical Health Studies this May and begin her pursuit of a Doctorate, in Physical Therapy, starting this fall.
And now, as the college softball season was supposed to be winding down, Holden and so many other college players, have long realized that the 2020 season was history, just as it was beginning, after the coronavirus pandemic struck in March.
Nevertheless, the families of collegiate players are trying to make the season memorable, and Holden’s dad, Tom, is no different.
“(April 25) was to be Emily’s Senior Day,” said Mr. Holden. “The team had asked for information detailing her career. They are putting a video together. This a surprise for her and the other seniors.”
Emily’s time playing at Ithaca was everything she had hoped.
“Over three years, the team had a record of 96-26-1,” said Tom Holden. “They made three NCAA appearances, and went to the World Series in 2018, finshing third.”
Ithaca finished in the NCAA’s Top 20, from 2017-2019.
An outstanding pitcher in high school, with a blistering fast ball, Holden became an effective closer in college. Her dad compared her work to that of one-time Major League Baseball reliever Al Hrabosky, who was known for his enthusiasm, and good defense, on the mound.
Emily has battled her share of injuries, including a pair of major surgeries, one of which was to repair a hip labrum.
Despite that, she earned All-Conference accolades three times and was named to the All-Academic team for four years. Her career record was 25-6, with an ERA under 2.00.
“None of the above success would have occurred without the positive influences and experiences that kept Emily’s love of the game going,” said Tom.
While softball is completed, Ithaca will remain Emily’s home, as she continues her education, with a Doctorate the next goal.
Tom Holden speaks highly of his daughter’s career in softball.
“It was everything she wanted,” he said. “Emily had some great coaches, including (Nutley High head coach) Luann Zullo and (club coach) Phil Delgado.
“She absolutely loves Ithaca, too. It’s been great. I wish she had the chance to play a full senior year, but that was out of her hands. There will be plenty of good things ahead.”
The Nutley Elks Lodge #1290 announced its new officers, on April 15.
Outgoing Exalted Ruler Eric Puzio welcomed John F. Zelna as the new Ruler. Zelna had held the position of Past District Deputy for the Elks.
Also named as officers were Diane Lovato, Leading Knight, Lucille Mulligan, Loyal Knight and Past Exalted Ruler, Robert Heiser, a Lecturing Knight and former Ruler, Roger Colarusso, Jr., Esquire and former Ruler, Lena Bellapianta, Chaplain and Robert Britton, Inner Guard and Past District Deputy.
Lois D. Zelna was appointed Secretary and Patrick DeCotiis, Treasurer. The trustees are Thomas Van Houten, Brian Mc Ewen , Eric Puzio and Robert Mulligan Jr., with another trustee position to be announced.
Past Exalted Ruler Puzio also honored the following recipients.
Al Thibault was named Officer of the Year, Barbara Britton was selected Elk of the Year, J.D. Vick was named Citizen of the Year and Nick Salimbene received the Grand Lodge Award for Volunteer and Service.
Puzio was very proud of his time as Ruler for the past year.
“I want thank all my officers and members of the Nutley Elks for a memorable year, as the exalted ruler of Nutley Lodge #1290,” said Puzio. “During this year, I was honored to represent our Lodge at the Grand Convention in St. Louis, Mo.”
During Puzio’s tenure, the Elks Lodge #1290 was able to make donations to help Veterans, as well as special needs children. The Elks also hosted many Nutley Booster Club events for youth soccer, football and wrestling, among other sports.
“In January I had the honor of installing the largest class of members for our district,” said Puzio. “I want to thank all of our members for helping to make 2019-2020 a successful year.
“I wish the new Exalted Ruler, John Zelna, and his officers the best of luck.”
Luann Zullo has been coaching high school softball for a quarter century. She began her career at West Essex and guided the Knights to a pair of Essex County Tournament championships, in 1997 and 1998.
Zullo returned ‘home’, in 1999, when she was named head coach at Nutley High. A decade earlier, Zullo was a student at NHS and is a lifelong resident of Nutley.
From 1999-2019, Zullo has done a tremendous job at Nutley, winning multiple state sectional titles and leading the 2010 Raiders to the Group 3 final. She also coached the 2011 team to an Essex County Tournament (ECT) championship, making her the first, and to this date, only coach to win ECT crowns at multiple schools.
So, for the fifth edition of the Essex County/North Jersey Fantasy High School Softball Series, thought it would be good to match up two of Zullo’s better teams, 1998 West Essex and 2006 Nutley. (Kudos to Mike DiPiano, who suggested the idea).
The game would be played in Nutley.
To see the first four games of this fantasy series, check here.
Not surprisingly, Zullo thought both teams were evenly matched.
“I have great memories of coaching both teams,” said Zullo from her home, as N.J. continues to battle Coronavirus. “It’s hard to pick a winner. I had great pitchers on both teams, we were good defensively and those kids worked hard.”
In 1998, West Essex won an Essex County Tournament title and later, a state sectional crown in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2. The Knights were eventually defeated in the Group 2 semifinal, by Mahwah, and finshed 26-4.
Eight years later, the 2006 Nutley Raiders had a record of 28-8 and won the North 2, Group 3 title before losing a heartbreaker to the eventual Group 3 champion and state’s number one ranked team, Ramapo, in the Group 3 semifinal, in Ramsey.
Both teams had tremendous pitching, Angie Totaro was a junior in 1998 and a strikeout phenom. Nutley’s Kelly Rauco was a dominant pitcher in 2006, as a senior.
“Angie was the real deal,” said Zullo. “Her rise was awesome, and she threw gas. I barely called pitches with her.
“Kelly was a lefty and threw hard, too. They were both a pleasure to coach.”
When Totaro and Rauco pitched, the distance between the circle and home plate was 40 feet. It’s since been moved to 43 feet.
“I don’t know if 40, or 43 would have made a big difference, especially with Angie,” said Zullo.
Both squads had their share of power hitters. In 1998, Leeann Gade, a junior catcher, hit a solo homer for the game’s only run as West Essex defeated Belleville, 1-0, in the ECT final, at Pulaski Park, in Bloomfield.
In 2006, Nutley catcher Michelle Wlosek was a tremendous hitter and solid defensive player. Wlosek went on to an excellent collegiate career and is now a successful coach.
“Both of those teams were tremendous on defense,” said Zullo.
Here are the team’s lineups.
WEST ESSEX, 26-4 in 1998
Chrissy Elia, CF
Christina Jeminez, LF
Melissa Yuppa, SS
Jill DiSanti, 2B
Gina DiSanti, RF
Angie Totaro, P
Jackie Fernicola, 1B
Tricia Zailo, 3B
Leeann Gade, C
NUTLEY, 28-8 in 2006
Kelly Rauco, P
Michelle Wlosek, C
Lia Jova, 1B
Danielle Restaino, 2B
Megan Ginter, SS
Jessica Sneddon, 3B
Samantha Minervini, RF
Jillian Donatiello, CF
Nicole Cocchiola, Stephanie Pavone, both played LF
Megan Mc Devitt, DP
So, who wins this game?
Zullo noted that good pitching will decide close games, and it wasn’t easy for her to pick a winner, for this game.
So, let’s say Totaro would record 14 strikeouts, walk two and yield four hits while Rauco was just as effective, with nine strikeouts, no walks and six hits allowed.
Wlosek leads the Nutley offense with two hits, including a double, and drives in a run and centerfielder Jillian Donatiello is brilliant in the field.
West Essex gets the nod, as Gade launches a solo homer in the top of the sixth to break a 2-2 tie and first baseman Jackie Fernicola makes a diving catch for the final out of the game, with the tying run at third base.
The Knights win, 3-2.
Stay tuned for the next Fantasy Softball Game, as 2007 Bloomfield plays host to 2014 DePaul Catholic.
Over the past few weeks, the Wayne Hills Football Booster Club has put together a successful program entitlted, ‘Meals For Our Medical Heroes’, raising money, with the Boster Club then matching those donations.
The original goal was to provide 1,000 meals for medical professionals, at local hospitals in Wayne and Paterson, while providing extra business for local eateries in Wayne, who have been struggling since the Coronavirus pandemic began in mid March.
The goal was been surpassed, with 1,200 meals consumed.
“It’s been going very well,” said Marco Brunetti, who has been the driving force in organzing the food vendors, the deliveries and communicating with the hospitals. “This program has helped some of the local businesses, as well as so many at the hospitals.
Read more about what the Booster Club has done, here.
“And it’s also important for our players in the football program to see the importance of giving back to the community. So many businesses have been supportive of our team, and when it comes to medical care, the hospitals have always stood by our kids.
“That’s what we hope to instill. We also hope they’re sharing what’s been accomplished on social media, to keep up the interest in the Meals For Our Medical Heroes.”
Brunetti also noted that the Wayne Hills High School cheerleading squad recently made a generous donation.
“We’ve received a lot of very generous donations,” said Brunetti. “The restaurants have been great, in providing extra food, past what was ordered.”
Brunetti hopes the program will continue.
“We want to continue doing this, but we’ll need more donations, or the program could slow down by the end of this week.”
The hospitals who have been receiving the food include St. Joseph in Wayne, St. Joseph in Paterson and Chilton Memorial Hospital.
“We’ve also been helping with the staff in the St. Joseph E.R.,” said Brunetti. “The texts I’ve been getting from the nurses are both heartwarming and make you cry.
“We’re trying to make sure that as many shifts at the hospital are fed, as well as taking care of some of the people in the Emergency Room. What these people are doing is incredible, and we just want to be able to help and extend our thanks.”
The 2001 Belleville Bucs played its best softball in the later half of the season. Corino was Belleville’s head coach that year and led the team to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 championship. The Bucs made it to the Group 4 championship game, before losing to Cherokee, 5-1, in Toms River. Belleville finished 24-9.
The 2016 West Essex Knights had a marvelous season. Coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget’s team finished 26-3. It won the Essex County Tournament, as well as a sectional title in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3. The team’s run to a state championship ended in the Group 3 semi, with a 5-3 loss to Middletown South.
Corino, who coached Belleville High softball for 25 years (1980-1993 and 1995-2005) eclipsed the 500 victory plateau in 2005, the first softball coach from Essex County to accomplish the feat. Three years earlier, he had surpassed Rick LaDuke of Clifton as the state’s winningest softball coach.
Corino almost didn’t coach the 2001 Bucs. He had resigned his position in November of 2000, but had a change of heart after the returning players urged him to return. He would coach five more seasons and later retired as an educator in 2007. Corino was a Belleville High graduate and spent his professional career in his home town.
Mondadori-Llauget became head coach at West Essex in 2005. A native of Rutherford, she guided West Essex to a pair of county championships and multiple state sectional crowns. In 2020, she began her 16th season as the team’s head coach.
“I’ve had some very good teams at West Essex,” said Mondadori-Llauget, recently. “I would say the 2016 team was among the best I coached. It was probably the deepest team we had here. They were a great group.”
Corino had similar feelings for his 2001 squad.
“No question, one of the best teams I ever had at Belleville,” said Corino, from his home in Florida. “That team found its identity in the state tournament. We had lost a one-sided game to Morris Knolls (in the 2000 state sectional final), so when those kids got a second chance to play Morris Knolls (in the 2001 sectional final) I told our team not every one gets that opportunity. I was hoping they’d take advantage of it, and they did.”
Belleville started its run to a sectional title with a 3-1 win over Livingston. The Bucs then blanked Randolph, 2-0, and Morris Knolls, 3-0, to win the section. A few days later, Belleville shut out West Milford, 4-0, in the Group 4 semifinal, before losing in the final to Cherokee, the state’s number one-ranked team, 5-1.
“Gianna Immersi pitched very well in the state tournament that year for us,” recalled Corino. “She didn’t allow an earned run until the game against Cherokee.”
Immersi was a sophomore in 2001. While she didn’t have overwhelming speed on her pitches, her control and movement were tremendous, and the tenacity was second to none.
When Kristin Wilson led off the sectional championship game against Morris Knolls, at Roselle Park High, with a solo homer, it was clear the 2001 Bucs were confident it would win the program’s first state sectional title in 14 years.
Wilson hit .490 in 2001, with 54 hits and 42 runs scored, earning first-team, All-State accolades as well as being named the Essex County Player of the Year.
“Kristin and Jackie Velardi were All-State caliber players,” said Corino. “Both went on to excellent college softball careers, as well.”
Wilson, a senior in 2001, was Belleville’ star shortstop, and later played at Monmouth University.
Velardi, a sophomore, was the team’s starting catcher and hit .400 with 30 RBI and 28 runs scored. She later played at Caldwell College and is now an assistant softball coach, and Hall of Famer at her college alma mater, which is now Caldwell University.
West Essex was a predominately junior-oriented team in 2016. Mondadori-Llauget’s team took its lumps when that squad was mostly freshmen in 2014. But as juniors, the Knights were starting to find its rhythm. In 2015, it had advanced to the county final, before losing, and a year later, it would win a county championship.
The team was led by pitcher Sami Huetter, second baseman Bridget Betley, catcher Alexa Vardiman, shortstop Julia Vardiman, a powerful hitter in Madison Gemma, the incomparable Lilly James, and a reliable senior in Kate Jencarelli.
“We had won the county and tied for the conference championship,” said Mondadori-Llauget. “We lost a game to Montclair, which cost us the conference title, outright. But we had accomplished a lot that season.”
Here are the team’s lineups.
WEST ESSEX, 26-3 in 2016
BELLEVILLE, 24-9 in 2001
So who wins this game?
Immersi and Huetter are complete opposites, as far as pitching styles. Immersi’s off-speed stuff was very hard to figure out while Huetter’s blistering fastball and good curve kept many teams off balance.
Both squads had its share of power hitters. While the first three games in this fantasy series were low-scoring, I’m going with more offense in this one.
Wilson, Belleville’s leadoff hitter, has a big game, with three hits, including a triple, and 2 RBI, as does Velardi, who homers, hits a long double and drives in a pair, and third baseman Danielle Green, whose defense was key, and 2-run single in the bottom of the sixth breaks a 4-4 tie.
West Essex would take an early 2-0 lead on Betley’s second-inning 2-run homer. The Vardiman sisters, Alexa and Julia, each have two hits.
Huetter would strike out 12 and walk two while scattering eight hits. Immersi fans three, walks one and gives up nine hits, but works out of a few jams.
Both teams are outstanding on defense. Belleville centerfielder Colleen Spano makes a tremendous catch of a long drive by Gemma to stop a rally and Amanda Garofalo, probably the fastest player in the game, robs Nicole D’Ademo of a possible triple with a diving catch in the gap at Clearman Field.
With the Coronavirus pandemic creating havoc for so many in the country, the call to help medical professionals, while assisting local eateries in communities throughout the country has provided quite the rallying cry.
The Wayne Hills Football Booster Club has taken a role in its attempt to provide assistance, to those in the medical profession, with a good meal after a long day of work, while also seeing local restaurants, who have long been a ally for the program, boost its sales after the pandemic did a number on the daily walk-in business.
Tony Giampapa, a trustee for the Booster Club, originally had hoped to provide 1,000 meals for the ‘Medical Heroes’.
“We’re going to easily exceed that number,” said Giampapa, proudly, on April 9. “We’re raising a good amount of money. We’re thinking 1,500 meals now, and you know what? Why not more?”
The Meals for Medical Heroes began by focusing on St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson and Wayne, and Chilton Medical Center for providing the meals to employees there. If enough money is collected, other hospitals and local charities could be added.
“We have a new sponsor in Lane Construction, to go along with some very generous donors like Right Way Driving School and RWC Windows, Doors & More, not to mention so many people who have just stepped up and been wonderful,” said Giampapa.
The Booster Club is continuing to match donations.
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.
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.”
It’s one of those games you’d always want to see, but, of course, time wouldn’t allow it.
But, for fun, we can talk about it here. What would have happened had the 2005 Caldwell High softball team played the 2012 Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA) squad? Let’s say the game was played at Caldwell High.
Caldwell was 32-1 in ’05, IHA finished 32-0 in ’12. Both teams won state championships and county titles, as well.
The team’s pitchers were indeed, legendary. Kristin Schindler of Caldwell was a strikeout phenom and won 112 career games, as well as pitching 67 shutouts. When she graduated high school, in 2005, she was the state’s winningest pitcher, as well as the shutout leader. She finished 112-12-2, with 1,072 strikeouts.
Schindler went on to play on the collegiate level, at Brown University.
Nine years later, Steph Thomas of Immaculate Heart Academy would pass Schindler, in her next-to-last varsity start, with her 113th victory, and a 68th shutout, also a new record, surpassing Schindler. She finished her career with a 113-7 record.
Thomas, the Gatorade NJ Softball Player of the year in 2014, would play on the collegiate level, at Lafayette College.
Diana Fasano, a former IHA player, was an assistant coach to the late Anthony LaRezza during Thomas’ years on the team. Fasano has been IHA’s head coach since 2016, leading the Eagles to a pair of Non-Public A championships, as well as the Tournament of Champions crown, in 2017.
IHA’s 12 state titles, all in Non-Public A, and 21 overall appearances in the state final, are tops in New Jersey.
“It’s hard to compare eras,” said Fasano, who played on back-to-back state champion teams in 1999 and 2000 and coached two IHA squads to titles in 2016 and 2017. “Our 2012 team was really good, they were 32-0. And yet, I look at our 2016 team (which finished 31-1, with a 30-game winning streak and the state’s number one ranking) and the following year, when we won the Tournament of Champions, and I could say those teams were tremendous.
“Different kids, different eras, different training regimens.”
Looking back is enjoyable, however.
“It’s fun to compare,” said Fasano. “But if you ask me which was the best team I saw here, that’s hard to answer.”
Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan can certainly relate. The program’s head coach since 1987, he’s guided the Chiefs to a pair of Group 2 state titles, multiple state sectional and Essex County crowns, as well as a myriad of conference championships, in the Northern Hills and later the Super Essex Conference.
“We finished 32-1 (in 2005), but for a while, we weren’t even ranked (in the Top 20),” recalled Teshkoyan earlier this week. “I remember we played a bunch of extra-inning games that year, too. We would eventually end up number two in the state.”
Teshkoyan, who is currently Essex County’s all-time winningest coach, with well over 600 victories, only coached against LaRezza once, and that was in the 2005 Essex County Tournament championship game, when LaRezza was the head coach at Montclair Kimberley Academy.
“We were trailing 2-0, in the bottom of the seventh, and scored three runs to win it,” recalled Teshkoyan. “I really liked Anthony. We scrimmaged against his team at IHA later on, but that county final was the only time we met up in a game during the regular season. He was a great coach.”
IHA defeated Paramus for the county championship in 2012. It survived a tough 4-3 game against DePaul, in the North Non-Public A final before blanking St. John Vianney, 3-0, in the state title game, as Thomas spun a 6-hit shutout and Carly Piccinich, who would later star at Notre Dame, had two hits.
In its 2005 sectional final, Caldwell defeated Gov. Livingston, 2-0, scoring both runs in the first inning. Schindler pitched a no-hitter. It was Caldwell’s third straight sectional championship.
The Chiefs went on to defeat Hopatcong, 1-0, in the Group 2 semifinal, on an RBI single by Desi Giordano, in the first inning.
In the title game, Caldwell trailed Audubon, 2-0, in the bottom of the sixth before Giordano drove in a run and later scored to tie the game.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh, on a 3-1 pitch, Gina Capardi drove the ball to right center for a walk-off homer.
“Capardi was like ‘The Natural’ that year,” said Teshkoyan. “The bigger the stage, the bigger she played. Gina loved dramatics, and she came through in the clutch.”
Here are the team’s lineups.
IHA, 32-0 in 2012
Angelina McGuire, CF
Daniella Ibarra, SS
Rachel Pollard, RF
Abby Holmes, 1B
Steph Thomas, P
Ally Vergona, C
Carly Piccinich, 2B
Emily Walter, LF
Cassidy Trause, 3B
Emily Correa, DP
Steph Schulz, Runner
CALDWELL, 32-1 in 2005
Gina Capardi, SS
Katie Edwards, CF
Alexa Ferrara, 2B
Desi Giordano, 1B
Melinda Jeffery, 3B
Kristin Schindler, P
Liz Jarossy, LF
Regina Douglas, DH
Alissa Martoglio, RF
Danielle Perlin, C
So, who wins this game?
Even though both teams had plenty of offensive stars, the game would come down to pitching, which isn’t a surprise.
The contest would be scoreless for the first 10 innings. With the International Tiebreaker now in place, IHA scores the game’s only run in the top of the 11th.
Danielle Ibarra, who would go on to play at the University of Iowa, is awarded second base to start the frame. She moves to third on a sacrifice bunt, but Schindler then records her 18th strikeout of the game, leaving Ibarra at third with two outs.
LaRezza, always one to take a chance, stuns everyone when he sends Ibarra home, on a straight steal. She slides in, under the tag, to give IHA a 1-0 lead.
Schindler was absolutely brilliant, striking out 18 while walking two and yielding three hits.
Thomas, a sophomore in 2012, fans 11, walks none, scatters six hits, including a single and double by Capardi, and works out of two bases-loaded jams. She also pitches out of a jackpot in the bottom of the 11th to seal the win, including a strikeout, with the game-tying run at third base, to end the game.
Both IHA and Caldwell had multiple players go on to compete in college.
“The realization of the fact that I may never have another group like this, started to hit me toward the end of that season,” said Teshkoyan. “It made what we accomplished all the more gratifying, as our almost perfect season will go down as one of the best years by a softball team.
“This was the pinnacle of my coaching career. Any coach would love to have a group like this just once in their careers.”
Fasano admitted that the ’12 Eagles were also a big-time entry.
“Working with Anthony that year was really special,” she said. “And players like Daniella Ibarra, Rachel Pollard, Steph, Cassidy Trause, Ally Vergona…Those kids were something else.
“And then, in 2015, we won with a really young team. I remember we made it to the (Non-Public A) final and we’re scoreless (against Notre Dame High) late in the game.
“Anthony looked at me, and said ‘you know what? I think we can win this.’ I’ll never forget that game.”
IHA would blank Notre Dame, 1-0, in 2015, with LaRezza jumping for joy as Reagan Jones scored the game’s only run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Just 243 days later, LaRezza passed away. He was just 50 years old.
“His last game was as a champion,” said Fasano. “We’ll never forget him.”
Part 2 of the Essex County/North Jersey Fantasy High School Softball Series brings us to an excellent match-up between the 2003 West Milford Highlanders and the 2010 Nutley Raiders. The game would be played in Nutley.
West Milford was having a tremendous run in the early 2000’s. The team had won three straight North 1, Group 4 titles from 2001-2003, as well as a pair of county titles in 2002 and 2003.
While West Milford fell short in back-to-back Group 4 title games, the program, led by Hall of Fame coach Jim Dransfield, more than established itself as one of the best in Passaic County, for over a decade.
Meanwhile, Nutley, in 2010, came literally, from nowhere, to make an outstanding run to the Group 3 championship game. The Raiders were struggling for the first half of that season, but, led by another Hall of Fame coach, in Luann Zullo, would get hot as the state sectional tournament began, and it carried over to Nutley’s first state sectional crown in four years.
The Raiders were seeded tenth in North Jersey Section 2, Group 3, in 2010, but won four straight games to capture the sectional crown.
When Nutley defeated Paramus, 6-0, in the Group 3 semifinal, it would mark Zullo’s first-ever trip to a state final. There, it would be play Middletown South for the title.
The ’03 Highlanders and ’10 Raiders each lost close group championship games, in Toms River. West Milford and Cherokee went 9 innings before the Highlanders fell 1-0, in an epic pitching duel, in a game that didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m.
On a stifling hot day, Nutley was defeated by Middletown South, 5-2, after the Raiders held a 2-1 lead thanks to a Kristen Mattia home run.
(A note: The 2011 Raiders had an even better year, record-wise, and won its first Essex County Tournament championship in 18 years).
West Milford was led by pitcher Michelle Bark, who was a back-to-back Passaic County Player of the Year in 2002 and 2003. Bark would later play softball at Dominican College.
While Bark’s pitching was amazing–she pitched a 19-inning shutout against Clifton in the 2003 sectional final, in a 1-0 game–the team’s defense was incredible, too.
Dana Pordon was a talented outfielder, who also led the team in hitting, at .422. Lauren Navarro played a consistent second base, and a well-rounded lineup included Heather VanDyke, Gemma Chalkley, Danielle Masters and Jess VanDyk.
Nutley’s lineup was led by shortstop Eileen Purcell, as well as pitcher Kayla Huegel, her batterymate Victoria Malanga, a freshman in 2010, and an off-the-charts outfield paced by leftfielder Kristen Mattia and centerfielder Lauren Iradi.
Here are the lineups:
WEST MILFORD, 26-3 in 2003
NUTLEY, 21-10 in 2010
So, who wins this game?
The matchup between Bark and Huegel featured two pitchers with tremendous control. Then-West Milford assistant coach Nikki Gwinnett, who is now the program’s head coach, noted Bark had a nasty backhand change-up.
Huegel never got rattled in the circle. She didn’t throw particularly hard, but was always around the strike zone and had tremendous movement on her ball.
For this game, West Milford wins it, 2-1. The Highlanders scored twice in the top of the third inning, on Pordon’s 2-run double. Nutley cut the lead in half in the fifth, on a triple by Mattia and a run-scoring single by Purcell.
Nutley collected six hits off Bark, including three by Purcell. West Milford had four hits. Neither pitcher walked a batter.
Bark noted that playing for West Milford produced a lot of great memories for her. She also recalled that 19-inning shutout win over Clifton, in the 2003 sectional final, saying “Thank God that was a win.” (That game was played before the introduction of the International Tiebreaker, which is now in effect for high school softball games that are tied after nine innings).
The head coaches, Dransfield and Zullo, have combined for over 1,000 victories. Dransfield collected his 500th win in the 2010 season while Zullo won her 400th in 2016 and is closing in on 500, as well.