CHAMPIONS….In so many ways; Cedar Grove defeated in TOC final by a tremendous Donovan Catholic squad, but what a year for the Essex County-based school, as it is the state’s top-ranked public school, in softball, for the second time in 3 years

In the end, Cedar Grove may have lost its final game of the season, but what a year it was for the Panthers.

Head coach Nicole Velardi had nothing but praise for her team after a 10-0 setback to Donovan Catholic in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) final at Ivy Hill Park, on June 7.

“We knew coming in this would be a tough game,” said Velardi. “But I couldn’t be prouder of these kids. We got to the Tournament of Champions final game. It’s been quite a season.”

Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi talks to her team after the TOC final, on June 7, at Ivy Hill Park.

Cedar Grove finished its season 27-5. It won a Super Essex Conference title, as well as a third straight state sectional championship, a second Group 1 title in three years and a first-ever appearance in the TOC final. Cedar Grove is the lone school from Essex County to qualify for the TOC, which began in 2017.

Cedar Grove can lay claim to being the state’s top-ranked public school, in softball, for the second time in three years. In 2017, the Panthers made it to the TOC semifinals, where it lost to the eventual champion, Immaculate Heart Academy. In ’17, the two finalists were Non-Public entries.

“You think of all the public schools that play softball, and we were at the top,” said Velardi, proudly. “Again, I can’t say how proud I am of these kids. Would we have liked the score to be closer? Of course. We have a competitive team. But give Donovan Catholic credit. They played really well.”

It was a picture-perfect night for softball at Ivy Hill.

Cedar Grove did have a few rallies early on. Katie Peterson got Cedar Grove’s first hit, in the second inning. In the third, Mia Faieta and Brittney Taylor hit back-to-back singles to start the frame. A sacrifice bunt by Paige Scheid moved the runners to second and third, with out out, but Donovan Catholic pitcher Lindsay Nelson did an excellent job of working out of the jam.

Donovan Catholic (30-2) had lost in the Non-Public A final to Immaculate Heart in 2016 and 2017 and last year were eliminated in the South Non-Public A final, by St. John Vianney. The Monmouth-County school was clearly on a mission in 2019.

Mia Faieta shares a moment with her mom, Fran, after Mia’s final high school game.

Mia Faieta concluded a fabulous career by recording her 400th strikeout of the season in the title game. Faieta finished with over 1,000 strikeouts for her 4-year career, as well as leading Cedar Grove to three state sectional crowns, a pair of Group 1 state championships, an Essex County Tournament title and two wins in the TOC. (There’s more coming on Faieta’s success in a later article).

“I hope this is something these kids will always remember,” said Velardi. “They should be very proud of what they accomplished. I know I am.”

By mike051893

A conference championship season for Belleville High baseball includes Amparo, Alverio, Lombardi, Defreites, Monroig, Carrero, Cecere and Torres earning post-season accolades from the SEC coaches

Belleville High baseball coach Joe Sorce is a pretty low-keyed individual. So when he said, “this season was a great one for us,” with an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, it speaks volumes on how much this season meant to the veteran coach and his program.

The Bucs finished 16-9 this season, including a 6-2 record in the Super Essex Conference’s (SEC) Colonial Division, which earned the team a conference title. The Bucs will move up a division in the SEC for the 2020 season, where it will play in the Liberty Division.

Sorce noted the team’s best win was a 12-5 win, at George Zanfini Field, against Bloomfield, on May 1. Bloomfield went on to a 20-9 season and an appearance in the North 1, Group 4 final.

Derek Lombardi was a standout catcher for the Bucs, as well as a versatile all-around athlete,

The SEC coaches afforded a number of accolades to the Belleville players. Seniors Chris Amparo and Sebastian Alverio were named to the first team while second team honors were awarded to seniors Bryan Defreites, Joe Monroig and Derek Lombardi, along with juniors Albert Carrero and Jiustino Cecere.

Honorable Mention was afforded to Giovanni Torres, a junior.

“The coaches and I are very proud of the improvements that we made this season,” said Sorce, who completed his 13th season as head coach at BHS. “It’s a credit to a great group of young men and the commitment they made to the game.”

Graduation will take its toll, but the nucleus of the team looks good for 2020.

“Next season we will be moving up to the Liberty Division,” said Sorce. “We are graduating six players, five of which were everyday players. We have several key players back, and I’m confident that with hard work we will compete well next season.”

Belleville will have two summer league teams playing in the Developmental League, one for 18U and the other, 16U. John Kondel will coach the 18 U while Dan Pinedo will head up the 16 U, according to Sorce.


By mike051893

Cedar Grove softball legacy transcends 40 years, from Peterson to Peterson to Peterson, Ricciardi to Faieta and Fitzgerald to Weinstein

In a high school softball game at Nutley, on May 8, 2019, Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta was taking some warm up swings in the on-deck circle before her at-bat against the Raiders.

With that mischievous smile on her face, Faieta, a right-handed pitcher and batter, looked over and said “I should try hitting lefty.”

“Can you bat lefty?” was the response from the person to whom she addressed.

Mia Faieta, here with her mom, Fran. The two were both members of an Essex County Tournament championship team, 34 years apart.

And Mia gave the perfect answer.

“I’ve tried it,” she said. “My mother taught me a few things (over the years).”

Faieta ended up batting righty that day, but her response about her mother spoke volumes.

Mia’s mom, the former Fran Riccardi, also played softball at Cedar Grove and helped the Panthers to its third Essex County Tournament championship, some 35 years ago.

Cedar Grove has managed, well, to keep that community tradition and spirit alive. Three players on the current roster have ties to former Cedar Grove championship players.

Family sticks together. Gianna Kubu has been a part of three state sectional champs, as well as two Group 1 champions, an Essex County Tournament winner and will appear in the Tournament of Champions final on June 7. Gianna, a junior, is joined here by her mother, GinaMaree and dad, Joe.

Fran was a shortstop at Cedar Grove and Mia actually began her softball career, as a youngster, playing shortstop. In fact, Mia tells the story of how she and her friend, Mia Recenello, were cut from their first youth team, in town. (Recenello, like Faieta a senior this year, went on to a marvelous career playing at Immaculate Heart Academy. Read more about the ‘2 Mias’ here. )

Fifteen years after being a part of a county championship team, Fran Riccardi would marry Paul Faieta, and a little over a year later, the couple welcomed their first child, Mia. As Mia grew up, her first softball mentor would be her mom. In 2018, Mia would join Fran as a member of an Essex County Tournament championship team at Cedar Grove.

Read more on the Cedar Grove legacy here.

Mia and Fran are not the first mother-daughter to accomplish the ECT championship feat for the Panthers. Two of Fran’s teammates on that 1984 team was the former Kim Fitzgerald and the former Kristen Peterson.

In 2010, Kim’s daughter, Briana Weinstein, starred on coach Rob Stern’s team, which won Cedar Grove’s first county championship since 1984, defeating West Essex, 2-0. Kim and Brianna were both second basemen for the Panthers.

Nearly a decade later, Kim’s younger daughter, Chloe Weinstein, a junior, is also playing well for the 2019 Panthers. She’s been a part of three state sectional championship teams, two Group 1 winners and will play in the Tournament of Champions final on June 7.

In 1984, Fran Ricciardi and Kim Fitzgerald were members of the Essex County championship team at Cedar Grove. The Panthers stunned 2-time defending champion Belleville that night, at Pulaski Park, 8-5, for the crown.

It’s not just mother-daughter. Cedar Grove sophomore Katie Peterson is the team’s starting shortstop and a key cog in the offensive attack. Forty years ago, Katie’s aunt, Loren Peterson, was a member of, arguably, the best team in the program’s history, to date.

“I loved this season,” said Kerry Peterson, Katie’s mom, recently. “My sister-in-law, Katie’s aunt, Loren Peterson was on the (state and county championship) 1979 team (at Cedar Grove). Loren was a sophomore and played shortstop. I think it’s so cool that 40 years later, we have a Peterson standing there as a champion again.”

Katie and her aunt at this year’s festivities, honoring the 40th anniversary of the ’79 Panthers.

Loren’s younger sister, Kristen, played on the ’84 county championship team with Ricciardi and Fitzgerald, which gives Katie two aunts who have shared their successes with their niece.

The 2019 Panthers did a wonderful job in honoring the 40th anniversary of that great team during the Black and Gold Tournament this past April.

The ’79 Panthers are the only team in program history to win the county and state title in the same season. That squad went undefeated, led by coach Ray VanDerMay.

Loren Peterson was a sophomore shortstop on the great 1979 Cedar Grove squad, which won the Essex County and State championship.

This year’s team, of course, has a chance to do something no Cedar Grove squad has done before, and that’s winning a Tournament of Champions crown. (Of course, the TOC just started in 2017).

So, as Cedar Grove prepares to play in the final NJ high school softball game of 2019, at Ivy Hill Park, on June 7, it does so with a wonderful community involvement and a history of winning.

By mike051893

Eye on the Prize: Cedar Grove was first from Essex to participate and now first from the county to play in Tournament of Champions final; Panthers blank Hightstown, 3-0, as Scheid, Peterson and Faieta lead way

A little over two weeks ago, her team had lost in the Essex County Tournament final. And while Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi always sees the jar as half full, a text with a little history lesson couldn’t have hurt.

“Four years ago, you won a state section and Group 1 championship. Two years ago, you won a state sectional and (another) Group 1 championship, as well as (winning) a game at the Tournament of Champions (TOC).

“Both times, you didn’t win a county title. Go for the gold, you’re a great team. Eye on the prize,” wrote the text from a friend.

(Read more about the Cedar Grove parents and their enjoyment of the team’s run. )

Velardi responded quickly, saying “Thank you, you’re right, we’re trying!”

Two weeks and a day after losing that county final, Cedar Grove won its third Group 1 championship in five seasons. And on June 5, the Panthers defeated Hightstown, 3-0, in the TOC semifinals, to advance to the championship game, at Ivy Hill Park, on June 7, against top-seeded Donovan Catholic. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Since the inception of the Tournament of Champions, in 2017, Cedar Grove has been the lone Essex County school to qualify. And now, the Panthers will play for the ultimate title.

Mia Faieta (left) and Jules Cicala will have one more game as an incredible battery.

Cedar Grove (27-4) took control early, scoring twice in the bottom of the first, with a key dropped ball by Hightstown extending the inning. With runners on second and third in a scoreless game, Katie Peterson hit a pop up for what would have been the third out of the frame, but the ball was dropped and Peterson got another chance at the plate.

“I got an opportunity to get another swing, and I knew how important that at-bat could be,” said Peterson.

Peterson followed with a 2-run single, scoring Paige Scheid and Gianna Kubu, each of whom had drawn walks.

Scheid had an incredible game, finishing 2-for-2 at the plate while also drawing a pair of walks.

Cedar Grove hopes to hold one more trophy on June 7, when it plays for the Tournament of Champions crown.

“When I woke up this morning, I was ready to go,” said Scheid, a freshman. “I couldn’t wait to play today.”

Cedar Grove added a third run in the second inning when winning pitcher Mia Faieta laced a long double into the right centerfield gap. A throwing error later scored the game’s third run.

That was more than enough for Faieta, who fanned 18 while walking five and hitting two batters in a complete-game 2-hitter. Faieta worked out of a bases-loaded, first-inning jam with a pair of strikeouts. Her tenacity in battling back from a few 3-0 counts to strike out a batter spoke of her poise and focus throughout the game.

Peterson, who appeared to have a serious leg injury in the county semifinal, also at Ivy Hill, and was carried off the field, only to return the following night, limp-free, after what Cedar Grove athletic director Rob Gogerty referred to as a ‘Mr. Miyagi‘ treatment, has been a key to the team’s success, both at the plate and at shortstop. She’s only a sophomore.

Katie Peterson’s quick recovery from a leg injury was credited to a little magic.

“You look at where we started the season, and now 400 some-odd teams are done and we’re still playing, with one more game to go,” said Peterson. “That’s crazy, but here we are.”

Katie Peterson, here with her aunt, Loren Peterson, who played on the 1979 state championship squad at Cedar Grove.

By mike051893

Let them eat cake! Multiple 2019 conference championships at Belleville High, in baseball and softball

It was certainly a good season on the diamond for both the Belleville High baseball and softball teams.

Led by veteran head coaches, the Bucs won Super Essex Conference (SEC) Colonial Division championships in both venues.

Belleville High’s softball team had its best season, record-wise, in 16 years this spring, and captured a league championship.

Chris Cantarella, himself a Belleville High graduate, has been the softball team’s head coach for 14 seasons now, after serving as an assistant to Carl Corino for nearly 10 years,

Joe Sorce may be the longest-tenured baseball coach in Belleville history after completing his 13th season this spring.

Belleville High baseball team had an excellent season this spring, including a conference title.

Each program will reap the benefits of its 2019 success next spring, when it will move up a division to the SEC’s Liberty.

Both programs enjoyed its annual end-of-season barbeque at the high school on June 4, as post-season accolades were announced, as well as all the players being recognized for a tremendous season. A beautiful cake was presented to the players as a just dessert after a nice selection of food for an early dinner.

The softball team opened 16-0, which tied a team record for consecutive victories and finished 21-3. It was the first 20-win season for the Bucs since 2003.

On the baseball diamond, the Bucs were 16-9. In addition to winning the conference, the Bucs qualified for the state tournament, where it lost a 3-2 game to Chatham.

Belleville also won a game in the Essex County Tournament, before falling to an excellent Bloomfield squad. Among the most impressive wins of the season was a 12-5 defeat of that same Bengals team three days earlier.

The softball team earned the second seed in the NJSIAA Tournament and won a first-round game before losing to Cranford in the quarterfinal round. Belleville also won a game in the Essex County Tournament.

By mike051893

Cedar Grove High softball parents look back, and ahead, as a tremendous run by the Panthers hits the home stretch, with a ‘scrapbook’ of memories

As the Cedar Grove High softball team prepares to play in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal, on June 5, at Ivy Hill Park, the Panthers’ players, coaches, parents, fans and school administrators have enjoyed and flourished in the team’s success.

Fresh off winning a second Group 1 title in three years on June 2, the Panthers were welcomed home by the perfect town gathering, including a fire truck and other vehicles escorting the team bus, as the players waved to the fans on the streets in Cedar Grove, leading up to the high school.

Here’s more on the latest Group 1 title for Cedar Grove.

The team parents are reveling in their children’s successes. And so, with all the focus deservedly on the players, especially this week, thought it would be nice to hear from the parents who are generally at every game, drive their kids to games, year-round, and are there through the smiles and tears that can be associated with a team game.

Here are some parental thoughts, with some nice scrapbook photos of memories growing up, as well as current adventures.


‘As a motivator, I told Alyssa from early April that, as part of this team, she could have the opportunity to come up to bat with a chance to win a state championship,” said Joe Coletta, Alyssa’s dad. “It quickly turned into something very real.  I remind her every day how lucky she is to be a part of this amazing group.  I’m so proud of all of these girls and coaches!”


“Gianna is a senior and has been playing since T-ball,” said her mother, Jennifer. “It is bittersweet because eventually this season will come to an end, and she will no longer play with these girls, which she grew up with, or underclassman who she bonded with. But these memories will last a lifetime. And what a way to go out, (as a) champion! 


“Brittney has played since she was 7,” said her mom, and dad, Cindy and Lance. “Softball taught her many lessons on and off the field.  A good coach will mold a child for her future.  These coaches lift the girls up, they teach them confidence and how to work towards a goal.  She has had so many wonderful memories here at CG, but these high school years have been amazing.

“These coaches are amazing.  We have been so happy being part of this team.  They have built up such confidence in our daughter.”

 “My daughter has so much respect for these coaches, and look at her reaction of happiness to Pete.  Priceless,” said Jackie Taylor.


“We are extremely proud of the kind of teammate and person Ryan is, and have enjoyed watching her play all these years,” said Joanne and Steve Cannataro, of their daughter.


“Paige Scheid is my daughter,” said Aimee Scheid. “Paige is all kinds of amazing. We are so proud of her and the entire team.”


“I loved this season,” said Kerry Peterson, Katie’s mom. “My sister-in-law, Katie’s aunt, Loren Peterson was on the (state and county championship) 1979 team (at Cedar Grove). Loren was a sophomore and played shortstop. I think it’s so cool that 40 years later, we have a Peterson standing there as a champion again.”

Katie’s aunt, Loren Peterson, was a member of the 1979 Cedar Grove NJSIAA and Essex County championship team.
Katie and Loren this season, as the 1979 Panthers were honored by the current team.


“We are excited that Maria is playing her second year with CGHS Softball,” said Jackie Kelly, Maria’s mom. “She has learned a great deal from being part of this amazing team, and has had the opportunity to build incredible relationships with her teammates. We look forward to watching Maria contribute to Panthers Softball in the coming years!”


“I’m very proud of Paige for being a supportive teammate and working very hard, everyday, to get an opportunity to contribute to the team in any way possible,” said Jeanine and David Lemongello, Paige’s parents.


“Jules was so thrilled and honored to be there that day (at Yankee Stadium, in June 2017),” said Jules’ mom, Michelle. “She has a great bond with Mia.
I always tell her…one day you will tell your kids about this day…Magical.

“This run has meant the world to our family because softball continually is teaching our daughter life lessons that she will take long after softball is over, such as hard work, working together as a team and never giving up, no matter what. Life is not always fair. Always stay humble and kind.”


A stronger bond would be hard to find between Mia and her parents, Fran and Paul. The St. John’s-bound Faieta learned the game from her mom, who was a standout player at Cedar Grove and helped the Panthers win the 1984 county championship.

Mia Faieta (left) and Mia Recenello grew up in the Cedar Grove softball program.


“Gianna has been playing softball since the seventh grade,” said Gianna’s mom, GinaMaree Kubu. “It is in her blood. She loves playing the game with girls that she considers family. These girls work their butts off to get to where they are.”

Gianna and Mia a few years back and then again on June 2, 2019, after a state championship.


“Sam, we are so proud of all of the hard work that you put into this season. Always ready to take the mound if called. Remember to continue to be good teammate and to always have fun,” said Sam’s mom, Heather Ryan.


“We are Gerald and Veronica Grande. Our daughter is Keanna (everyone knows her as KeKe) Grande. KeKe is a freshman on the varsity and is thrilled to part of the team. What we would like to say about the team is our daughter could not have found better role models then her big sister teammates and coaches.

‘We are extremely proud of her accomplishments. We always tell her a team is made from many parts. Not everyone can be a starter right away but what matters is the work ethic and pushing her teammates in practice to be the best they can be. We have a great group of girls coming back next year and the underclassman hope to continue it our great softball tradition. We will miss Mia and Gianna, but they have made a lasting impression on my daughters life. Want to wish them the best in the future.

By mike051893

Belleville’s Nicole Velardi guides the Cedar Grove softball team to a second state title in the last 3 years

In a week where one Belleville High graduate was named the Director of the Smithsonian Institution and another was featured in Forbes Magazine, there’s a nice story, from the coaching annals, as Nicole Velardi, a 2010 BHS graduate, won a second state championship as head softball coach at Cedar Grove High School.

Nicole Velardi embraces assistant coach Eugene Capozzi while Cedar Grove players celebrate a third state championship since 2015.

Velardi, who graduated Belleville High in 2010 and went on to play softball at Caldwell College (now University), became an assistant coach at Cedar Grove in 2015, and was a part of a Group 1 championship team that season, the school’s first in 36 years.

In 2016, Velardi was elevated to head coach and led the Panthers to a Group 1 title in 2017, which also included an appearance in the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. There, Cedar Grove won a quarterfinal game before losing in the semis to the eventual tourney champion, Immaculate Heart Academy.

Nicole (right) here with her mom and sister, Jackie.

Cedar Grove won a second straight state sectional championship in 2018, but lost in the Group 1 semifinals. As the team entered the 2019 season, it adopted the theme ‘Unfinished Business’, as the Panthers made it a top priority to win back the Group 1 title.

On June 2, Cedar Grove did, indeed, reclaim the crown, defeating Buena High in the title game, 7-1.

Nicole and Jackie, at Caldwell College, where Nicole was a standout player and Jackie an assistant coach, after a great playing career there. (Below, a photo of Jackie coaching Nicole, from first base line)

“In 2015, we won with a good senior core and (then-freshman pitcher) Kelly Toomey was tremendous,” said Velardi. “Two years ago, that was a great run with Mia (Faieta) coming around as our number one pitcher. And now, this is really special, because we wanted another shot at the championship and it was great to see Mia get that chance. I really wanted to see her win another.”

Read more on Cedar Grove’s latest championship here.

Cedar Grove will begin play in the Tournament of Champions as the second seed, on June 5, at Ivy Hill Park. The team, which drew a first-round bye, will play the winner of the quarterfinal contest between Middletown North and Hightstown.

For Velardi, the win was a family affair. Nicole’s dad, Pete Velardi, is the third base coach and her cousin, Ed Capozzi, is also an assistant on the staff. Nicole’s older sister, Jackie Velardi, herself a standout player at Belleville High and later Caldwell College, is a successful assistant coach at her college alma mater, to head coach Dean Johnson.

The Velardi family celebrates a championship.

In four seasons, Velardi has won three straight sectional titles and a pair of state championships at Cedar Grove. She is one in a long line of successful coaches who grew up and attend Belleville High School.

“Those Belleville ties are special,” said Velardi, with a smile.

And, as mentioned earlier, it was a big week for Belleville High alums. Lonnie Bunch, a 1970 BHS grad, was named the new Secretary of the Smithsonian. Read much more on Lonnie’s incredible career here.

By mike051893

Adding to Anthony LaRezza’s legacy, IHA’s softball seniors bid farewell with a TOC crown, 2 Non-Public A titles, one county championship and a 106-14 record

It was early 2016, and Emily Gyongyosi, a freshman at Immaculate Heart Academy, had seen a familiar face.

“We were at Valley Hospital, for a family reason,” recalled Sue Gyongyosi, Emily’s mom. “And Emily was with us. So, while there, Emily sees a familiar face, who says to her ‘you ready for the softball season?’

“And Emily said, ‘sure’ and gave this man a high five.”

Coaches Anthony LaRezza and Diana Fasano.

That person was Anthony LaRezza.

Emily Gyongyosi’s softball season would begin a little over two months later at IHA. But sadly, Anthony would not be there to welcome that 2016 team. He died on Feb. 4, 2016.

That incoming freshman class would also include Lindsay Gilchrist, Mia Recenello and Kayla Campbell. A year later, Gabby Cangiamila would transfer to the team, as a sophomore, along with a very talented freshman class, which now includes soon-to-be seniors Catherine Thomas, Ryleigh White and Ashlyn Corra.

Mia Recenello, here with her parents and younger sister, who also plays for IHA, had a tremendous 4-year career as the team’s catcher. Mia will attend LaSalle University this fall and continue playing softball on the NCAA, Division I level. She plans to go into the Nursing field.

During the four years that the freshman class of 2016 played at IHA, the Eagles put together a 106-14 record. Included in that mark was playing on the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions squad, in 2017, as well as winning Non-Public A state titles in 2016 and 2017, and a Bergen County championship in ’16.

Emily Gyongyosi, here with her parents, played a solid second base for the Eagles. Emily will attend Boston University this fall.

There’s something to be said about playing for a tremendous coach, in Diana Fasano, a long-time assistant to LaRezza, while honoring the legacy of a man who had been a key part of the decision to play at IHA in the first place.

Senior Day at IHA.

The players continue to honor LaRezza. They’ve raised money for cancer awareness, most notably children, including nearly $7,000 for ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ at Hackensack University Medical Center, benefiting pediatric cancer research, in 2018.

Lindsay Gilchrist, here with her parents and family friend, will attend the University of South Carolina and has aspirations of being a surgeon one day.

Thomas, or ‘Cat’ as she’s known to her family and friends, had never played softball for LaRezza, at I.H.A., but she was very familiar with the legendary coach’s eternal impact with past, current and future players.

Her older sister Stephanie was an All-American at IHA, under LaRezza, from 2011-2014 and set the state record for wins by a pitcher, with 113.

Coach Fasano standing on the third base line, where Anthony’s initials are a part of the field.

“We’re really proud of raising money for pediatric cancer,” said Thomas, as her teammates and coach smiled in the background last June at the Medical Center, when members of the team presented a check. “As a team, we all worked hard in raising the money, through the Anthony LaRezza (Softball) Tournament, as well as each player fundraising. It was a passion for our team. I know Coach is smiling down on us, because this would mean so much to him.”

IHA’s softball team presented a check for cancer research at Hackensack University Medical Center, in Coach LaRezza’s honor, last June.

Fasano noted last June that time does go by very quickly.

“It’s hard to believe, but this is our third fundraiser in Anthony’s memory,” said Fasano, a one-time player at IHA. “We strive for success on the field and are very proud of the way our kids play softball. But this is something very special, and close to our heart.”

And that’s how LaRezza will continue to be a part of the program he so loved. None of the players on the current and future roster ever played for him, but they’ll always remember.

Cat Thomas, here with her parents and older sister, will enter her senior year at IHA this fall. She was a part of the team’s 2017 Tournament of Champions squad as a freshman, and hit 2 doubles in the title game.

And for this year’s senior class, a fond farewell to a very successful group of players.

By mike051893

Faieta, Cicala, Bocchino (3 hits), Kubu, Peterson, Cannataro, Coletta, Scheid and Weinstein lead Cedar Grove to its 3rd Group 1 title in 5 seasons

Nicole Velardi has been a part of the past three softball state championships at Cedar Grove, first as an assistant in 2015 and then as the head coach in 2017, and this year.

In looking at those three titles, Velardi, in her fourth season as head coach, had good memories, but agreed this year’s was extra special.

Cedar Grove’s Gianna Kubu (left) and Mia Faieta were all smiles after a Group 1 championship effort today. (Courtesy, Kubu Family)

“In 2015, we won with a good senior core and (then-freshman pitcher) Kelly Toomey was tremendous,” said Velardi. “Two years ago, that was a great run with Mia (Faieta) coming around as our number one pitcher. And now, this is really special, because we wanted another shot at the championship and it was great to see Mia get that chance. I really wanted to see her win another.”

Cedar Grove used Faieta’s pitching and the hot bat of fellow senior Gianna Bocchino to take an early lead, en route to a 7-1 win over Buena, in the Group 1 championship game at Kean University, on June 2.

Cedar Grove players and coaches celebrate a championship.

Cedar Grove (26-4) will play in the third annual NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) on June 5, against the winner of the June 4 contest between Hightstown, the Group 4 champion and Middletown North, which won the Group 3 championship.

Cedar Grove earned the second seed and a first-round bye in the tournament. Donovan Catholic, the Non-Public A champion, gained the top seed.

This will be Cedar Grove’s second appearance in the TOC. In 2017, it defeated Robbinsville in the first round, then lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Immaculate Heart Academy.

Cedar Grove enjoys receiving the championship trophy.

The 2019 TOC championship game is set for June 7. All three rounds of the tournament will be played at Ivy Hill Park, on the campus of Seton Hall University.

Faieta, a senior righthander, spun a 2-hitter, striking out eight and walking four. Bocchino did a tremendous job at the plate, with three hits, including a 2-run double in the third inning when Cedar Grove extended its lead to 5-0.

Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi (right) is joined by her mother and sister after the Panthers won a state title on June 2.

Bocchino also started a 3-run Cedar Grove rally in the second inning with a double. Gianna Kubu and Katie Peterson had two hits each, Alyssa Coletta, Paige Scheid and Brittney Taylor each had a hit and RBI and Chloe Weinstein doubled and walked, as Cedar Grove collected 12 hits in the game.

Behind the plate, junior catcher Jules Cicala made two tremendous catches, one in a crucial third inning after Buena (24-5) had loaded the bases, with one out.

The Panthers, which won its third straight state sectional championship last week, were denied a Group 1 crown when it lost in the semifinals in 2018. The team’s theme this season has been ‘Unfinished Business’, as it strove to win a state title.

“It’s something we focused on after losing last year (to Roselle Park),” said Velardi. “I’m really happy for these kids. They worked hard for this.”

By mike051893

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