Updated May 22, 2021; Posted May 22, 2021
By Andrew Koob | Photo by Scott Faytok | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Freshman Olivia Bibbo '24 stepped up the plate with an opportunity most can only dream of on parking lots and little league fields.
Bases loaded, no outs and a chance to win a championship.
It had the happy ending that everyone fantasizes about growing up—the postgame mob of celebration followed by the trophy presentation and pictures with teammates and family—but the journey there was far from anything imagined in those daydreams.
Bibbo looked at four straight pitches, never letting the bat leave her shoulder once, as she drew a walk-off walk to lift top-seeded Mount St. Dominic, No. 2 in the NJ.com Top 20, to a 3-2 win over third-seeded and No. 20 Nutley in the Essex County Tournament finals at Ivy Hill Park Saturday evening.
The ECT title is the second straight for Mount St. Dominic and the first repeat champion since the program accomplished the feat in 2014-15.
“It’s a good feeling. I really wanted to hit but she pitched four balls,” Bibbo said. “I was excited to get up and hit (in that situation) but I did what had to be done.”
The walk off capped off an intense 7th inning that saw Nutley wipe away a 2-run Mount St. Dominic lead with a 2-out RBI double from Gianna Lembo followed by a game-tying single from Robin Niland.
The excitement and anticipation moved to the bottom of the frame as Mount St. Dominic drew four consecutive walks, one intentional, to end the game.
“You don’t want to go down that way. Just let them hit the ball,” Nutley coach Luann Zullo said. “And I don’t mean for (starting pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel) to hit the ball. You go down on a shot to the fence, you go down on a shot to the fence. But this is tough. And my heart breaks for (Stoeckel) because she has been lights out all year. I’d like to get a couple of those calls.”
Prior to that fateful inning, Stoeckel was just that—lights out. She allowed 2 runs in the opening 2 innings (one unearned) but kept a high-powered Mount St. Dominic offense at bay with tough pitches and confidence in the defense around her. That confidence was rewarded time and time again with the Nutley defense making several spectacular plays throughout the evening.
Sophia Kiseloski '22, Stoeckel’s counterpart in the circle, was just as dominant for the first 6 innings. The junior set down the first 14 batters until a lined 5th-inning single broke up the no-hit bid.
She was able to rebound following that hit and an error, thanks to Bibbo at 3rd base who made a difficult stop to begin a double play, and held Nutley to just that lone hit heading into the final frame.
“We’re a young team but we work so hard, especially defensively on those specific plays,” Kiseloski said. “I have total confidence in every girl behind me to make that kind of play.”
With 2 outs away in the top of the 7th and a runner at 2nd base, Mount St. Dominic appeared on its way to an easy ECT title. But as it has all year, Nutley battled to make it a contest.
“All season long we have been battling,” Zullo said. “I’ve been coaching a long time and I have never coached a team that battles back like this team. I never feel like we’re out of it. In that 7th inning, I’m really thinking ‘this is going to happen.’”
That set up a chance to Mount St. Dominic to reclaim the lead in the top of the 7th with Bibbo getting that childhood opportunity that every athlete seeks.
Even if the way it happened wasn’t what everyone pictures, it didn’t stop the pure joy that Bibbo and the rest of the roster felt.
The only issue? The rest of the team was waiting for Bibbo at 1st base to celebrate. Bibbo, still processing what had just happened, was still jumping up and down at home plate.
Chalk that up to ‘inexperience.’
“I didn’t know I had to run,” Bibbo said. “So I just got really happy first then got to running.”