By Steve Tober for sidelinehatter.com
NEWARK- Sydney Rosenkranz enjoys being in the middle of a lot of what goes on for Mount St. Dominic in the course of any highly-competitive game. After all, she gets to receive the deliveries of an ace pitcher from behind the plate, bats cleanup in a deep and productive lineup, and she has learned the Lion way as far as making in-game adjustments and then executing at crunch time.
In Saturday night’s championship game of the 44th Essex County Tournament the right-hand hitting junior catcher had a pivotal at bat as she came to plate with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning of a scoreless game.
Facing one of the state’s best pitchers in Nutley senior left-hander Fallyn Stoeckel she was able to execute the plan by sending not one but three fly balls toward right field with the third managing to stay in fair territory for a key sacrifice fly to score Naya Martinez from third for the game’s first run as the top-seeded Mount (23-3) won its third straight ECT title and record-tying 10th overall with a pulsating 2-0 triumph over third-seeded Nutley (19-5) before a large crowd on a warm evening at Essex County Mike Sheppard, Sr. Field at Ivy Hill Park.
The Lions added an insurance run when Gianna Stern had her third well-hit ball of the evening mishandled in the infield for an error to reach base with two out as Sophia Kiseloski came home.
Lions junior right-hander Grace Perez, who has been delivering some of her best performances of the season in the last two weeks, got back to work in the seventh inning and after relinquishing a 1-out single to Nutley’s Nikki Cicchetti, retired the next two batters to nail down the victory as the Mount players ran out on the field to celebrate a well-earned title in a high-pressure setting against a very strong in-county opponent.
“We’re comfortable with this type of game because we’ve been here before, and I said, ‘Let’s do it now,’ because we didn’t want to waste a good pitching performance and we didn’t want to go to a tie-breaker situation,” said Mount head coach Rob Stern. “Stoeckel is a very good pitcher but we were able to make some adjustments inside the game as far as our approach, and were able to take it the other way, which Syd did very well there.
“Naya had a big hit to lead off the inning, (Olivia) did a great job bunting to move her over, Sophia got a hit and with runners on second and third we told Syd, ‘Make a 180-foot out,’ because in a game like this with two really good pitchers, we thought one run was going to be good.”
Rosenkranz would hit two foul ball fly balls the other way which Nutley right fielder Gianna Lembo alertly let drop knowing that if she made the catch there that the speedy Martinez would score easily while tagging up at third base.
However, with two strikes in the count, Rosenkranz was still able to deliver with an out that meant a lot as she lofted a deep fair fly ball that Lembo had to catch and Martinez raced home to make 1-0.
“Coach Stern said to make an out there and just hit a fly ball, and as it was happening it was a good play by their right fielder to let those two foul balls drop, but I was determined to take it to right field again,” said Rosenkranz.
"Coach Ashley (DeYoung) had told me to shorten up on the bat and take it the other way and that’s all that I kept thinking about doing.
“Fortunately, the ball finally stayed fair and I couldn’t have been happier to see Naya tag up and come home with that run which we needed so much in that spot.”
An inning where an out can produce the biggest run had to start with a table-setter and Martinez (2-for-3 with a double), the Mount’s speedy leadoff batter, got it all going by delivering a solid single into center field to start the bottom of the sixth.
“The last time we played them I didn’t do well against her (Stoeckel) and I knew that I had to step up my game tonight,” said Martinez, the team’s sophomore third baseman. “I kept getting outside pitches from her and I just tried to adjust and get a hit there because I wanted to get on base no matter what.
“After a great bunt by Olivia and Sophia getting a hit I had all the confidence in Syd to do something big there and her fly ball was exactly what we needed to get a run in.”
Until the Mount’s sixth inning rally the game was highlighted by the epic battle in the circle by Stoeckel and Perez, both of whom were superb in a championship setting with the former scattering five hits, walking one and striking out seven, and the latter tossing a 3-hitter while walking two and striking out 14.
“You have to get the outs no matter what and I just tried to stay tight in the zone, focus on my spin and location and then trust my defense,” said Perez, who had a pair of 16-strikeout performances in the last week against Cedar Grove, including in an ECT semifinal win last Sunday. “My change-up and backdoor curve were working well and I knew I simply had to make pitches in big spots.”
One of those big spots for Perez came in the top of the sixth when with two outs Robin Niland doubled and Stoeckel fouled off 11 pitches in a great at bat before drawing a walk.
“I’m really competitive and I love it when hitters foul me off and any time I can face batters like that I really like the challenge,” said Perez. “I give her credit for battling me there, but then I was able to get the third out with a strikeout and keeping it scoreless there was what mattered most because I knew that my teammates could get me a run if I could just do my job out there.”
Saturday night marked the second straight year that the Mount had defeated the Maroon Raiders in the ECT final having won 3-2 in the 2021 final. What was evident once again in the latest championship game between the two Super Essex Conference-American Division rivals is that both teams are at the top of their games right now and great possibilities remain for both with the NJSIAA state tournament now fully underway as the top-seeded Mount hosts eighth-seeded Paramus Catholic in a first round Non-Public, North A tourney contest on Monday, and second-seeded Nutley entertains third-seeded South Plainfield on Tuesday in a North 2, Group 3 state sectional semifinal.
“I told Fallyn after the game, ‘Go win a state championship,”” said Stern. “Our league is so good and we battle each other all season long.
“Winning our league is a product of six weeks and not just a night or a weekend, and our league is one of the best in the state!
“Nutley, Cedar Grove and Livingston are all terrific teams who can win state titles and we know we have a very tough road ahead, but that is certainly a goal for our girls as well.”
NOTES- The Mount, which has now won six of the last eight ECT titles, has tied Caldwell for the most titles (10) in the 44-year history of the tourney. The Lions have earned those 10 county crowns since 1996, while coach Mike Teshkoyan’s Chiefs won theirs during a span that has run from 1978 to 2005 when they won their last ECT title edging Montclair, 1-0, in 8 innings…The Mount’s Stern (Cedar Grove in 2010 and now the Mount) joins Nutley’s Luann Zullo, who led the Maroon Raiders to the ECT crown in 2011 and West Essex in 1997 and 1998, as the two coaches in ECT history who have now guided two different teams to county crowns….Stern had been longtime Mount head coach Lorenzo Sozio’s top assistant before Sozio, who remains the school’s athletic director, stepped aside before this season in order to be able to more closely follow his three sons’ burgeoning baseball careers.
ESSEX COUNTY TOURNAMENT FINAL:
(3) NUTLEY (19-5) 000 000 0 -0 R 3 1 E
(1) MOUNT ST. DOMINIC (23-3) 000 002 X -2 R 5 H 1 E
2B- Nutley- Robin Niland, Mount- Naya Martinez
WP- Grace Perez LP- Fallyn Stoeckel
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