By Steve Tober for sidelinehatter.com
In a quarter-century of coaching Mount St. Dominic softball, Lorenzo Sozio has seen enough Essex County Tournament games to know that nothing is ever guaranteed regardless of how strong a team one may have on paper.
Now as the prohibitive favorite and No. 1 seed in the 43rd ECT, the veteran Lions head mentor is not taking anything for granted even with a roster comprised of the best talent in the state this side of No. 1 ranked Donovan Catholic.
The Mount (9-1), whose only loss was a 7-2 setback to the Shore power last Saturday in Caldwell, is seeking its ninth ECT crown and is hoping to repeat the county championship it achieved the last time the tourney was played in 2019 when the Non-Public powerhouse shut out Cedar Grove, 3-0, at Ivy Hill Park.
“It’s a credit to our kids, including both current and past players, to be able to seek our ninth ECT title, but at the same time we know that everyone in the county would love to play the spoiler’s role and try to knock us off,” said Sozio, who now shares co-head coaching duties with longtime associate Rob Stern. “There are certainly other teams out there capable of winning this championship and we simply have to come ready to play each game and continue to execute at a high level.”
Other high seeds in back of the Mount in the 2021 ECT field include 2-Livingston (5-0), 3-Nutley (9-1), 4-Verona (4-3) and 5-Columbia (5-4).
There are six preliminary round contests that must be played on or by this Saturday (May 8). The first round should be completed by Wednesday, May 12, with the quarterfinals by Saturday, May 15, all the higher seeded team’s home field.
The semifinals (5 and 7 p.m., Friday, May 21) and championship game (7 p.m., Saturday, May 22) will be played on Mike Sheppard, Sr. Field at Ivy Hill Park in Newark.
The Mount, which has also reached a record 16 ECT finals, trails just Caldwell (10-1 in finals) for the most ECT titles in the history of the event. Livingston and Cedar Grove are tied for third in titles with five each.
The 2021 Lions are led by one of the state’s top all-around players in junior pitcher Sophia Kiseloski '22 who in addition to her prowess in the circle has also hammered five home runs and knocked in 24 runs in the first 10 games.
Villanova-bound senior leadoff hitter and center fielder Alexa Raphael '21 (18 hits, 20 runs) spearheads a potent lineup that also features other very capable bats from players such as senior first baseman Alex Cruz '21 (Ithaca), junior catcher-designated player Diana Yturbe '22 and sophomore catcher-DP Sydney Rosenkranz '23 (.500 BA, 15 RBI).
There is also depth in the circle as sophomore Grace Perez '23 is a very capable hurler (54 strikeouts in 28 2/3 IP) to turn to in addition to Kiseloski, the very experienced junior who as a freshman hurled a 2-hitter with 10 strikeouts in the ECT championship victory over Cedar Grove.
“We like our team, but we also know that it is a daily challenge and everyone has to be focused over the long haul,” said Sozio. “We’ll took to stay focused on our next opponent, whether it’s in the ECT or as we continue with our Super Essex Conference (American Division) schedule.”
In an attractive regular season game on Friday, the Lions visit Livingston at 4 p.m.
The Lancers of veteran coach Jason Daily are led by deep pitching staff plus reliable bats wielded by a number of veteran players including seniors Deja Robinson, Hailey Reuter and Nathalia Dilanni.