Villagers 14U softball team crowned champs

Photo courtesy of Joe Schram
The Maplewood-South Orange Villagers 14U softball team gathers for a group pose after winning the Essex County Suburban league championship game on June 6. Front row, kneeling, left to right: Olivia Gibbons, Samantha Stein, Emmylou Ethan, Ellie LoPiccolo, Olivia Sasfai, Zoe Cartaina, and Tess Schram. Back Row, standing, left to right: Assistant Coach Mike Poli, Addison Secor, Emma Buettner, Zoe Hall, Layla Poli, Ellie Martin, Zahra Jones, Amelia Calveric,and Head Coach Marlowe Leibensperger.

With the combination of dominant pitching and powerful hitting that made them unbeatable throughout the spring season, the Maplewood-South Orange Villagers 14U softball team surged to a 12-2 victory over the Caldwell Chiefs in the Essex County Suburban league championship game on June 6.

Winning the trophy capped a 12-game season during which the Villagers overwhelmed the five other teams in the league, scoring 195 runs while allowing their opponents a total of 20 runs.

Pitcher Addison Secor, a seventh-grader, struck out 64 batters during 36 innings pitched in league play. Consistently strong outings in the circle by Zahra Jones and Emmy Lou Ethan produced an earned run average for the three-pitcher staff of just 1.08.

As a team, the Villagers’ batting average ended the season at a remarkable .489. Secor, along with infielders Ellie Martin and Layla Poli, each drove in more than 20 runs. Lead-off hitter Tess Schram, a speed demon who stole bases at will, crossed the plate 24 times, with Poli, Olivia Gibbons and Emma Buettner each scoring 19 runs.

Sharp fielding at every position rounded out the powerhouse team.

“Right from the start, we knew this team was special,” head Villagers coach Marlowe Leibensperger said. “They are never satisfied and tirelessly work hard to improve all aspects of their game, both as individuals and as a team. The players deserve all the credit for always showing up ready to work, doing everything we asked, and always being prepared to do their jobs.”

In the championship game, played under the lights at Meadowlands Field in South Orange, the Villagers jumped out to an early lead, putting up eight runs in the first inning. Martin got things going with a double on a line drive to center field that scored two. After two more Villagers walked, Zoe Hall knocked them in with a hard grounder, and Jones followed with a line drive to center that pushed Hall across the plate. A single by Gibbons drove in two more runs.

In the top of the fifth inning, two Chiefs batters hit the ball hard, driving in a run that brought the score to 12-2 with a runner on third. The Chiefs needed to score that one run to avoid an early-ending under the 10-run mercy rule. But with Jones pitching in relief, two crisp plays by Olivia Sasfai at third, on a line drive and a grounder, ended the Chiefs’ rally and the game.

The other towns that fielded teams in the division this season were Belleville, Bloomfield, Millburn, and Nutley.

The Villagers program was founded by volunteer parents in the two towns in 2005 and has grown to include nearly 400 girls playing on recreational and competitive travel teams. This was the first time that a Villagers team won the Suburban league.

The 14U division is comprised of mostly seventh- and eighth-grade girls who were 14 or younger at the turn of the year. Seven  members of the Suburban Villagers team are graduating from eighth grade this month, and several of them hope to play at Columbia High School next year.

“Our eighth-graders have grown up in the MSO softball program and made big contributions to its positive momentum in recent years,” Leibensperger said. “With the addition of this group of talented and committed players to an already solid foundation, the future looks very promising for Columbia softball.”