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Mount St. Dominic came from behind to edge Cedar Grove 9-7 to win record 11th Essex County Tournament title on Monday evening with veteran seniors leaders, from left, Gianna Stern, Olivia Bibbo & Naya Martinez helping to pave the way with timely hits and key plays on the bases or in the field in a well-earned championship victory. (SC photo)

Mount Seniors Come Through In Big Way
As Lions Earn A Record 11th ECT Crown

By Steve Tober

NEWARK- Olivia Bibbo, who had singled and stole second was now ready to try and advance to third base on a ground out as Mount St. Dominic looked to add an insurance run in the sixth inning of a tight one-run game with persistent Cedar Grove.

She began her headfirst slide into the bag only to get her foot caught just a bit causing her to hit the ground rather hard.

She laid there for just a few seconds, got to her feet and moments later raced home on freshman Brooke Mundy’s RBI ground out for a 9-7 lead which would hold up as the final score.

Freshman pitcher Ava Kelshaw, who has been there all season long as an ace in the circle, finished the job while inducing a game-ending double play and the Lions could celebrate their record 11th Essex County Tournament championship on Monday night at Ivy Hill Park.

While the Mount (25-1) has received a real bolt of energy this season from its five freshmen starters along with sophomore first baseman Jill Cianfrocca, the 47th ECT final was ultimately secured by the well-rounded and timely contributions of its three veteran seniors: leadoff batter and shortstop Naya Martinez (3-for-4 with a run and an RBI) No. 3 hitter and second baseman Gianna Stern (2-for-3 with a walk, a run and 2 RBI) and No. 5 hitter and centerfielder Bibbo (2-for-3 with a walk a run and 3 RBI).

Bibbo’s 3-run double in the first inning, Stern’s clutch 2-run single to give her team a 7-6 lead in the third inning, and Martinez’ RBI single in the third, plus two doubles and a nice defensive play on a hard-hit ball by the Panthers’ Gia Fernandez in the sixth were all important for the Lions to come through in the end.    

“It was a real team effort tonight and our seniors paved the way by coming through in a huge way on the biggest stage,” said Mount coach Rob Stern. “Our younger kids have added so much this season, but we know that we can always count on our seniors to do something extra special.”

It was an ECT final that took place on two different nights as Saturday’s constant drizzle and wet playing surface necessitated a stoppage of play with two outs in the bottom of the first inning in what was a 3-3 game.

Play resumed nearly 48 hours later and it was third-seeded Cedar Grove (17-8) which struck first on Monday night in the top of the second inning as following two strikeouts by Kelshaw, Cayce Kavakich (2-for-4 with 3 runs) and Ava Oeckel (2-for-4 with a run) singled and Fernandez hammered a blast over the left field fence for a 3-run home run and a 6-3 Panthers lead.

“I’m wondering right there, after Fernandez’ home run, that maybe Cedar Grove is just going to continue what they did vs. Livingston in Friday night’s semifinal (10-0 Panthers win),” said coach Stern. “But, our girls remained calm, and we’ve come back before from a deficit like that, so we just went back to work.

In the bottom of the third inning the top-seeded Lions would score four runs as junior Carlee Paez began the rally with a single and then the Mount worked three consecutive walks with Mundy, Kelshaw and freshman Natalia Marecki all reaching base to force home one run before an RBI single by Martinez plated Mundy and then Stern’s solid single up the middle brought home both Kelshaw and Marecki to allow the Lions to take a 7-6 lead.

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