Lyndhurst’s softball team captures first-ever state sectional title



By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Lyndhurst High School softball program had to replace an All-Bergen County pitcher, a standout slugging catcher and even the head coach from a year ago.

But that didn’t deter this year’s group from creating a slice of history.

Senior first baseman Alyssa Pipon delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the sixth inning, snapping a 2-2 tie, and lifting Lyndhurst to a 3-2 victory over Madison to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state championship last Friday afternoon.

The win enabled the Golden Bears (22-7) to secure the school’s first-ever state sectional softball championship.

“That was the theme all week,” said Lyndhurst’s firstyear head softball coach Emily Ringen. “We had a chance to create history.”

First things first. The Golden Bears had to take care of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division championship by beating Leonia. It was a game that was postponed due to rain three previous times.

But the Golden Bears defeated Leonia, 5-0, to nail down the NJIC-Liberty title, then put their focus on the state tournament.

In the sectional semifinals, the Golden Bears had to take on Hanover Park, the team that knocked off the Golden Bears in last year’s North 2, Group II final game, denying the Golden Bears the chance to claim their first state sectional crown.

“We had the mindset of redemption,” said Ringen, who replaced former coach Elaine Catanese this spring.

The Golden Bears got their revenge by beating Hanover Park, earning a home game for the state title game against Madison.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Ringen, who previously played for and served as an assistant coach at perennial state power Pequannock. “The whole community came out. What a feeling that was. We were home. We had to get the job done.”

“In the beginning of the season, we knew we lost a pitcher and a catcher,” said senior Dina Ingenito. “But we all had confidence in each other and knew we could go up from last year. We got to the final and it was do or die.”

The Golden Bears did lose All-County pitcher Casey Zdanek and catcher Julieann Schneidenbach from last year’s team to graduation.

But Jenn Tellefsen moved into the pitching circle and became an instant dominant force, while sophomore Monica Laverty became the catcher and didn’t miss a beat.

In the fourth inning Friday, the Golden Bears were trailing, 2-0, when their pitcher and catcher got involved.

“Jenny hit a homer, then Monica also hit one,” Ringen said. “They turned the game around big time. The girls were honestly getting a little down on themselves, being down two runs.”

The two solo homers from the Lyndhurst battery tied the score, setting up the heroics in the home sixth. It was Tellefsen’s seventh homer of the season and the third for Laverty.

Christina Porta singled and Ingenito walked, sending Pipon to the plate.

“I just knew I had to get the job done,” said Pipon, a four-year fixture at first base for the Golden Bears. “We had to score there and win the game.”

Pipon grounded a single up the middle and Porta raced home with the go-ahead run.

Tellefsen then took the ball for the seventh, determined to seal the deal.

“She got two easy groundballs, but then she walked two batters in a row,” Ringen said. “It was a little heart wrenching then.”

But Tellefsen got the last Madison batter to strike out looking and the title was all Lyndhurst’s.

“When she struck out the last girl, it was chaos,” Ringen said. “It was such an awesome feeling.”

The seniors certainly enjoyed the victory.

“I knew that this was my senior year and this was my top goal,” said Ingenito, who is headed to Felician College to play soccer. “It feels great to be a part of it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I knew I didn’t want to leave high school without a (state) championship and I was so determined to get it.”

Game hero Pipon agreed.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Pipon, who is headed to Bergen County Community College in the fall. “I’m still speechless. It’s a great feeling. It’s going to be amazing to come back to Lyndhurst and look up at the wall and see our state championship on the banner. I’ve been working all these years and this was absolutely worth it.”

Fellow senior Tomko, the team’s shortstop, had to endure a knee injury last summer, then had to make a tough decision to quit basketball and join the swim team, just to get ready for softball.

“Softball is my favorite sport,” said Tomko, who is headed to the University of Delaware and will not compete in athletics. “This meant the world to me. I’ve been through so many seasons (soccer, basketball and swimming) and this was my last chance. Since the first scrimmage, I knew that if we were going to do it, this was it.

Added Tomko, “It was a total team effort for the whole season. This group is like family to me. To end my career with a state championship is awesome.”

The Golden Bears, now 22-7, were slated to face North 1, Group II sectional champ High Point and the state’s all-time leader in strikeouts in Ally Frei in the overall Group II semifinals Tuesday in Bloomfield.

Needless to say, the Lyndhurst contingent is beyond ecstatic.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Ringen, who became the first coach to ever lead Lyndhurst to a state title in her first season. “It’s an unreal experience. I give the coaching staff and the players credit, because I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It’s been such a positive atmosphere all year, keeping everything fun. I guess we set the bar high.”

Having Tellefsen in the circle definitely helped.

“I trusted Jenny all season to get the job done, but she took it into her own hands,” Ringen said. “Everyone knows that high school softball begins and ends in the circle. She has been beyond phenomenal.”

The rookie coach won a state sectional title with a new pitcher and catcher. Needless to say, all three will be back next year as well.

“I can’t put this into words,” Ringen said. “We had a great group of seniors who simply would not leave without creating history. It was always a dream to win a state title. We knew we had the talent. We won and had a lot of fun.”

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