Nutley softball marches on in NJSIAA North 2, Group III playoffs

Photos by Jim Hague The Nutley Maroon Raiders have exceptional pitching depth with senior Carly Anderson (l.) and junior Emily Holden (r.) leading the way. Anderson is righthanded and Holden left-handed, giving coach Luann Zullo the option of giving her team a different look.
Photos by Jim Hague
The Nutley Maroon Raiders have exceptional pitching depth with senior Carly Anderson (l.) and junior Emily Holden (r.) leading the way. Anderson is right-handed and Holden left-handed, giving coach Luann Zullo the option of giving
her team a different look.

It’s late May, past Memorial Day weekend.

It means only one thing locally.

Nutley is still playing high school softball games.

While every other local team has called it a year, the Maroon Raiders trudge on as always. The NJSIAA state playoffs have become an annual playground for Nutley.

Head coach Luann Zullo’s teams thrive come state tournament time, having reached the sectional semifinals the last three years and won the North Jersey Section 2, Group III title in 2010.

Last Wednesday, the Maroon Raiders roughed up Cranford, 12-0, and now move on to the sectional semis to face Chatham. That game was set to be played Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend began.

The Maroon Raiders suffered a tough 2-1 loss to West Essex in the Essex County Tournament semifinals last Sunday.

“It was a great game and both teams played well,” Zullo said. “Someone had to lose. Because we still had the state tournament to get prepared for, we got refocused in a hurry. There was no room to worry about the loss to West Essex. We had to move forward.”

Zullo likes the way her team, which now has a record of 22-7, is playing right now.

“We’ve been doing good things all year,” Zullo said. “We have a fairly veteran team that knows what needs to be done. We have a small team with not a lot of players on the bench.”

That’s because the Maroon Raiders lost two key players to injury, including the talented junior Alanis Concepcion, who has missed most of the season with the aftermath of a concussion.

“We’re still trying to figure out what happened and what our options are,” Zullo said. “We’ve just been doing our thing.”

Breanna DeMaio also lost some time with a knee injury, but she’s back now and contributing.

“At this point, it seems like we’re doing well,” Zullo said. “But we have to take it one day at a time. I’m very happy with the way the season is going.”

Maybe one of the biggest reasons for Zullo’s happiness has been the play of senior do-everything Carly Anderson.

“She’s just an athlete,” Zullo said. “She can pitch, she can play shortstop or she can play the outfield.”

Anderson pitched Wednesday against Cranford, firing a three-hit shutout, striking out six in the process. She also had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two RBI.

“Carly makes plays, day in and day out, that are just spectacular, plays that I said I may never see again. It’s fun to watch her play.” When Carly is not pitching, junior lefty Emily Holden takes over.

“She sees her time on the mound,” Zullo said. “But I have to say that Emily is a very good first baseman. She’s done an outstanding job there. Carly’s right, Emily’s a lefty. I’m happy with both. I’m not afraid to use either. It comes down to whoever works for us today against the opponent.”

The catcher is junior Danielle Pomponio, who scored three runs in the win over Cranford. Pomponio was a third baseman who took on the challenge of being a catcher just last year.

“She went through last year and now I think she’s comfortable back there.”

When Holden is toeing the rubber, then junior Cassie Angelo fills in admirably at first base.

Senior Jenna Saporito, one of the holdovers (along with Anderson) of the last state sectional team, plays second base.

Junior Stefanie Ziemer is the shortstop. She handles all responsibilities on the field.

DeMaio plays third most of the time, but the versatile DeMaio gets moved around as well.

Freshman Sydney Kunz is in left field, with the combination of Angelo, DeMaio and Roesing in center, with Samantha Echeverria in right field.

The Maroon Raiders were slated to face Chatham in the sectional semis after press time.

“This group of girls has one goal,” Zullo said. “And that’s to have fun. We have two seniors in Carly and Jenna and they’ve been with me for a while. Having that leadership is big.” Leadership leads to victories and victories lead to the state playoffs.

“This team has made me very happy, because they’re always happy,” Zullo said. “They’re just a fun bunch of kids to be around. It makes me excited that I’m going to see them later in the afternoon, whether for a game or a practice.”

Zullo hopes that she can continue to see her players for a few more weeks as the state tournament unfolds. More than likely, the Maroon Raiders will make some sort of noise in the playoffs, like a quiet assassin.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”