Ella Tozduman had been waiting a long time for the opportunity to get back into her favorite place, the pitching circle.
The Lyndhurst High School junior had such a sensational freshman season in 2019, winning 16 games, striking out 163 batters and driving a team-high 36 runs, so it was only natural to believe that bigger and better days were ahead.
Then, the pandemic of 2020 struck, cancelling the entire softball season.
Tozduman is also a volleyball player for the Golden Bears and the pandemic pushed the girls’ volleyball season to a hybrid campaign beginning in February and ending in April, which caused yet another obstacle in young Ella’s life.
“Obviously, I’ve been playing softball for the longest time,” Tozduman said. “But I really love playing volleyball as well. I didn’t want to miss any time from softball, but we were trying to win a state title. So it was really difficult for me.”
Tozduman tried valiantly to play both sports at the same time.
“I would go to volleyball games, then go to softball practice,” Tozduman said. “It was difficult with time management.”
While her softball team was preparing for the 2021 season, Tozduman’s volleyball team kept winning, advancing all the way to the North Jersey Section 1, Group II championship round.
“I would miss a volleyball practice to get to a softball scrimmage,” Tozduman said. “But I had to be with my volleyball team as well.”
Then, disaster struck. Tozduman inadvertently injured her shoulder while playing in the final volleyball matches of the season. She suffered tendinitis in her pitching shoulder.
“I guess it came from overuse,” Tozduman said.
“That was a little bit of a setback for us,” said second-year Lyndhurst head softball coach Sara Fusco, who didn’t really get the chance to make her debut as a head coach in 2020 because of the pandemic shutdown.
When the softball season began, the Golden Bears struggled somewhat, losing all three of their first games without Tozduman in the circle.
“That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Tozduman said about not being able to play and pitch. “I felt so bad about it. I wanted to be out there with my team. I knew we would be able to bounce back. I was there, cheering my teammates on, but it hurt me that I couldn’t contribute.”
Tozduman worked diligently for months for this season, which is considered the most crucial year in terms of college recruitment. She went to pitching lessons at the Pitching Factory in Fairfield with respected pitching coach Bob Tully. She went to the gym to religiously work out. And most importantly, she threw constantly to her favorite coach, her father, Soner, who according to Ella “is a great catcher.”
“My Dad has been my biggest inspiration and my role model since I was a little girl,” Tozduman said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
So 14 months of anxious preparation and Tozduman finds herself on the outside looking in.
“I’ve been waiting for almost two years for this softball season,” Tozduman said. “I was preparing for this year for so long. This was the year that I wanted to do my best. Not being able to pitch really hurt me.”
However, a shot of cortisone in the shoulder helped tremendously and Tozduman’s absence was limited to those three games. When she returned to face Westwood, the Golden Bears won. Then wins over Ridgefield and Cedar Grove to even the Golden Bears’ seasonal mark to 3-3.
“It was the best feeling ever to get back out there and be ready to pitch,” Tozduman said. “I was ready and raring to go. I was confident and felt strong. I felt on top of the world.”
Finally, there was a showdown last Tuesday against archnemesis Secaucus, the defending Hudson County champion. Tozduman knew that she was going to be put to the test against the pesky Patriots.
“I knew they were a good team,” Tozduman said. “I was just thrilled to be out there.”
Tozduman was obviously more than just happy. She was a tigress in the circle, a young lady on a mission.
“I know every league game is really important, so the game meant a lot to me,” Tozduman said. “I wanted to go out there and pitch a perfect game. At least, that was the goal.”
Mission accomplished. Tozduman did exactly that, hurling the first perfect game of her career, striking out 17 of the 21 batters she faced in a huge 8-0 Lyndhurst win.
For good measure, Tozduman fired a three-hitter, striking out 12 and walking none in a big game against Butler, winning 5-1. The next start, she scattered five hits, walking the first two batters of the season, striking out eight in a 4-3 win over Columbia.
At the plate, Tozduman has hit .521 on 12-of-23 with a home run, two doubles and 10 RBI.
For her efforts, Tozduman has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
The Golden Bears have won seven straight with all seven coming with Tozduman in the lineup.
Needless to say, Fusco, who was an assistant coach when Todzuman was tearing things up as a freshman, is getting a better chance to experience Todzuman now from a head coach’s perspective.
“She’s super fierce in the circle,” Fusco said. “She throws a lot of good pitches and she’s very consistent. This is just the beginning for Ella. Every day, she gets better and better.”
And some days, she’s even perfect. The game against Secaucus was the first perfect game of her career. She did throw two no-hitters as a freshman.
“I love the way the season is going,” Tozduman said. “Pitching that game against Secaucus meant a lot to me because it was a league game.”
The Golden Bears now sit atop the North Jersey Interscholastic League-Liberty Division standings with their 7-3 record.
What gets lost in the shuffle of Tozduman’s pitching prowess is her ability at the plate.
“She comes up to the plate and she executes,” Fusco said. “She is aggressive at the plate and hits the ball.”
The entire Golden Bear lineup is hitting the ball. Gianna Alberti is leading the way with 16 hits in 35 at-bats (.457) with a team-high in runs scored (13) and RBI (12), with five doubles, two triples and a homer. Alexa Borino (.441) has 13 runs, three doubles, two triples and eight RBI. Stephanie Mizeski (team-high .535) has added nine runs and seven RBI. Jaylene Rivera is batting .375 with four doubles, three homers and 11 RBI and Naya Martinez, just a freshman, has already hit two homers. So Tozduman has a lot of support surrounding her.
“Having Ella makes my job super easier,” Fusco said.
“I’m hoping that this start helps me a lot in terms of college,” Todzuman said. “I think it should be very helpful to take me to the next level.”
Because not many are as simply perfect as Ella Todzuman.
Lyndhurst junior pitcher Ella Tozduman fired a perfect game against Secaucus last week, striking out 17 of the 21 batters she faced, for the first perfect game of her career. Photo courtesy of Ella Tozduman
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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.”