LYNDHURST – “We love freshmen. We love freshmen.”
That was the chant that echoed from the Lyndhurst High School softball team’s dugout Saturday afternoon. And deservedly so.
Because freshman second baseman Naya Martinez was enjoying the game of her young life in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II quarterfinals.
Martinez, who has been totally on fire for the last four weeks, delivered the clutch hits in the Golden Bears’ 6-2 win over Hanover Park to move on to the sectional semifinals. Martinez had a two-run triple to cap off a four-run first inning explosion, then smacked a two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning to put a capper on the victory.
Martinez has driven in 13 runs in the last seven games.
“We always love freshmen, but Naya makes me love freshmen even more,” said Lyndhurst head coach Sara Fusco, who saw her team improve to 17-6 with their sixth win in a row. “We always knew that Naya would be a big asset to our team.”
Martinez said that she appreciates the support she gets from her teammates with the cheers.
“I hear it all the time,” Martinez said. “It gets me hyped. I love being a freshman and love being on this team.”
Martinez delivered the key blow in the first inning with the two-run triple.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive,” Martinez said. “I was ready from the first pitch.”
The four-run outburst made things a hell of a lot easier for junior pitcher Ella Todzuman.
“It built my confidence,” said Todzuman, who scattered six hits in going the distance, striking out five and walking two. “I knew then that I just had to throw strikes and let the defense make plays. It took a ton of pressure off me.”
“It gave us a nice cushion for the rest of the game,” Fusco said.
And the Golden Bears relied on a defense that was beyond brilliant, making one solid play after another. Jaylene Rivera made two sparkling plays at third base and Martinez made a great catch of a line drive at second base that turned into a double play.
Quite honestly, it was the best defensive effort this reporter has ever seen. It was pristine and perfect.
“It was pretty unbelievable,” Fusco said. “We were supposed to play (Friday) and instead we had a defensive practice. Our defense came up big today. It obviously worked. I’m thrilled.”
“The defense was amazing,” Todzuman said. “It’s the best we’ve ever played. When they are that good, I never have to worry about anything. It’s a real confidence booster.”
The Golden Bears now move on in the state tournament to face the winner of Parsippany-Bernards in the sectional semifinals. The game will be played Wednesday at the Lyndhurst Recreation facility.
As long as the freshman keeps up her hot streak, the Golden Bears can go a long way.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Martinez said of her performance. “I’m so happy.”
“We can go as far as we can,” Todzuman said. “We have that kind of potential.”
The Golden Bears also received three hits from junior first baseman Stephanie Mizeski. Rivera had two hits, including a double, and two runs scored.
The incredible aspect of this team is: They have only two seniors in Alexa Borino and Gianna Alberti, so the heart of this team returns next year. Watch out. Especially for the freshman who will only be a sophomore.
Lyndhurst junior pitcher Ella Todzuman pitched a gem Saturday in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II quarterfinals. Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst freshman second baseman Naya Martinez gets ready for a play. Martinez delivered two clutch hits and four RBI in the Golden Bears’ 6-2 victory. Photo by Jim Hague
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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.”