Fallyn Stoeckel had no choice but to be a good athlete, especially a softball player. After all, the Nutley High School junior has practically grown up on softball fields in Essex County.
After all, Stoeckel’s grandfather, Jim Sr., has been a long-time softball and baseball umpire who has been the assignor for the Essex County Tournament for almost 30 years. And her father, Jim, the former Belleville High boys’ basketball coach, has been a highly respected umpire as well.
“You can tell when someone has grown up around the game,” Nutley head softball coach Luann Zullo said. “I think Fallyn grew up just watching the game.”
“I think it always helped me to be around Dad,” Stoeckel said. “Dad pushed me along all the time and my grandfather goes to so many games and has always been around. It definitely has helped me.”
It’s certainly helped Stoeckel recently. The junior flamethrower has been dynamite, both pitching and at the plate in recent weeks, especially with the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs in full bloom.
Last week, Stoeckel had about as good of a week both pitching and hitting that a player could have.
On the mound, Stoeckel won both of the Maroon Raiders’ state playoff games against Mendham and JFK-Iselin. Stoeckel fired a one-hitter against Mendham, striking out 15, in the Maroon Raiders’ 8-1 victory. Last Friday, Stoeckel struck out 14 over nine innings in the Maroon Raiders’ thrilling 7-6 win over Iselin Kennedy, coming back from a three-run deficit to do so.
At the plate, Stoeckel was an unconscious nine-for-11 over three games, the two playoff wins and a regular season tilt with Millburn. Stoeckel delivered three hits, namely two doubles and a triple, drove in three runs and scored three in a 14-0 victory. She had three hits, including a double and a triple, with one RBI and two runs scored in the win over Mendham and finished the week with three more hits, including a double and a triple, and had three RBI in the victory over Iselin Kennedy.
That pretty much sums up an impressive week.
Needless to say, Stoeckel has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Stoeckel was fully aware that the games are much more important now with a possible state championship at stake.
“I’ve been more excited for the state tournament,” Stoeckel said. “I definitely think I perform better in bigger games.”
Stoeckel came through in the clutch against JFK-Iselin, knocking home the game-tying run before Sydney Hess plated the game-winner in the ninth inning.
“I knew that I had to do something for us, because it was a pretty high scoring game,” Stoeckel said. “I didn’t know that they (Iselin Kennedy) would be that strong of a team. I just concentrated at the plate and was lucky enough to get a pitch to hit.”
Zullo isn’t complaining about the production she has received from her ace pitcher, who wasn’t feeling 100 percent Friday.
“She was sick,” Zullo said. “She had a really bad cough. But that wasn’t going to stop her. She struck out four batters in the first inning. She is getting better every day. She works hard. She’s fine tuning the pitches she has and has not been complacent at all, working on others.”
Stoeckel had a brilliant freshman campaign for the Maroon Raiders, but like everyone else, she was slowed by the coronavirus that halted all sports last spring.
“That really hurt a lot,” Stoeckel said. “We knew we were going to have a strong team last year. So I knew I had to get a lot better than I was freshman year. I am definitely throwing harder now. My pitches are moving a lot better. I am better compared to my freshman year. I only had two games of 10 strikeouts or more.”
And Stoeckel had two of those last week alone.
“It’s a real thrill for me to be doing so well,” Stoeckel said. “And when I’m hitting well, I know that if I’m not pitching my best, I can still help the team win.”
The Maroon Raiders are 21-3 and headed to the state sectional semifinals Wednesday against either Matawan or Woodbridge in Nutley’s Yanitcaw Park at 4:30 p.m. Stoeckel is perhaps the main reason why the Maroon Raiders are where they are. She’s batting .457 for the season with 14 doubles and 26 RBI. Pitching, she has surrendered just 21 earned runs in 147 innings pitched (an even 1.00 earned run average) with 165 strikeouts. You can’t get much better than that.
Zullo is confident that Stoeckel can play college softball.
“I definitely think she can play at the next level,” Zullo said. “It’s unfortunate that she lost last year and last summer was big. I think this summer will be really big for her in terms of recruiting.”
“I think about it a lot,” Stoeckel said. “I think this summer (playing for the New Jersey Fight) will mean a lot to me.”
There are still big games to be won for the Maroon Raiders.
“We have a special group of kids who do all the intangibles that other teams I coached didn’t have,” Zullo said. “They fight for everything and they have fun. I look forward to every game with this group.”
The Maroon Raiders also have a chance to win the Super Essex Conference-American Division title with regular season games against front runners Livingston, Verona and Mount St. Dominic on tap. The Maroon Raiders have to win all three of those games, but with Stoeckel on the mound, anything is possible.
“I trust my teammates a lot,” Stoeckel said. “Even when we fall behind by three runs like we did the other day, we have the ability to come back, as long as everyone does their job.”
As long as the kid standing in the circle holding the ball is ready to fire away.
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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.”