After falling to Cranford in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship game Saturday morning at Yanticaw Park, Nutley High School head softball coach Luann Zullo tried to put a positive spin on the loss.
“If you would have told me before the season that we would ended up 22-5 and make it to both the county and sectional final, I would have said, ‘I’d sign on that dotted line,’” Zullo said.
Still, the reality of the moment didn’t take away the sting of the setback and make it hurt any less.
“We had out chances,” Zullo said. “We hit the ball hard. We just hit it right at them. Cranford is a very good team. They got in the box and hit the ball. But we could have won. I would play them again and again and again.”
Cranford (23-5) scored two runs off losing pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel in the top of the first inning that dampened the spirits of the approximately 700 fans in attendance.
“But that didn’t put us down,” Zullo said. “We came from behind before. We came back all year. We weren’t devastated. We knew we could come back.”
Lorianne O’Connor hit the ball to the fence to start the first inning, but the Cranford centerfielder ran it down. It was a sign for times to come.
“We knew that we were going to have to score runs to win anyway,” Zullo said. “The first inning really didn’t effect us.”
But in the fifth inning, Elizabeth McCaffrey, the daughter of the Cranford baseball coach, hit a home run that pushed the lead to 4-0.
“They swung the bat,” Zullo said of Cranford. “They weren’t looking to walk. They got in the box and hit the ball.”
Cranford delivered nine hits off Stoeckel.
“We just didn’t have it,” Zullo said. “Sometimes, you need a little luck to win big games. We needed the ball to bounce our way a little. We hit the ball right at people. We needed to get it six inches either left or right. We didn’t lose to a losing team.”
Zullo said that she thoroughly enjoyed coaching the 2021 Maroon Raiders.
“They were a good group, a fun group,” Zullo said. “They enjoyed being together and had fun. There are so many other teams that can’t have fun. I’ve had more talented teams than this one. But this team really enjoyed being together and playing. Was it the year away from playing? I don’t know. I just think these girls tended to appreciate the game a little more. Who knows?”
Zullo then got a little emotional talking about the season’s end.
“The most disappointing thing is that we’re not going to be together tomorrow,” Zullo said. “That’s the most disappointing part to losing. I didn’t want it to end.”
Zullo loses three seniors from this year’s team, so the rest will be back in 2022, looking to capture the elusive state sectional title.
“We’re definitely looking forward to next year,” Zullo said. “In fact, maybe I’d wish for it to start tomorrow. The younger players we had needed experience and they have it now. I think it might have been a little overwhelming for them in the beginning of the season. They needed to become students of the game. They don’t now.”
So look for another shot at state glory a year from now.
Zullo wanted to thank the hundreds who took the time a Saturday in June to come out and support the Maroon Raiders.
“The environment was electric,” Zullo said. “The community really came out to support the girls. It was an intense game, but it was well played. We are glad the community came out to see them.”
And will come out next spring in even stronger fashion with no threat of an international pandemic.
Nutley junior pitcher Fallyn Stoeckel had a brilliant junior campaign, but it came to an end Saturday in the state sectional title game against Cranford. Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley head coach Luann Zullo (center) tells her team how much fun they had been to coach during the trying times of 2021. 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.”