Luann Zullo knows there will come a time when she and her Nutley players will look back upon last week’s Group 3 semifinal against Roxbury with reverence for the incredibly high level of skill and poise displayed by both teams over the course of two days.
But for now, the feelings from that 13-inning, 2-1 loss at Roxbury are ones of pain.
The epic game started last Wednesday before being suspended with it 0-0 in the top of the seventh inning due to rain, forcing Nutley to make another hour-long drive west to Succasunna to resume the game Thursday morning. The two elite squads played another six-plus innings until Roxbury’s Natalie Otto doubled into the left field gap, scoring Jayden Pennella and ending the Raiders’ incredible season.
“That last game was so intense, it was a shame that someone had to lose because it was so well-played by both teams,” Zullo said. “There were amazing plays being made by both sides. It just stings a little to be so close.
“This game, we’ll be talking about for a long time. This was probably the most intense, greatest high school contest that I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve been coaching for a very long time and this has to be among the best.”
Future discussions will certainly revolve around the pitchers’ duel between Nutley’s Fallyn Stoeckel and Hailey Errichiello of Roxbury as the duo combined for 33 strikeouts and just nine hits allowed.
Stoeckel, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, escaped trouble in the fifth and sixth before the storm came. On Thursday, the star senior broke the scoreless tie with an RBI double in the top of the ninth, but Roxbury’s Lia Milsom answered with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.
Starting with the 10th inning, each half inning begins with a runner on second base meaning that one hit might potentially end the game. In the 10th, Nutley had a runner thrown out at the plate trying to score from third on a fly ball to right field.
An inning later, the Raiders had their own defensive gem when Stoeckel back-handed a comebacker to the circle and fired home to catcher Sydney Hess, who tagged out the sliding runner. Hess then threw to second where Gabriella Mariano tagged out the batter trying to advance for an inning-ending 1-2-6 double play.
“The longer we went, sooner or later, someone’s going to run into one. We were hoping it was us,” Zullo said. “You had two excellent pitchers. I’ve said it all through my career, in order to get that far, you gotta get a little lucky. Sometimes luck is on your side, sometimes it’s not.”
Stoeckel, in her final game in maroon, struck out 14 and walked three, allowing just one earned run on five hits. Errichiello, Roxbury’s star sophomore, struck out 19 while allowing one run on four hits and two walks.
Stoeckel, whose 307 strikeouts this season were the most by any Nutley pitcher in at least 25 years, will continue her career at Rider; Hess is signed to play at Sacred Heart and center fielder/leadoff hitter Lia DiMaio will play at Georgian Court.
The graduation of those three and Nikki Cicchetti, who had three RBI in the North 2, Group 3 title game against West Morris, leaves a considerable void to fill for next year as well as a standard for future teams.
“This group of seniors has been a huge part of everything we do for these last three seasons,” Zullo said. “This group of seniors made it to the sectional finals all three seasons they played, they made it to the County final the last two. This team has done a lot and those seniors really raised the bar for what’s expected.
“We talk about it when they come into the program (I ask) what kind of legacy do you want to leave? This group has raised the bar, they really have with what they’ve accomplished in three years. It breaks my heart they didn’t have the fourth year, but what they accomplished in three years (was incredible). I know today it’s still really a tough pill to swallow because it was so intense, but it was such a great game that there’s going to come a point where it won’t hurt as much and we’ll talk about how great that game was.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.