Local stars Martinez, Stern sign to play Division I softball

Naya Martinez

For the last two seasons Naya Martinez and Gianna Stern have shared an infield together at Mount St. Dominic, rekindling a softball bond that initially started when the two seniors were 10 years old.

“It’s been a great time on the field with her during high school, seeing her everyday and just talking about softball,” said Stern, a Bloomfield resident. “Being able to play with her at the Mount has been one of the best experiences. I’m so happy having a close friend all of these years and I’m getting to finish this last season with her.”

“We were very close when we were younger,” added Martinez, who lives in Lyndhurst. “Even though we went to different schools and stopped talking (for a bit)  there was a connection and then we started talking again and it was like we never separated.”

Martinez and Stern were once again connected earlier this month when both signed their National Letters of Intent to play Division 1 softball. Martinez, a shortstop, signed to play at Seton Hall University and Stern, a second baseman, signed to play at Monmouth University.

“They’re the same kind of kid,” said Rob Stern, the head coach at Mount St. Dominic and Gianna’s father. “What makes them great is that they love to work. Naya and Gianna stay out and take extra balls, they want to get it right. They’ll take extra swings. For the level that they play, they both push each other and they like practicing. A lot of kids don’t like practice, but they do.”

As a longtime head coach, both at the high school and travel level with NJ Pride, Stern estimates he’s been a part of the college recruiting process with more than 300 current and former players. None of those others however were quite like the process with Gianna

“I tried to coach her the same way I coach the other kids and let her go through the process as it went through and the schools that were interested in her” Rob Stern said. “I gave my piece at the end as a dad and as a coach.

“I let her do her visits, spend her time and gather her information and not try to persuade her with where I felt she should go. In the end, I always tell kids and families your daughter needs to go where she wants to go. Mom and dad sometimes feel she should go here or there, but she’s the one going to school. She’s the one getting up and going to play and going to class.”

For the past three years, Gianna Stern has started at second base at Mount St. Dominic, and quickly earned a reputation as being one of the state’s top defensive infielders.

“I’ve just gotten really comfortable in the middle infield, especially at second base,” said Gianna Stern. “Knowing my range and just knowing what to do on the field and controlling the infield.”

“She loves playing defense. She takes as much pride making a great play as she does getting a base hit,” said Rob Stern. “She’s very good on her feet and at being in position.”

Last year, Stern hit .304 with 19 walks, 22 runs scored and 20 RBI for the Lions, which went 24-8 and won the Essex County and Non-Public, North A championships. For her career, Stern is hitting .354 with 84 hits, including 21 doubles.

Martinez started her high school career at Lyndhurst, transferring to Mount St. Dominic before the start of her sophomore year.

At first glance, Martinez might not seem imposing at the plate, until she swings.This past season, she he hit eight home runs, batting .343 with 40 runs scored, 24 RBI and 17 extra-base hits.

Martinez has 13 home runs, 87 runs and 81 RBI over her high school career.

“People tell me I’m not supposed to be hitting the way I hit because of how small I am or where I’m hitting in the lineup,” said Martinez. “It’s definitely a surprise to people.”

“She’s one of the best players that I’ve coached in a long time,” Rob Stern said. “She’s got fast hands, great pop in her bat. She’s strong as heck. You wouldn’t think of the power that comes out of her when you look at her, but she’s definitely taken over some games for us offensively and defensively.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)