Nutley softball shows resilience during recent winning streak

The high school softball season is just a few weeks old, but even in such a short period of time, Nutley has proven itself to be a team that can’t be counted out, regardless of the situation.

In a span of 10 days, the Maroon Raiders not only reeled off five consecutive victories, four of them saw Nutley rally from early deficits to emerge with the win.

The streak, which included come-from-behind victories of Super Essex Conference – Liberty Division foes Verona, Newark Academy and Millburn, has Nutley on top of the division standings and 8-3 overall through the first three weeks of the season.

“I like that they’re able to come back and they have shown that in a number of games this season,” head coach Luann Zullo said. “We’ve had a rough inning in almost every game and some people would just fold after that. And they have shown that they have the grit and desire and ability to fight back and claw back.”

This resolve, and the wins that followed, have come with perhaps the youngest roster Zullo has ever had during her 26 seasons at Nutley. Just one senior occupies a spot in the Raiders’ everyday lineup and, depending on the matchup, as many as four freshmen could be starting.

Among them has been pitcher Makenna DeJianne who has a 3.18 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. DeJianne has also been one of Nutley’s top batters, hitting .379 with nine RBI out of the five spot in the lineup.

“She’s had some growing pains. Growing pains because we make a couple errors behind her and then she starts to aim instead of trusting herself,” said Zullo. “We’re working through that, but you can see when she is really throwing the ball (she’s tough).

“She’s always listening and always willing to learn. I think that the future is extremely bright for her.”

At catcher is Gabrielle Mariano, who started at shortstop last season, but moved behind the plate this spring after an injury to senior Sasha Wanko.

Despite the change, Mariano, a junior, hasn’t missed a beat, hitting .483 with two home runs and 10 RBI, while playing fine defense at catcher, a position she has played before in travel ball.

“She’s played a number of positions and has expressed an interest in catching,” Zullo said. “She stepped in and has been doing an outstanding job.”

Filling in at shortstop has been freshman Camryn Ortega, who in just a short period of time, has proven to be an impact bat, hitting an eye-opening .615 with a team-best 14 RBI and 10 runs scored out of the cleanup spot.

“Offensively, she’s been outstanding for us,” Zullo said. “I don’t know how much experience she has at shortstop, but she’s doing a really nice job and is a worker. She’ll leave practice and then go work with her father on different aspects of the game.”

Another Raider who changed positions this spring has been junior third baseman and leadoff hitter Skye Stoeckel, who has returned to her natural home on the infield after pitching last year. Stoeckel has hit .409 with 13 runs and eight RBI.

Following Stoeckel in the lineup has been sophomore Quennie Chavez. Chavez, who moved to Nutley from Minnesota, has hit .407 with 13 runs.

“She’s a great base runner, she’s hitting the ball for us, and made some diving plays for us at second base,” Zullo said. “She’s a wonderful, wonderful welcomed surprise.”

Rounding out the infield is freshman first baseman Kaitlyn Nellegar, who has seven runs and six RBI.

Gianna Haines, the lone senior starter, is in right field and has been off to a hot start, hitting .407 with eight runs scored and a team-high five stolen bases. Sianna Kantor is a returning starter in center field.

The starting left field spot remains an open competition with junior Gabriella Botti and freshmen Thea Defabbio, Natalia Kit and Zoey Van Roth all seeing time out there.

Defabbio, who Zullo said is “as fast as anybody I’ve ever coached,” and Kit have also seen extensive time as runners for Nutley, as has Defabbio. Two more freshmen, Olivia Miller and Sophia Rocha, are also vying for at-bats, while splitting time between varsity and JV.

Nutley looks to continue to build momentum heading into this week’s Essex County Tournament wedding meeting, starting with a Monday game at Bloomfield, followed by road contests at Glen Ridge and Columbia.

“I’ve said to them from the very beginning, there’s not a game on our schedule that I don’t think that we can compete. If we play the way we’re able to play, they could do great things. It is just a matter of getting that confidence and doing all of the little things.

“This team has an immense amount of ability.”

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)