North Arlington softball looks to build off of BCT berth

North Arlington’s stint in the Bergen County Softball Tournament may have been a short one, but if you ask head coach Emma Stagg, it was an incredibly valuable one.

“I definitely think so,” said Stagg after Thursday’s 5-1 loss at third-seeded Ridgefield Park in the first round. “We were the 30 seed, they were the third, and to go in there and actually make them play a game and not just give it to them in the first two innings, I felt like that was really good. I think we learned a lot from that experience.

“I think they were pretty happy with their performance. I’m super proud of them for their performance.”

With such a young roster, Stagg said that the Bergen County Tournament was not a stated goal for this team going into the season. After the appearance, their first since 2021, the Vikings enter the second month of the season at 8-7 despite having five underclassmen as everyday starters.

Helping ease the transition for the younger players have been seniors Rhi’Anna Gomez and Jeylene Joza in the middle of the North Arlington lineup.

Gomez, a four-year starter in center field, has continued to be one of the NJIC’s top players, hitting .538  with four home runs, 18 RBI, 13 runs, 11 extra-base hits and nine stolen bases. Gomez, who earlier this season, recorded her 100th career hit, has been every bit the leader the Vikings have hoped for.

“She’s a great leader both on and off the field, “Stagg said. “She’s always talking, always cheering, always picking up the younger players. I think that she’s someone that they look up to.”

While Gomez’s eye-popping numbers out of the cleanup spot were expected, Joza’s have been a lot more surprising. The shortstop has enjoyed a breakout senior year in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, hitting .489 with six home runs, 19 runs, 13 RBI, nine extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases.

It’s been a performance that has taken Stagg, who saw her the previous two seasons while an assistant at Secaucus, by surprise.

“I didn’t necessarily know Jaylene’s potential,” Sgagg said. “She’s been playing phenomenally lately.

As vital as Gomez and Joza have been, they are hardly the only reasons the Vikings are averaging more than seven runs per game this year.

Freshman leadoff hitter Isabella Buccheri is hitting .395 with 13 RBI, 12 runs, 10 walks and 12 stolen bases, with No. 2 hitter Kyra Garcia hitting .415 with 10 RBI and 11 stolen bases

The two have also shared the catching position with Garcia, a junior, getting the majority of the work behind the plate and Buccheri moving to the outfield.

North Arlington has enjoyed another similar tandem in the circle with freshman Cadence Mansfield and sophomore Jacklyn Burbach. Mansfield, who struck out eight Ridgefield Park batters while allowing just two earned runs, has emerged as the No. 1 starter, pitching to a 2.93 ERA with 52 strikeouts.

“She did great against them,” said Stagg. “We used a lot of her speciality pitches on them and I think that she’s got a lot of good movement on them and she pitched very well. She’s surprising me a lot.”

Burbach, a sophomore, has 41 strikeouts in 31 innings and is also hitting .462 on the season. Whichever one is not pitching, starts at first base

Another sophomore, Mckenzie Stone, is the starter at second and has come on in recent games, further bolstering the North Arlington lineup. Sophomore Lyndsay Gilbert starts at third base.

The other corner outfield spot is shared between senior Ashley Magalhaes and sophomores Skyler Crudele and Jill Smith all vying for time. Isabella Huerta is the designated player

Emma Baez and Janella Parra have contributed as runners off the bench and Skyler McCool provides added depth at catcher.

Fresh off of its Bergen County Tournament experience, North Arlington, which has won seven of its last 10 games, will play at New Milford on Tuesday, then at Montclair on Friday before beginning the second leg of division play the following week with home games against Rutherford and St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

“I’ve seen drastic improvements just in the last six weeks,” Stagg said. “I think that if we just keep practicing and working hard, we’re going to gain from all of our experiences and just get better.”

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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.)