Old Tappan starting to pick up steam

Mia Ferraro had a seventh inning, two-run triple for NV/Old Tappan, which improved to 6-5 on the season with a 10-0 win on the road at NV/Demarest on Monday.

DEMAREST – The .500 mark holds different significance to two softball programs. For Northern Valley/Old Tappan, which entered Monday afternoon’s game against rival Northern Valley/Demarest at an even 5-5, it marked the end of a front loaded schedule full of tough crossover games and independent matchups and the start of a stretch of games inside the league.

“We have gone through the toughest part of our schedule; Jefferson, Ramapo, Ramsey, Ridgewood; all of our losses have come against outstanding programs. We had to go through some teams and we took some losses there, but I think it is helping us to improve.” said Old Tappan head coach Melissa Landeck.” This is the week that we get back to division games, so our eyes are on the league and trying to get some momentum.”

The kick start just might be the 10-0 victory at Demarest on Monday as the Golden Knights climbed back over .500 for the season at 6-5.

For Demarest, which was 6-5 after Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Fort Lee in the Susan G. Komen Tournament that it hosts to benefit breast cancer research, the mark basically meant a return to relevance for a program that won the 2017 Group 2 state championship and has had some tough times since. The win over Fort Lee meant the Norsewomen had played their way back into the Bergen County tournament for the first since 2018.

“Just the way we did it, it was fun. To comeback from where we were to win the game [against] Fort Lee; it was fun,” said Demarest head coach Rob Petrella. “We were dead. We were down 5-3 with the bottom of our lineup coming up in the bottom of the seventh and we just scrapped across three runs. The kids were into it, the parents were into it and it was a great moment for the program.”

Shortstop Lauren Bernardez is one of three freshmen in Demarest's everyday lineup.

There is still gap between the sister school programs, however, and Old Tappan just kept making it wider in small increments. The first building block was Grayson Housley’s two-out, two-run double that gave the Knights lead for good in their first turn at bat. Liz Ognibene lifted a sacrifice fly to left field in the second to make it 3-0 and Amelia Plescia made it 4-0 when she plated an unearned run in the top of the fourth.

Plescia’s was the first run scored against Deana Finklestein, the freshman playing her secondary sport who is a key piece to Demarest’s rebuild. With Finklestein in the circle, the Norsewomen had three freshman smack dab in the middle of the park with shortstop Lauren Bernardez and second baseman Izzy Graeber making up the double play combination. Finklestein is a standout out basketball player who logged heavy minutes in Demarest’s county and state tournament runs this past winter.

With sophomores Jamie Collins, who bats leadoff, Olivia Ferullo, who bats third, and Aviv Anavy also in the starting lineup, there is optimism in the Demarest softball programs for the first time since the pre-COVID days.

Old Tappan is similarly built with just three seniors in the starting lineup; Housley, Ognibene and third baseman Averi Galioto, who surpassed the 100 career hit mark earlier this season. Against Demarest it was two juniors that did a lot of the heavy lifting.

Jamie Farrington threw a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts without a walk in picking up the win. She retired 15 of the first 16 batters she faced with only Ava McLaughlin’s leadoff single in the second inning keeping her from perfection over the first five innings. Mia Ferraro had a couple of hits in the final two innings as Old Tappan pulled away. Her two-run double in the seventh made it 9-0 and she scored the Knights’ 10th and final run Housley’s RBI groundout, which gave her three in the game.

Averi Galioto, one of three Old Tappan seniors, surpassed the 100 career hit mark earlier this season.

“I think that we have been doing really well defensively all season and we are starting to pick it up with our hitting,” said Farrington, who had all the early run support she could have hoped for. “We faced some tough pitching and we were in a little bit of a slump, but everybody has stayed together and we are doing well now.”

The Bergen County Tournament was selected and seeded on Monday night, with Old Tappan getting the No. 11 seed and a home game in the first round against No. 22 Becton.

“We play a really hard schedule and I think that has made us mentally tough and we are ready now to compete for the league [title] and going into the counties with some momentum,” said Ferraro, OT’s starting first baseman. “As a team we are really bonded and we work together well.”

In other words, they are taking to coaching.

“This group is resilient and we are hard on them at times. They are a good bunch, they understand we are coming from a good place and we are just trying to make them better,” said Landeck. “We love these kids and we want the most for them.”

Demarest’s return to the county tournament means the No. 31 seed and a first round road game against No. 2 Ramsey. It’s a tough draw, but getting in the draw was an accomplishment in itself.

“This is a great group and I am happy for them. The seniors are leading the best they can. They have not had a lot of success, so all of this is new,” said Petrella. “They are a scrappy group and that is what I like most about them.”