For the fourth year in a row the Roselle Park softball team will be playing for a sectional championship.
To even reach four straight sectional finals is quite an achievement.
You first have to put yourself in the position of making the states. Then you need to be among the top teams in the section in order to have a chance at winning four times.
Roselle Park, led in large part by senior pitcher Maddie Hummel, has done exactly that since the 2016 season commenced.
On Tuesday at Roselle Park the top-seeded and three-time defending champion Panthers will host second-seeded Whippany Park in the 2019 North 2, Group 1 championship game.
Roselle Park is seeking to capture a fourth straight sectional championship for the first time in program history. The Panthers won North 2, Group 1 as the seventh seed in 2016 – beating the top seed in the final – as the fifth seed in 2017 – beating the top seed in the semifinals – and as the top seed last year – allowing only two runs in four wins.
Roselle Park – for the second straight season – has not allowed a run in its first three state tournament games.
Roselle Park is 20-6 overall and finished 5-4 and in second place in the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division. Because Westfield already clinched the division title outright, the Panthers will not play their home division game against Gov. Livingston.
Whippany Park, lifted by sophomore hurler Julia Swan, is 15-5 overall and presently in third place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s Liberty Division standings with a league mark of 6-4.
The Wildcats have improved from last year’s 13-11 finish that saw them lose 11-0 at eventual champion Hanover Park in the quarterfinal round of the North 2, Group 2 playoffs.
Roselle Park repeated as Union County Tournament champions for the first time 15 years ago, but the Panthers could not defend the North 2, Group 1 title they captured in 2003. That’s because the state moved Roselle Park over to Central Jersey, Group 1 for the 2004 season.
In 2004, Roselle Park lost to a very good Middlesex squad in the CJ, G1 final. Middlesex went on to win the Group 1 state championship that year, 12 months after Roselle Park won Group 1 for the first time in 2003.
For the first time Roselle Park is attempting to go all the way and win the Group 1 state championship in successive seasons, this time situated in North 2, Group 1 both years.
The Panthers are also attempting to do it as repeat UCT champions, having defeated Westfield in last year’s UCT final 2-0 and this year’s 7-1, both crowns achieved at Kean University.
While Roselle Park has two state championships on its resume – Group 1 in 2003 and 2018 – Whippany Park has an even richer state championship history.
The Wildcats won their first state championship in Group 1 in 1982 and then captured the Group 2 state title in 1984. Whippany Park then went on to capture additional Group 1 state titles in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1999 and 2012.
MAGGIO EXPECTED TO BE HERE AGAIN
Roselle Park head coach Fran Maggio fully expected to be playing for the North 2, Group 1 championship once again.
“It became kind of a part of our season,” Maggio said after Saturday’s practice. “There’s a certain level of expectation. It’s become part of our season to still be playing at this time of the year.”
Maggio was, “even surprised,” the way his squad handled Westfield to repeat as county champions. Taking the usual one-game-at-a-time approach, Maggio is full aware of a Whippany Park program that has accomplished quite a bit over the years.
“Our paths have crossed a few times,” Maggio said.
Maggio believes the last time the teams met were in the 2012 North 2, Group 1 semifinals – a 2-0 Wildcats victory at Whippany Park. That was the last year Whippany Park won a state championship, capturing the Group 1 crown for the sixth time.
A common opponent of late has been Hanover Park. Whippany Park lost at home to Hanover Park 5-3 back on April 17. Roselle Park scrimmaged the Hornets this year. Last year, Hanover Park was one of only three teams to beat Roselle Park.
“When I first started at Roselle Park (in 1997), Whippany Park was a power,” Maggio said. “They beat us 2-0 at Cranford in the 1999 (N2G1) sectional final.”
That 1999 Whippany Park squad went on to win the Group 1 state championship for the fifth time and for the first time since the Toni Fortunato days of 1992.
“Our history with them is mostly in the state tournament,” Maggio said.
When Whippany Park won the 2012 North 2, Group 1 crown it was another Union County team that it defeated in the final – topping New Providence 7-0 at home.
PANTHERS GO ON A TEAR AFTER 1-3 START
Maggio was not concerned after his team was 1-3, including a three-game losing streak following a season-opening, one-run, walk-off, bottom of the seventh win against Bridgewater-Raritan.
“We lost three real good kids to graduation, we had the loss of (senior catcher and leadoff batter) Hailey Ortega (knee injury) and two players penciled in to fill spots got hurt (collision in scrimmage),” Maggio said. “Only one of those two players made it back for that first week.”
After the season-opening 6-5 home win over BR, Roselle Park lost at Westfield 11-1, at home to Johnson 3-0 – which were Roselle Park’s first two Watchung Division games after the Panthers moved up from the Mountain Division – and then were defeated at home by Sussex County school Lenape Valley 7-1.
“It took a little while for the pieces to fall into place,” said Maggio, who had a team that was returning seven starters. “The schedule that we played early on was also very challenging.
“I just said to the kids that they had to keep their heads up and stay focused. As bad as it was it could have been worse. We could have been 0-4 to start.”
Roselle Park responded by winning 10 of its next 11 games. The only loss in that stretch was its home division game against Westfield, a 3-2 setback where the visiting Blue Devils came back from a 2-0 deficit.
“We got on the right track, got some momentum and the kids responded real well,” Maggio said.
NOTES: Roselle Park captured the UCC’s Mountain Division championship outright the first three years of this run – at 7-1 in 2016, 10-0 in 2017 and 9-0 in 2018.
The Panthers are 83-32 (.722) since the start of the 2016 campaign, including 15-0 in North 2, Group 1 playoff games.
2019 NORTH 2, GROUP 1 PLAYOFFS:
Roselle Park is the top seed.
FIRST ROUND: Roselle Park 17, Shabazz 0 – at RP
QIUARTERFINALS: Roselle Park 12, Weehawken 0 – at RP
SEMIFINALS: Roselle Park 11, Becton 0 – at RP
FINAL: 2-Whippany Park vs. 1-Roselle Park – at RP
Roselle Park is 20-6.
2018 NORTH 2, GROUP 1 PLAYOFFS:
Roselle Park was the top seed.
FIRST ROUND: Roselle Park 14, University 0 – at RP
QUARTERFINALS: Roselle Park 1, Secaucus 0 – at RP
SEMIFINALS: Roselle Park 6, Brearley 0 – at RP
FINAL: Roselle Park 7, Belvidere 2 – at RP
GROUP 1 SEMIS: Roselle Park 2, Cedar Grove 1 (8 inn.) – at Caldwell University
GROUP 1 FINAL: Roselle Park 4, Gloucester City 3 (9 inn.) – at Kean University
TOC QUARTERFINALS: Steinert 5, Roselle Park 1 – at Kean University
Roselle Park finished 27-3.
2017 NORTH 2, GROUP 1 PLAYOFFS:
Roselle Park was the 5th seed.
FIRST ROUND: Roselle Park 10, Somerset Tech 0 – at RP
QUARTERFINALS: Roselle Park 2, Weehawken 1 – at Weehawken
SEMIFINALS: Roselle Park 2, Ridgefield 1 – at (top seed) Ridgefield
FINAL: Roselle Park 4, Brearley 3 – at RP
Roselle Park finished 17-10 after falling to Cedar Grove 2-0
in the Group 1 semifinal played at Montclair State University.
2016 NORTH 2, GROUP 1 PLAYOFFS:
Roselle Park was the 7th seed.
FIRST ROUND: Roselle Park 16, Technology 6 – at RP
QUARTERFINALS: Roselle Park 8, Dunellen 1 – at Dunellen
SEMIFINALS: Roselle Park 2, Hoboken 0 – at Hoboken
FINAL: Roselle Park 4, Dayton 3 – at (top seed) Dayton
Roselle Park finished 19-13 after falling to Butler 4-0
in the Group 1 semifinal played at Caldwell University.