by Andrew Garda
This season has been a roller-coaster ride for the Montclair High School softball team. The Mounties, whose record stands at 9-5 (6-2 SEC), lost to a very good Hudson Catholic team on Tuesday, 7-5, after winning back-to-back games, a 10-7 victory in the rain Saturday against West Orange (6-4, 5-4 SEC) and an 11-0 shutout over Bloomfield (3-7, 2-6 SEC).
Those wins came on the heels of back-to-back losses, including a disappointing 17-6 loss to Caldwell in the first round of the Essex County Tournament. That game was tight heading into the third inning, with the Chiefs (8-2, 7-1 SEC) holding a thin 7-5 lead.
MHS added a run in the top of the third to make it 7-6, but Caldwell exploded with 10 runs in the bottom of the inning.
The Mounties never recovered, and the Mercy Rule ended the game after the fifth inning.
“[Caldwell is] a good team,” said head coach Mike Goldstein. “They really put the pressure on us.”
It was the second loss to Caldwell this season, with the Chiefs scoring 24 runs compared to 15 for Montclair over the course of the two meetings, both of which were on the road. Goldstein said the teams meet for a third time on May 17, this time at Fortunato Field.
He hopes the home venue will help the team steal the win.
Goldstein said it’s been an up-and-down, inconsistent season so far, with the team winning games they should, but struggling against better teams like Caldwell or in tight games, such as the 5-4 loss against Millburn that happened before the ECT loss to the Chiefs.
“We have the talent, we need the experience,” he said.
With experience, Goldstein thinks close games like the Millburn loss can become wins, and huge letdowns, such as the 10-run inning by Caldwell, can be avoided.
Fewer errors, more heads-up play and the Mounties will win those games, not lose them.
Some of it, according to Goldstein, is a lack of players who are on club teams during the off-season. Playing year-round helps keep the athletes sharp, and teaches them to deal with high-pressure situations on a more regular basis.
Just relying on high school softball doesn’t expose athletes to that level of competition every game. With a public school schedule, Goldstein said, you meet top-end teams less frequently.
The total record of MHS’ opponents this season is 29-49, with West Orange and Caldwell the only teams with a record above .500. Two of MHS’ three losses contained 10-run innings — an 11-4 loss to Cedar Grove where Montclair squandered a 4-run lead and Friday’s ECT loss to Caldwell.
“We made a bunch of poor decisions,” Goldstein said of the loss to Cedar Grove. “Same with Millburn.”
Along with a lack of experience, another issue with not playing club is that many of the players on the team were off for nearly two years. That means even 12 games in, there is still rust getting knocked off.
Sometimes a team can overcome it, as in the Mounties’ win over West Orange. The rain and messy conditions helped Montclair hop out to a 10-run lead, and though the Mountaineers clawed their way back into the game, MHS held on for the win.
“It was a sloppy game,” Goldstein said. “But we were the better team, and we came out on top.”
The coach said the team has a tremendous amount of talent, and will continue to play well. However, they need to work on their consistency to really compete with the best teams.
“If we can win a game against those teams, steal one, we’re in great shape,” he said.
The team practices well, they just need to put it all together on the field.
Ultimately, as the team continues to gain experience against the better teams.
They got more of that Tuesday, May 11, as they battled Hudson Catholic (10-2, 8-0 HCIAL), but unfortunately another big inning by the opposition — this time a 6-run third — left MHS with a 7-5 loss.
Despite that result, Goldstein feels that eventually the Mounties will find ways to steal that one game they need, which in turn will give them the confidence to take down more of the top teams this season.
MHS stays on the road Thursday, May 13, as they take on West Caldwell Tech (2-4, 2-3 SEC) before their third game against Caldwell, which will be on May 17.