NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The West Essex softball team’s run at a state title came to a crushing end as the Lady Knights’ season concluded with a 6-5 extra-inning loss to Montville on Monday.

“We’re real young, and this was a great experience for the younger kids,” said head coach Andrea Mondadori-Llauget. “We really wanted to get it done for the two seniors.”

The Knights can hold their heads high on a valiant effort to try and take down the sixth-seeded Mustangs.

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After giving up three runs in the first inning, the West Essex squad tied the game in the third. Alexa Liggieri, Lily James and Julia Vardiman all scored in the inning, which was aided by poor Montville defense.

The game’s decisive blow came in the bottom of the 10th inning. International rules dictate a runner on second base to expedite the process, and Montville’s Sam Levine delivered a single to send the Mustangs onward in the North 1, Group 3 state playoffs.

“We weren’t rolling over today, you could sense that today was a different day,” said Mondadori-Llauget.

West Essex took its first of two leads in the top of the fourth inning off the bat of pitcher Vardiman. Vardiman also pitched all 10 innings for West Essex to give her team a chance at the victory.

“[Vardiman] threw a hell of a game,” said Mondadori-Llauget. “She played shortstop her whole career and now she’s pitching. To go 10 innings is incredible.”

Montville clawed back to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth inning off an RBI single. Not to be deterred, the West Essex squad quickly rebounded in the top of the sixth inning with an RBI single from Alexa Liggieri.

A pair of doubles for Montville knotted the game at five to set the stage for the late-game heroics of Sam Levine. While Levine became the star of the game, West Essex made a number of game-saving plays around the diamond to keep the game close.

“I think the defense stepped up later in the game for the most part after the second inning,” said Mondadori-Llauget.

James, a graduating senior, left those in the crowd with a lasting impression of what they’ll miss next year during extra innings. A few hit-robbing plays gave West Essex the chance to complete the upset, but it was just not in the cards.

“[James] played unbelievably at shortstop,” said Mondadori-Llauget.

While the Lady Knights will undoubtedly feel the sting left by the Mustang squad, there is a lot for the group to be proud of. Finishing this season with an 8-12 record, West Essex will use this game and the season as a building block for next year.

“It really put into prospective with me the younger players who can really handle these types of situations,” said Mondadori-Llauget.

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