Cranford baseball, sparked by Bakie and Genova, advance to UCT semifinals for 5th straight season; Big upset in one of the quarterfinals

Final Four is May 6 at Cranford's Memorial Field for the first time

CRANFORD – Ryan Bakie does it all for the Cranford baseball team.

On Wednesday he delivered the game-winning hit with a bases-clearing double in the second inning that gave the Cougars the lead for good.

In the top of the fourth he threw out an Elizabeth runner at second base who attempted to stretch a single into a double.

In the top of the fifth he dove straight ahead to make a shoestring catch on ball hit by the Minutemen’s leadoff batter.

Then in the bottom of the fifth, with one out and nobody on base, he smashed his second home run of the year over the fence in left-center – approximately 380 feet – to close a Cranford 13-3 Union County Tournament quarterfinal round triumph.

 

SATURDAY MAY 6 UCT SEMIFINALS

AT CRANFORD’S MEMORIAL FIELD

 

9-Johnson vs. 4-Westfield, 1:30 p.m.

 

3-Scotch Plains vs. 2-Cranford, 4 p.m.

 

For the fifth straight season it’s on to the semifinals for the second-seeded Cougars, who won their third straight to improve to 8-5.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but the pieces are starting to fall into place,” said Bakie, who was 2-for-4, with four RBI, three runs, two stolen bases and was on base all four plate appearances.

Cranford got to Elizabeth left hander Juan Morales the second time around the order, with leadoff batter Brian Oblachinski producing the first Cougar hit, a hard single to left that tied the game at 1-1.

Bakie followed with a shot down the left field line that brought in Cranford’s next three runs, giving the Cougars a 4-1 advantage. Credited with a double, Bakie went to third on the throw home.

Cranford scored nine runs in the bottom of the second on six hits. The inning began with Pat Connelly reaching base on an infield error.

“Their pitcher was throwing curves and changes, so the second time up I just sat back,” Bakie said. The count was 3-1 and I hit a curve. I waited on it.

Bakie’s home run was hit off Elizabeth reliever Juan Beriguete.

“The home run was a fastball, inside,” said Bakie, who will play football collegiately at Division 1 FCS Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Cranford senior right hander Vince Genova tossed a five-inning four-hitter that included seven strikeouts and four walks.

His first strikeout came with runners on first and second and nobody out in the first – he hit the outside corner on a 3-2 pitch.

“Vince had to bear down in the first and he kept Elizabeth from having a big inning,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said. “He put up a zero there.

“He got all three of his pitches over for strikes.”

Jim Shriner and Mike McGee also had two hits for Cranford – each with two singles – while teammate Tom Armstrong did as well, banging out a single and double.

“We had good at-bats,” McCaffery said. “Our hitters did a nice job.”

Elizabeth No. 9 batter – junior Kelai Campbell – drove in the game’s first run with an opposite field RBI-single to right in the second and also hit a shot to center for an RBI-double in the fourth.

In between, Elizabeth lefty-swinging pinch hitter Javier Alphonso – on the first pitch he saw from Genova – smoked a shot to deep right-center that went for an RBI-single before he was thrown out by Bakie attempting to stretch the hit into a double.

 

JOHNSON STUNS STATE’S NO. 1 TEAM

         

What a win for the Crusaders!

Johnson, which stood at 1-6 after a loss on April 17, went to Berkeley Heights Wednesday for the first time this year and stunned top-seeded Governor Livingston 9-5, leading from start to finish.

Ninth-seeded Johnson will next take on fourth-seeded Westfield in Saturday’s first UCT semifinal, a 1:30 p.m. start at Cranford’s Memorial Field.

GL was a decisive 15-0, the defending UCT champion and ranked No. 1 in the state by nj.com, prepbaseballreport.com and maxpreps.com.

Johnson, which is now 8-7, scored five runs in the top of the second – after GL starter Cole Schneider struck out the side in the first – to take the lead for good at 5-0.

Johnson added three more runs in the fourth to take an 8-0 lead before sophomore Stephen Reid, who transferred from Johnson to GL, put the Highlanders on the scoreboard with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

Johnson came back with its final run in the fifth for a 9-1 lead before GL scored the game’s final four runs, with two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and seventh.

Johnson junior relief pitcher Kevin Metz retired the game’s final batter with GL having two runners on base and the tying run in the on-deck circle.

Head coach Dave Kennedy, in his 10th season at the helm of the Crusaders, has now guided Johnson to the UCT semifinals three times and two of the last three years. Johnson lost to GL in the 2015 semifinals and to Westfield in the 2010 semis.

Johnson last reached the final in 2002 and has won the UCT once, back in 1980.

“This is great for our program and for these kids,” Kennedy said. “I’m proud of how they handled themselves against such a good team.”

Johnson is scheduled to go back to GL to play the Highlanders in a Union County Conference-crossover game May 16.

After that the teams could face each other in the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs, which commence May 22.

“They played great today,” GL head coach Chris Roof said. “They were the better team.

“They are the best hitting team in the county in my opinion.”

Johnson has won seven of its last eight games. The Crusaders had a six-game winning streak snapped Tuesday when they fell at home to Scotch Plains 17-8 in a conference-crossover.

Johnson has scored 87 runs in its last eight games for an average of over 10 runs per contest.

“It was one of those games where we knew what was in front of us, how good GL is and we just played,” Kennedy said. “Things started to go our way, the ball bounced our way and then we got through innings.

“Even with two outs and up by a bunch of runs in the top of the seventh, we still weren’t comfortable because we know how potent their lineup is.”

After a scoreless first inning, Metz led off the second for Johnson by connecting on a two-strike double. “That eased our tension,” Kennedy said.

Brendan Stanzione walked and then Anthony Caldiero produced an RBI-single for the game’s first run. Johnson’s next two runs came home as the result of a GL error. Mike Sot and Vin Crisafi followed with RBI-singles to make it 5-0.

Kennedy reported that Caldiero and Crisafi both had two big hits.

Johnson starter Joe DiProfio earned the mound victory to improve to 3-1. He pitched 4 and 2/3 innings, while Metz pitched the final 2 and 2/3.

“There were some moments that got a little scary, but Metz kept his composure on the mound,” Kennedy said. “He gave us a chance to win.

“We played a little nervous, but, overall, we stayed the course.”

When Johnson wasn’t winning games early on, Kennedy was not discouraged.

“I felt we played a competitive schedule,” Kennedy said. “It helped us to understand that we’re capable. We lost some games, some tough ones.

“Our thinking process was learning how to win, how to finish games.”

Kennedy knows how tough it is to go undefeated in high school baseball. When he was a senior in 1988 he helped lead Glen Ridge to a 27-1 record that included the Group 1 state championship and final No. 2 state ranking behind Group 4 state champion Memorial of West New York.

The Ridgers team that he played on that year – guided by head coach Lou Calderone – was undefeated before falling to Cedar Grove in the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals. Glen Ridge was also the defending GNT champion that year, like GL was the defending UCT champion this year.

Glen Ridge rebounded to defeat Brearley Regional in the North 2, Group 1 championship game at Parsippany and then ultimately downed Penns Grove in the Group 1 state championship game at Princeton.

Thirty years ago Kennedy, as a junior, shut out Irvington 3-0 in the 1987 GNT championship game at Doc Goeltz Field in Verona.

“You can play pretty well and still lose,” Kennedy said. “GL hit the ball really well, at us at times. We hit the ball well, where they weren’t.

“Little things like that can change the feeling in the dugout.

“To their credit and their coaches’ credit, GL is going to win a ton of games.”

 

 

UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL

AT CRANFORD’S MEMORIAL FIELD

7-Elizabeth (8-8)                   0     1     0       2      0     –   3    4  3

2-Cranford (8-5)                   0     9     0       3      1     – 13  11  0

 

 

WINNING PITCHER:

Cranford senior RH Vince Genova (2-2)

 

LOSING PITCHER:

Elizabeth senior LH Juan Morales (2-2)

 

SINGLES:

Elizabeth – Andres Tirso (bunt), Kelai Campbell, Javier Alfonso.

Cranford – Brian Oblachinski, Jim Shriner, Mike Meola, Tom Armstrong, Mike McGee, Shriner, McGee, Matt Perino.

 

DOUBLES:

Elizabeth – Kelai Campbell.

Cranford – Ryan Bakie, Tom Armstrong.

 

TRIPLES:

Elizabeth – None.

Cranford – None.

 

HOME RUNS:

Elizabeth – None.

Cranford – Ryan Bakie.

 

ELIZABETH MINUTEMEN:

10-Anthony Ricardo, senior, center field

24-Andres Tirso, sophomore, right field

11-Sean Downey, senior, third base

25-Brandon Wreckler, senior, designated hitter

2-Rafael Vasquez, senior, first base

21-Izzy Santana, sophomore, catcher

1-Richard Bianchi, senior, left field

8-Calvin Colon-Baez, senior, second base

18-Javier Alfonso, junior, pinch hitter

4-Kelai Campbell, junior, shortstop

6-Juan Morales, senior, pitcher (did not bat)

 

CRANFORD COUGARS:

35-Brian Oblachinski, senior, shortstop

4-Ryan Bakie, senior, center field

42-Jim Shriner, sophomore, right field

52-Mike Meola, sophomore, designated hitter

11-Pat Connelly, junior, left field

55-Tom Armstrong, senior, first base

21-Mike McGee, sophomore, catcher

36-Matt Perino, senior, third base

46-Tyler Szczech, sophomore, second baseman

33-Vince Genova, senior, pitcher (did not bat)

 

64TH ANNUAL BASEBALL

UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT

 

SEEDS: 1-Gov. Livingston. 2-Cranford. 3-Scotch Plains.

4-Westfield. 5-Summit. 6-Union. 7-Elizabeth. 8-Union Catholic.

9-Johnson. 10-New Providence. 11-Roselle Park. 12-Rahway.

13-Dayton. 14-Oratory Prep. 15-Linden. 16-Plainfield.

17-Roselle Catholic. 18-Hillside.

 

PRELIMINARY ROUND:

Thursday, April 27

Linden 10, Hillside 0

Friday, April 28

Plainfield 14, Roselle Catholic 4

 

FIRST ROUND:

Saturday, April 29

Rahway 8, Summit 7

Cranford 12, Linden 0

Elizabeth 9, New Providence 0

Gov. Livingston 16, Plainfield 1

Union 10, Roselle Park 0

Johnson 9, Union Catholic 7

Monday, May 1

Scotch Plains 10, Oratory Prep 0

Westfield 11, Dayton 2

 

QUARTERFINALS:

Wednesday, May 3

Johnson 9, Gov. Livingston 5

Westfield 12, Rahway 2

Cranford 13, Elizabeth 3

Scotch Plains 10, Union 0

 

SEMIFINALS:

Saturday, May 6

At Cranford‘s Memorial Field

9-Johnson vs. 4-Westfield, 1:30 p.m.

3-Scotch Plains vs. 2-Cranford, 4 p.m.

 

FINALS:

Saturday, May 13

At Kean University

JV: Noon.

Varsity: 3 p.m.

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