Cranford baseball tops Union in season opener

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CRANFORD, NJ — A possible Opening Day pitcher’s duel was in place as seniors Dylan Falk for Cranford High School and Matthew Mendez for Union High School showed signs of dominating right from the start.

Falk, who competed on the junior varsity last year, pitched to only three batters in the top of the first. The left hander picked off the only baserunner he allowed on a hit-by-pitch.

Mendez, a returning varsity hurler, allowed a run on a ball that could have been caught. However, the right hander struck out the side in the bottom of the first, getting his first two strikeouts each on just three pitches.

The reason why the Union County Conference-crossover baseball clash didn’t turn into a battle of mound men was that Falk’s fielders backed him up, whereas Mendez did not receive the same defensive support.

A slim, one-run Cranford lead in the bottom of the second quickly turned into a large, seven-run Cougar advantage due to four Union errors.

Cranford scored in every inning, including two-run homers blasted over the left field fence by seniors Sean Riley and Ryan Carracino in the fourth, en route to a commanding 12-0 season-opening win at home against Union in the contest on Monday afternoon, April 1, at Memorial Field.

Falk hit the first batter he faced, Union leadoff batter Matthew Perrotto, and then, after the inning’s first out on a bunt attempt that he caught, Falk picked Perrotto off first base on a 1-3 play, with Cranford first baseman Eddie Toy applying the tag. Falk then got the next batter on a ground out to third.

Falk then retired Union in order the next three innings for four no-hit, no-run frames to start the season. In a 41-pitch outing, Falk yielded no runs on no hits, struck out three, walked none, hit one batter and allowed just one baserunner.

“I wanted to throw strikes and trust my defense,” Falk said.
“He had command of both sides of the plate and worked quickly to keep Union off-balance,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said.
Falk said hitting Perrotto on the third pitch he threw was “a rite of passage.”

“I’m not going to overpower anyone, so I wanted to keep the ball in the zone,” Falk said. “I did what I wanted to do.”

Senior right hander Joseph Paccione tossed a hitless fifth inning, allowing only a walk to the second batter he faced, Union first baseman Nick Bertolotti. The Farmers managed only two baserunners in their first five innings of 2024.

“We let our opponent determine the way we played,” first-year Union head coach Lou Clemente said. “Our first game was nothing to write home about. We had tough luck defensively and that happens in this game sometimes.”

Mendez on the mound was a bright spot for Union. The first four batters he retired were all on strikeouts.

“I thought Matt was fabulous,” Clemente said.

Mendez struck out five, walked one, hit one batter and allowed three earned runs on four hits in a 70-pitch stint that was three innings complete. Cranford caused havoc on the basepaths with four stolen bases.

Cranford senior center fielder Dennis McCaffery drove in three runs, with an RBI in each of the first three innings. In the bottom of the first, he produced Cranford’s first hit of the year as he drove a shot over the head of the Union center fielder for an RBI-double. Falk led off the bottom of the first with a four-pitch walk.

In the second inning, McCaffery drove in Cranford’s third run on a ground out to short with the bases loaded and one out. McCaffery, who will continue to play in college at Division 2 school the University of Tampa, then walked with the bases loaded in the third to make the score 8-0.

Cranford has won the UCC’s Watchung Division title outright the past four seasons: 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023. The Cougars won the league last year with a perfect 10-0 mark.

Cranford also repeated as Union County Tournament champions last year, becoming the first team to do so since the Cougars accomplished the feat in 2010 and 2011. Cranford is also the last school to three-peat, winning those titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Photos by JR Parachini