Perhaps it’s only fitting that the last three Union County baseball teams still alive in state tournament play are defending sectional champions.
Cranford – in North 2, Group 3 – Dayton – in North 2, Group 1 – and Westfield – in North 2, Group 4 – all got back to the finals in their sections.
All three teams captured those sections 12 months ago and they are now each seven innings or more away from winning them again.
Cranford, despite getting hit very hard by graduation including left-hander Ryan Williamson to North Carolina State and catcher Chris Folinusz to Rutgers, managed to reach the North 2, Group 3 final for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the past five years.
Sparked by seniors Matt Ravatier, Tommy Trotter and John Oblachinski, Cranford is 16-6 and on a two-game winning streak. The top-seeded and two-time defending champion Cougars will host third-seeded West Essex in Friday’s final, with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. at Cranford’s Memorial Field.
West Essex captured North 2, Group 2 in 2010 and 2011 before moving up to Group 3 status last season. West Essex also captured the Group 2 state championship in 2010, the same season that Cranford won Group 3 for the third time and first time since 1997. Cranford went on to also win Group 3 in 2012 and 2013.
Cranford will be seeking to win North 2, Group 3 for the third straight year and for the fourth time in the past five.
Dayton won its first sectional title ever last year, capturing North 2, Group 1 for the first time after reaching the semifinals the previous three seasons.
The Bulldogs, owners of a 23-4 record that includes a six-game winning streak, are in the North 2, Group 1 final for the second straight season. Top-seeded Dayton will host third-seeded Secaucus Friday at 4 p.m. at Ruby Field in Springfield in the North 2, Group 1 championship game.
Led by a senior class that includes standout catcher Joe Iuliano, Dayton captured the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division title for the third straight season, this time with a final league record of 13-1. Dayton also won the UCC’s Valley Division title in 2010, with the Bulldogs now winners of a division title four of the last five seasons.
Westfield is in the North 2, Group 4 final for the second straight season and for the third time in the past four years. The Blue Devils, 20-3 and winners of 17 straight, won North 2, Group 4 in 2011 for the first time since 1988 and then won the section again last season.
Top-seeded Westfield will host third-seeded Millburn Friday at 4 p.m. at Bob Brewster Sr. Memorial Field in the North 2, Group 4 championship game. The Blue Devils are led by senior left-handed pitcher Brad DeMartino and senior catcher Michael Ionta, who will continue playing baseball at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City.
Westfield won the UCC’s Watchung Division title, ending Cranford’s three-year reign.
Millburn is coached by former longtime Cranford assistant Brian Chapman, who is a 1987 Union Catholic graduate. Chapman is in his fourth season as the head coach at Millburn after being an assistant coach at Cranford for 12 seasons from 1999-2010.