UNION COUNTY, NJ — When Union and Cranford clashed at Kean University’s Cougar Field on May 11 of last year in the softball Union County Tournament semifinals, a berth in the championship game was on the line.
Cranford High School junior right-hander Avery Toddings mowed down the fourth-seeded Farmers and kept them off the scoreboard.
Union High School junior right-hander Alexa Liquori was just as masterful, keeping the top-seeded Cougars off the scoreboard as well.
With the game still scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, Cranford found a way to break through as junior Katie Bendert drove in the game’s only run to send the Cougars to the final.
Cranford proved to be a bit more dominant in the championship game at Kean, rolling to a 9-0 triumph against second-seeded Elizabeth.
For the second time in program history, the Cougars repeated as county champions. Cranford won three straight UCT titles from 2006-2008, so the Cougars will be attempting to three-peat once again this spring.
Standout hurlers Toddings and Liquori are back for their senior seasons.
Softball is back and another exciting Union County campaign awaits.
Pitchers and catchers reported Monday, March 13, with practice beginning for the rest of the players Thursday, March 16.
The first scrimmages can be played on Thursday, March 23, a little more than a week before Opening Day on Monday, April 3.
Cranford scrimmage schedule
Thursday, March 23, at South Brunswick High School, 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 25, at Columbia High School, 11 a.m.
Monday, March 27, at Mount St. Dominic Academy, 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 30, Metuchen High School, 4 p.m.
Union scrimmage schedule
Friday, March 24, J.P. Stevens High School, 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 25, at Woodbridge High School, 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Monday, March 27, at South Plainfield High School, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, March 29, Columbia High School, 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 30, at Kent Place School, 4 p.m.
Cranford finished 20-6 last year with first-year head coach Melissa Moreno, who became the first player and coach at Cranford to win a county championship. Moreno won a UCT title as a player as Cranford’s starting catcher in 2010.
“As the season went on, we were able to settle into what we were doing,” Moreno said. “To be here, where I started playing, and to be in this position now, feels really great.”
“As long as we stick together, focus, and play as a team, good things usually happen,” Toddings said.
Moreno gave Toddings the ball and Cranford’s offense did the rest last year, as the Cougars outscored four UCT opponents by a whopping 27-1 margin. David Brearley High School was able to produce a solo home run in the seventh inning of its quarterfinal at Cranford. That was it.
Toddings tossed a four-hitter in blanking Elizabeth High School in the championship game. Samantha Brunton went 3-for-3 with three runs and three singles, while Maddy DeLong and Sophia DeMarco both banged out two hits and scored two runs, each slugging home runs.
On its way to also capturing the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division crown with a 7-1 record, Cranford was just as dominant against Elizabeth in the regular season. Cranford won at Elizabeth 9-3 in early April and then downed the Minutemen 12-3 at home later in the month.
Cranford fell in its bid to repeat as North 2, Group 3 champs when the Cougars lost at home to West Morris Central High School 2-1 in the semifinals. Cranford beat West Morris in the semifinals the year before.
Union was also guided by a first-year coach, Shannon McMahon. The Farmers turned in a solid 14-10 campaign that included one state tournament victory at home against Perth Amboy High School 7-0 in North 2, Group 4 play.
David Brearley won the UCC’s Mountain Division crown at 6-1 and went 11-8 overall. The Bears were sparked by senior Brianna Bowles, who led the team in hits with 26, home runs with two and RBI with 16.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School captured the Valley Division title with a perfect 7-0 mark. The Raiders finished 16-9 overall.
Linden High School and Kent Place shared the Sky Division crown, both coming in with league marks of 7-1. They split against each other in division play, both winning at home. Linden was 8-10 overall and Kent Place 9-9.
Another solid Union County senior last year was Linden’s Allisson Pena-Tavares. She paced the Tigers with 19 hits, 23 runs, two home runs and 14 RBI. Sophomore pitcher Molly McDonald fashioned a total of 129 strikeouts.
Kent Place was sparked by the play of senior outfielder Allie Sussman, junior catcher Kay Lyon and sophomore pitcher Cassie Miller.
Cranford UCT championships
2002: Head coach Terry Biunno
2006: Head coach Shannon Norton
2007, 2008, 2010: Head coach Bob Bruno
2021: Head coach Christine Pemoulie
2022: Head coach Melissa Moreno