Summit baseball sees winning season conclude in states; Valley Division champs finish 14-11

Hilltoppers may be moving up in Union County Conference for 2017 campaign

SUMMIT – On May 29 of last year the South Plainfield baseball program produced one of its biggest wins ever, defeating three-time defending champion Cranford 4-2 in eight innings in the North 2, Group 3 championship game played at Cranford’s Memorial Field.

On Tuesday the Tigers came back to win another state tournament game at another Memorial Field venue, this one in Summit.

South Plainfield, the 12th seed, managed two successful suicide squeeze bunts in the resumed top of the fifth to erase a one-run deficit and went on to post a 3-2 win at fifth-seeded Summit in a N2, G3 first round encounter.

That sends South Plainfield back to Cranford’s Memorial Field – the site where it celebrated winning the sectional championship 12 months ago – where the Tigers will take on the Cougars once again, this time in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Fourth-seeded Cranford, which has reached the N2, G3 final four years in a row and five times in the past six seasons, advanced Monday by ousting 13th-seeded Orange 12-1 at home.

The last time Cranford did not reach the final was in 2011 when the Cougars lost at home to Mendham 7-3 in the quarterfinal round.

South Plainfield, which improved to 11-16, will have the very challenging task of trying to win at Cranford (15-10) in the N2, G3 playoffs for a second straight season.

“Cranford is a tough place to play,” Guida said. “They’re well-coached and they will take advantage of your mistakes.”

Summit concluded another winning season at 14-11. The Hilltoppers also won the Union County Conference’s Valley Division championship for the third time in four years, fashioning a 6-2 league mark.

When Monday’s game resumed Tuesday at Summit’s Memorial Field, South Plainfield junior Jake Hoffman was on second base after walking and stealing second.

South Plainfield senior Jack Gillis stepped back up to the plate Tuesday, down in the count at 1-2. He did well to hang in there and worked out a walk himself, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

Hoffman and Gillis then stole third and second on different pitches, Hoffman sliding around the tag at third to just sneak in there.

With junior Jared Marks now at the plate, Guida called for a suicide squeeze. As Hoffman came charging down from third, Marks squared to bunt and pushed the ball beautifully toward first base. Hoffman scored to tie the game at 2-2, with Marks out at first, with the Summit first baseman throwing to the Summit second baseman.

Now with Gillis on third and one out, cleanup batter Dylan O’Connor, a junior, got in the batter’s box. Guida called for another suicide squeeze and O’Connor was good enough to bunt the ball in the same spot – down the first base line – where he was tagged out by the Summit first baseman after Gillis scored the go-ahead run to put South Plainfield in front 3-2.

“We’ve struggled with our squeeze bunts,” Guida said. “Summit had a new pitcher and he was a bit wild.

“Then he was starting to find the strike zone, so I decided to give it a shot. I felt confident with the guys we had up that we could get the bunts down.”

Summit head coach Kevin Zaleski, who just concluded his 10th season at the helm of the Highlanders, could not remember a game where his team lost as the result of two suicide squeeze bunts.

“They executed and did what they needed to do,” Zaleski said. “Yesterday we didn’t get bunts down and then followed up with hits that if we did get the bunts down, those hits could have driven in runs.

“Also, the tying and go-ahead runs scored as the result of walks, which is not what you want to see.”

In the bottom of the fifth with runners on first and third with two outs, the final Summit batter in the inning smoked a hard-hit line drive to center that, unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, stayed up for a center field putout.

After two outs and nobody on in the seventh, junior Grant Douglas singled to left on the first pitch he saw and then sophomore Andrew Miller got around on a pitch and hit a fly ball to somewhat deep left for the game’s final out.

“I was happy with the way we had chances there in those innings,” Zaleski said.

South Plainfield junior right hander Jean Sapini, his team’s second pitcher in the contest, earned the mound victory in relief. He pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings, retiring Summit in order in the sixth on two strikeouts (the first looking and the second swinging) and a pop up to second.

Coming in for the save by pitching a scoreless seventh inning was senior righty Nick Polizzano.

“I know that we’re better than our record,” Guida said. “We lost 10 seniors, with eight of them playing significant time last year, and in addition to our inexperience we were hit with injuries to our top four pitchers.

“We’ve really had to piece it together to get this far.”

With the UCC expected to realign for next year, Summit may be moving up a division.

“We want to push it to the next group,” Zaleski said. “We had a good group of senior leaders, five guys who led by example.

“We’ll also have a good group of guys returning next year.”

The five seniors who played their last game for Summit included shortstop Robby Faris, second baseman Tim Colao, first baseman-pitcher Alex Crane, third baseman Kyle Kanaley and outfielder-pitcher Jason Schneider.

Key returning players for 2017 include junior Will Schaffer, who led Summit in RBI this season with 21 and who as a left hander was Summit’s second pitcher against South Plainfield; junior Matt Murdock who batted over .400 and struck out only three times and was equally impressive defensively in center field and Miller.

Junior right hander Ben Lim allowed only one run in four innings pitched Monday for Summit.

 

2016 NORTH 2, GROUP 3 BASEBALL

SEEDS: 1-Mendham. 2-Somerville. 3-Gov. Livingston.

4-Cranford. 5-Summit. 6-Warren Hills. 7-Snyder. 8-Nutley.

9-Carteret. 10-Colonia. 11-Matawan. 12-South Plainfield.

13-Orange. 14-Barringer. 15-Chatham. 16-Voorhees.

 

FIRST ROUND:

Monday, May 23

Mendham 2, Voorhees 1

Nutley 6, Carteret 2

Cranford 12, Orange 1

Matawan 3, Warren Hills 2

Colonia 10, Snyder 0

Tuesday, May 24

South Plainfield 3, Summit 2

Gov. Livingston 15, Barringer 0

Somerville 2, Chatham 1

 

QUARTERFINALS:

Thursday, May 26

TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:

8-Nutley at 1-Mendham

12-South Plainfield at 4-Cranford

BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:

10-Colonia at 2-Somerville

11-Matawan at 3-Gov. Livingston

 

SEMIFINALS:

Tuesday, May 31

Quarterfinal winners

At higher seeds

 

FINAL:

Friday, June 3

Semifinal winners

At higher seed

 

 

UNION COUNTY BASEBALL (9 teams)

STILL ALIVE IN SECTIONAL PLAYOFFS:

 

ALL NEXT PLAYING ON THURSDAY, MAY 26

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 4 (3):

Scotch Plains, Elizabeth, Westfield

5-Scotch Plains at 4-Millburn

11-Elizabeth at 3-Ridge

or 14-North Hunterdon at 11-Elizabeth

North Hunterdon now playing at Ridge

on Wednesday, May 25 at 3:45 p.m.

7-Woodbridge at 2-Westfield

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 3 (2):

Gov. Livingston, Cranford

11-Matawan at 3-Gov. Livingston

12-South Plainfield at 4-Cranford

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 1 (1):

Brearley

5-North Arlington at 4-Brearley

 

NON-PUBLIC, NORTH A (1):

Oratory Prep

10-Oratory Prep at 7-Paramus Catholic

 

NON-PUBLIC, SOUTH A (1):

Union Catholic

10-Union Catholic at 7-Bishop Eustace

 

NON-PUBLIC, SOUTH B (1):

Roselle Catholic

12-Roselle Catholic at 5-Gill St. Bernard’s

 

 

UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE

DIVISION CHAMPIONS

2016-2010:

 

2016 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Westfield

Mountain: Johnson

Valley: Summit

Sky: Rahway

 

2015 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Gov. Livingston, Cranford

Mountain: Dayton, Johnson, Union Catholic

Valley: Roselle Park

Sky: Rahway

 

2014 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Westfield

Mountain: Dayton

Valley: Summit

 

2013 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Cranford

Mountain: Dayton

Valley: Summit

 

2012 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Cranford

Mountain: Dayton

Valley: New Providence

 

2011 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Cranford

Mountain: Union Catholic

Valley: Roselle Park

 

2010 UCC CHAMPIONS

Watchung: Scotch Plains.

Mountain: Cranford

Valley: Dayton

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