Union County baseball teams Brearley, Cranford, Governor Livingston, Johnson, Westfield seek to reach sectional championship games

All 5 in May 31 semifinals

DSCN0019Winning two state tournament games last week was a major accomplishment for Union County baseball programs Brearley, Cranford, Governor Livingston, Johnson and Westfield.

All five will need to triumph again on Tuesday to reach Friday’s scheduled sectional championship games.

Again, that will be no easy task for any of them as the competition continues to upgrade the longer these tournaments extend.

Here’s a look at each Union County baseball squad still alive when sectional semifinal contests are played on the final day of May:

BREARLEY: The fourth-seeded Bears (8-12) snapped a seven-game losing streak by knocking off 13th-seeded Hoboken 4-2 in the first round of North 2, Group 1 play and then followed that up with a decisive 13-4 win over fifth-seeded North Arlington. This section includes three of the four semifinalists with records under .500.

The one team above .500 is top-seeded Bloomfield Tech, which sports a 19-4 mark. After knocking off schools from Hudson and Bergen counties, Brearley will need to beat a squad from Essex County in order to reach its first sectional final since winning Central Jersey, Group 1 in 2009.

Brearley head coach Joe Capizzano, at the helm of the Bears since 1998, can go to senior lefty Sal Gorka, who tossed five shutout innings in only his third start of the year against Hoboken. Gorka did not get the mound victory in that game, but he provided the game-winning hit, a two-run single to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth to snap a 2-2 tie.

The winning pitcher in that game for Brearley was right handed reliever Eric Loneker. Against North Arlington, Brearley’s third baseman went 4-for-5, with three RBI and a run. Starting pitcher Ryan Griffin earned the mound victory, allowing four runs on four hits before being taken out in the fifth.

Side note: If Brearley and Glen Ridge win Tuesday then those squads will meet in the championship game – this time at Glen Ridge – for the first time since 1988 when Glen Ridge defeated Brearley Regional at Parsippany High School.

CRANFORD: The fourth-seeded Cougars (16-10) lost three of four games before the North 2, Group 3 playoffs commenced. However, this is where Cranford is at its best. The Cougars are now just one win away from reaching a fifth consecutive N2, G3 final and sixth in the past seven seasons.

Cranford lost at home to South Plainfield 4-2 in eight innings in last year’s championship game after winning the section three years in a row and four times in five seasons since 2010.

Cranford has dominated against Orange 12-1 and South Plainfield 8-1 at home so far. Head coach Dennis McCaffery has junior RH Chris Librera and sophomore RH Gordon Graceffo among the pitchers he can turn to against Nutley. The Raiders, guided by Bob Harbison, feature one of the best hitters in the state in senior Anthony Condito, who will continue playing at Rutgers. Earlier this season Condito set the program record for career hits.

McCaffery, at the helm of the Cougars since 1999, has guided Cranford to nine sectional titles – eight in North 2, Group 3 and one in Central Jersey, Group 2. His record is 373-114 (.766).

GOVERNOR LIVINGSTON: The third-seeded Highlanders (21-9) were not afforded the opportunity to defend their 2015 Central Jersey, Group 2 championship, but are now two wins away from winning N2, G3 during their first season in the section.

GL has allowed only one run in its last three games – all wins – including state tournament home victories vs. fourth-seeded Barringer 15-0 and 11th-seeded Matawan 9-0.

GL head coach Chris Roof, at the helm of the Highlanders since 2004, expects to face Somerville standout senior LH Andrew Prescott, who will continue on the Division 1 level at Coastal Carolina. Prescott (4-1) won Somerville’s first state tournament game. The Somerset County school has allowed only two runs in 16 innings of state tourney action so far.

“He’s very good,” Roof said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

Roof said he will counter with either junior RH Vin Doren or junior LH Nick Cocchia. Doren won the Union County Tournament championship game 3-2 over Scotch Plains in complete-game fashion, while the day before in the semifinals against Westfield Cocchia pitched quite well for six innings, allowing only two runs.

“Our kids have played well in big games so far, so we’ll see,” Roof said.

With practically a completely different cast than the one that set the program record for wins last season at 28 en route to winning the Group 2 state championship for the third time, GL has exceeded expectations so far in 2016.

A 21-9 record includes the program’s first UCT title and a berth in the North 2, Group 3 semifinals. GL defeated second-seeded Westfield and then top-seeded Scotch Plains on consecutive days at Kean University to hoist its first UCT championship trophy.

“These kids have bought into the program and are aware of the tradition,” Roof said.

Roof credits pitching coach and former GL standout Matt Rago with the pitching staff’s success.

“Matt provides the scouting plan for each opponent and the kids follow the plan,” Roof said. “Our kids have ability.”

Roof has guided two schools to a combined seven sectional championship games. His record at Millburn in three seasons was 1-1 in N2, G3 finals, while his record in sectional finals at GL so far is 3-2.

Roof’s 13-season record at GL is 267-110 (.709) and his three-season (2001-2003) record at Millburn was 54-34 (.614). His overall record is 321-144 (.690).

JOHNSON: The 12th-seeded Crusaders (13-9) have won four of five and six of eight after a 7-7 start, including Central Jersey, Group 2 wins at fifth-seeded East Brunswick Tech 9-5 and at home over 13th-seeded New Providence 9-1.

Johnson received big games at the plate against New Providence from junior Vincent Crisafi and sophomore Joe Turek. Crisafi was 2-for-4 with a double and four RBI, while Turek was 3-for-4 with a double, three RBI and two runs.

Johnson also swept New Providence in regular season play en route to capturing the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division championship with a perfect 8-0 league mark.

Delaware Valley needed to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh to get past eighth-seeded Monmouth 6-5 at home in last week’s quarterfinals.

WESTFIELD: The second-seeded Blue Devils (22-5) are 22-2 after an 0-3 start, set the program record for consecutive wins at 18, posted another 20-win campaign and captured the UCC’s Watchung Division championship for the second time in three years.

However, the Blue Devils had that record 18-game winning streak snapped by eventual first-time champion GL 4-3 in nine innings in the UCT semifinals and in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal will have to face one of the best pitchers in the state in North Hunterdon senior LH John Wilson.

Wilson, who will continue at Old Dominion, is 4-1 and won North Hunterdon’s first state tournament game at third-seeded Ridge, a 3-1, nine-inning decision in Basking Ridge. Wilson went the distance, striking out 12 in nine innings.

The very next day North Hunterdon won at 11th-seeded Elizabeth 5-1 to post a second state tournament road victory in successive days.

Westfield is seeking to reach its fourth N2, G4 final in the past six seasons. Westfield won the title in 2011 and 2013 and lost to Millburn as the top seed in the 2014 final.

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 4 SEMIFINALS

4-Millburn (23-3) at 1-Watchung Hills (26-4)

14-North Hunterdon (17-11) at 2-Westfield (22-5)

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 3 SEMIFINALS

8-Nutley (20-9) at 4-Cranford (16-10)

3-Gov. Livingston (21-9) at 2-Somerville (17-9)

 

NORTH 2, GROUP 1 SEMIFINALS

4-Brearley (8-12) at 1-Bloomfield Tech (19-4)

11-Secaucus (13-14) at 2-Glen Ridge (11-12)

 

CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2 SEMIFINALS

12-Johnson (13-9) at 1-Delaware Valley (16-5)

7-Manasquan (13-6) at 3-Delran (19-5)

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