All eight baseball teams that advanced to Wednesday’s Union County Tournament quarterfinals are scheduled to play today – Tuesday, May 2 – so pitching strategy becomes even more essential.
Perhaps the biggest question for all eight quarterfinalists is which hurler(s) to send to the mound Wednesday? Which one(s) will be the most rested and have the best chance of advancing that team to Saturday’s semifinals?
The only seeds below 8 to make it were 12th-seeded Rahway and ninth-seeded Johnson.
Rahway held on to oust 5th-seeded Summit 8-7 Saturday at Summit’s Memorial Park. The Indians, who earlier in the year came back from an 8-1 deficit to stun Summit 9-8 in 10 innings in a Union County Conference-crossover clash played April 12 at Rahway, led from start to finish this time and just escaped behind the pitching of starter Johnathan Torres, five innings-plus, and reliever Andres Garcia, who got the last six outs.
It was Rahway’s fifth straight victory after falling at Union Catholic 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh on April 17.
Johnson defeated Union Catholic for the second time, winning 9-7 in Scotch Plains Saturday afternoon. It was the sixth straight win for the Crusaders, who improved to 7-6 after starting the season 1-6 as of April 17.
Johnson’s only win in its first seven games was its 13-12 home triumph over Union Catholic in April 11 Mountain Division play. The teams are scheduled to play one more time in Mountain Division action May 17 at UC.
Johnson, sparked by a lineup featuring solid hitters Max Carmino, Vincent Crisafi, Kevin Metz, Mike Sot, Zachary Thornton and Joe Turek, scored 70 runs during its six-game winning streak going into Tuesday’s scheduled conference-crossover home game vs. Scotch Plains.
Here’s Wednesday’s May 3 UCT quarterfinal schedule, all 4 p.m. starts:
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
9-Johnson at 1-Governor Livingston – first meeting
12-Rahway at 4-Westfield – first meeting
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
7-Elizabeth at 2-Cranford – split UCC-Watchung games
6-Union at 3-Scotch Plains – SP won 1st game, 2nd is at Union May 18
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s May 2 schedule, all 4 p.m. starts,
involving the eight teams (in italics) that are playing Wednesday:
Union Catholic (8-5-1) at Cranford (6-5)
New Providence (5-7) at Westfield (7-7)
Governor Livingston (14-0) vs. Madison (5-13) at Drew University
Scotch Plains (7-7) at Johnson (7-6)
Roselle Park (8-2-1) at Rahway (8-4)
Linden (2-9) at Union (7-6)
Summit (8-6) at Elizabeth (7-7)
Westfield, which last year had a school-record 18-game winning streak snapped by eventual first-time UCT champion GL in the semifinals at Kean – the Blue Devils fell 4-3 in 9 innings – won its second straight Monday to even its record at 7-7.
In one of the final two first round games, the Blue Devils dominated Dayton 11-2 at Bob Brewster Sr. Field.
Senior right hander Connor Scanlon went the distance for Westfield, scattering six hits in a 94-pitch effort that included two strikeouts, just one walk and 1-2-3 innings in the first, third and fifth.
Scanlon induced 15 ground ball outs, including two fielder’s choice outs and one 6-4-3 double play. Senior second baseman Alex Pansini had seven assists.
Westfield did not commit an error.
“I love it,” said Westfield head coach Bob Brewster, who now has a 601-306-3 record in 35 seasons at the helm of the Blue Devils. Gordon LeMatty of Union is next in Union County with 641 wins and then leader Ray Korn of Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth, who finished with 651.
“That means we made all the plays,” Brewster continued. “Our field is true.”
“I wasn’t really trying to get a lot of ground balls,” Scanlon said. “I felt good and was hitting my spots, keeping the ball low in the zone. My 2-seam was my best pitch.”
Dayton banged out four of its six hits in the second inning when the Bulldogs scored their only two runs. They came in on a double to center hit by junior Jack Quinn on a ball Westfield junior center fielder Steven Barden dove straight ahead to catch and just missed cleanly gloving.
“I didn’t throw as hard as I could,” Scanlon said. “I was a little tired, but happy with my start.”
Scanlon improved to 4-1. His first three victories were against Cranford, Bridgewater-Raritan and Union. His lone loss was a 4-3 decision at Iselin Kennedy April 19.
Scanlon received plenty of offensive support, with Westfield scoring its 11 runs on 19 hits. The Blue Devils banged out 12 hits off Dayton starter Ryan Lashuk and seven more against reliever Evan Weinberg. Dayton made only one error, in the infield during Westfield’s four-run sixth.
Producing his first varsity home run was tall, lefty-swinging, lanky junior first baseman Chris Wagner. He smashed a two-run shot over the 335-foot right field fence that knocked out Lashuk with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
Wagner, who the inning before warmed up for a bit in the Westfield bullpen as a RH option if needed, sought to make up for his first two at-bats.
Batting fifth in the lineup, Wagner flied out to right in Westfield’s three-run first and to left during Lashuk’s only 1-2-3 inning in the third.
“My first two times up I pulled off my swing, popping the ball up,” Wagner said. “The third time I took the first pitch, which was a strike. The second pitch was a fastball that I hit. It felt great.”
Wagner followed his home run with an RBI-single to right in the sixth off Weinberg, going 2-for-4, with three RBI and one run.
Of Westfield’s 19 hits, six were of the opposite field variety. Junior left fielder Jake Lerie had four, all singles, one of them in the infield. Senior right fielder Kobi Wolf had three, including two singles and a double.
Pansini, batting leadoff, also had three hits, two singles (one infield) and a double.
Players with two hits included senior catcher Jake Vall-Llobera, a couple of singles, senior shortstop Matt LaCorte, a triple and single, and Wagner.
Banging out one hit each were senior designated hitter Owen Kessler, senior third baseman Victor Cruz and Barden.
Credited with RBI were Wagner with three, Wolf and LaCorte with two and Lerie, Kessler and Barden with one. One run came home as the result of a passed ball.
Westfield took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom of the first and then added two in the fourth and fifth and its final four in the sixth.
Westfield is scheduled to host New Providence Tuesday before hosting Rahway in the UCT Wednesday. The Blue Devils are also home to Union Thursday in their second of two Watchung Division matchups.
Dayton, which also received a single and double from junior designated hitter Jeff Carrier, fell to 8-3. The Bulldogs are challenging Roselle Park for the Valley Division championship and both teams will later vie for the North 2, Group 1 crown when the states commence in three weeks.
Dayton junior catcher Jack Quinn did well to throw out two Westfield baserunners attempting to steal second base.
NOTES: GL, ranked No. 2 in nj.com’s Top 20 and No. 1 for the first time in two other polls – Prep Baseball Roundup (PBR) and MaxPreps – takes a 14-0 record into Tuesday’s game against Madison at Drew University.
GL previously defeated the Dodgers 12-2 on April 8 in the Highlander Classic final at GL.
Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy, in his 10th season at the helm of the Crusaders, knows what it’s like to play on a team the caliber of GL and one that was undefeated for most of the season.
When Kennedy was a senior at Glen Ridge in 1988, he helped lead the Ridgers to a 27-1 record that included a Group 1 state championship and a No. 2 ranking in the final Star-Ledger Top 20 behind Hudson County power Memorial of West New York, which was the Group 4 state champion that year.
Memorial defeated Westfield in the Group 4 semifinals.
Glen Ridge defeated Brearley – the UCT champion that year – in the North 2, Group 1 final at Parsippany.
Glen Ridge was undefeated before falling to Cedar Grove – Kennedy was Glen Ridge’s starting pitcher in that game – in the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals.
The year before, Kennedy shut out Irvington 3-0 in the 1987 GNT championship game at Doc Goeltz Field in Verona.
64th ANNUAL BASEBALL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Gov. Livingston. 2-Cranford. 3-Scotch Plains.
4-Westfield. 5-Summit. 6-Union. 7-Elizabeth. 8-Union Catholic.
9-Johnson. 10-New Providence. 11-Roselle Park. 12-Rahway.
13-Dayton. 14-Oratory Prep. 15-Linden. 16-Plainfield.
17-Roselle Catholic. 18-Hillside.
Thursday, April 27
Linden 10, Hillside 0
Friday, April 28
Plainfield 14, Roselle Catholic 4
Saturday, April 29
Rahway 8, Summit 7
Cranford 12, Linden 0
Elizabeth 9, New Providence 0
Gov. Livingston 16, Plainfield 1
Union 10, Roselle Park 0
Johnson 9, Union Catholic 7
Monday, May 1
Scotch Plains 10, Oratory Prep 0
Westfield 11, Dayton 2
Wednesday, May 3
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
9-Johnson at 1-Gov. Livingston
12-Rahway at 4-Westfield
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
7-Elizabeth at 2-Cranford
6-Union at 3-Scotch Plains
Saturday, May 6
At Cranford’s Memorial Field
12:30 pm. and 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 13
At Kean University
Varsity: 3 p.m.