At one point in the season Westfield was 4-7 – although its competition was more-than-respectable – and not hitting on all cylinders.
Westfield also lost one of its top hitters – senior third baseman Victor Cruz – to injury.
The Blue Devils then produced consecutive Watchung Division victories over Union and Cranford and off they went.
Westfield then unloaded offensively against Dayton in its first county tournament victory, which turned out to be the first of five consecutive games – all wins – in which the Blue Devils scored at least 11 runs.
After a second loss to Watchung Division champion Governor Livingston on Tuesday, Westfield bounced back with a Union County Conference-crossover win at Summit Thursday – a tuneup for what was to come.
Then on Friday the fourth-seeded Blue Devils put a game plan in place to dethrone a team that was on a roll, winners of seven of their last eight.
Westfield would start on the mound with senior right hander Connor Scanlon and have sophomore lefty Cory Hiltz available in relief.
While it was going to be difficult to smash the ball against Cranford junior right hander Gordon Graceffo – Westfield beat him 1-0 with six hits at Cranford on April 27 – the Blue Devils needed to be patient and make the most of their opportunities.
Westfield did just that, spraying nine hits and taking back the lead in the fourth inning and never relinquishing it.
Fourth-seeded Westfield scored three runs in the top of the fourth to take the lead for good and added two big insurance runs in the sixth en route to a 6-3 win over second-seeded Cranford in Friday’s re-scheduled 64th annual baseball Union County Tournament championship game.
WESTFIELD’S 15 UCT CHAMPIONSHIPS:
2017: Westfield 6, Cranford 3
WP: Connor Scanlon. LP: Gordon Graceffo.
2014: Westfield 5, Gov. Livingston 3
WP: Brad DeMartino. LP: Ethan Frohman.
2012: Westfield 13, Union 3
WP: Mike Mondon. LP: Devin Zimmerman.
2006: Westfield 9, Roselle Catholic 0
WP: Craig Ellis. LP: Nick Nolan.
2002: Westfield 7, Johnson 4
WP: Jay Cook. LP: Drew Thomas.
1997: Westfield 7, Summit 1
WP: Matt Williams. LP: Jared Chellevold
1996: Westfield 7, Gov. Livingston 0
WP: Brian Ciemniecki. LP: Eric Brown.
1995: Westfield 3, Elizabeth 0
WP: Kris Williams. LP: Al Hawkins
1994: Westfield 7, Elizabeth 5
WP: Chris Vogel. LP: Al Hawkins
1987: Westfield 13, Elizabeth 12
WP: Clint Factor. LP: Greg Randazza.
1986: Westfield 9, Linden 6
WP: Clint Factor. LP: Rob Shaloub.
1978: Westfield 3, Cranford 2
WP: K.C. Knobloch. LP: Scott Kley.
1968: Westfield 2, Union 1
WP: Frank Tokash. LP: Sandy Weber.
1966: Westfield 13, Roselle 1
WP: Don Anderson. LP: Terry Arendt.
1963: Westfield 5, Springfield 4
WP: Jim Smith. LP: Bill Kretzger.
Westfield won for the second straight time and for the ninth time in its last 10 games to improve to 13-8.
Cranford, 5-5 after its first 10 games, slipped to 12-7.
The UCT final, originally scheduled to be played Saturday, May 13 but moved up due to inclement weather, was contested at Kean University’s Jim Hynes Class of 1963 Field in Union for the fifth consecutive season.
Westfield added to its record number of county championships with its 15th UCT crown and first since 2014. It was the second time the Blue Devils won the UCT title at Kean.
Westfield is now 15-9 in the UCT final – also with the record for most appearances in the title game with 24 – and now 11-7 under head coach Bob Brewster, who has been Westfield’s head coach since 1983.
In his 35 seasons at the helm, Brewster has guided the Blue Devils to 18 UCT finals and won a record 11 of them.
Cranford lost in the UCT final for the first time since 1998 when Summit defeated the Cougars for its last crown. That was the third and final season present Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery was an assistant to James Shriner.
McCaffery, at the helm of the Cougars since 1999, then led Cranford to a perfect 9-0 record in the UCT final – all nine of Cranford’s championships – until Westfield’s victory Friday night.
Westfield scored first in the top of the second on a Matthew Manning RBI-single.
Cranford came back in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 1-1 on an RBI-single hit to left field by senior Dan Maglino that brought home senior Tom Armstrong, who reached base on a triple.
Westfield senior Arthur Xiao, who was now in the game and playing right field after Blue Devils junior center fielder Steve Barden had to leave in the second inning with a shoulder injury, came through with an RBI-single in the fourth to give Westfield the lead for good at 2-1.
Later in the inning leadoff batter Alex Pansini followed with a clutch two-run double to increase Westfield’s advantage to 4-1.
Cranford came back with single runs in the fourth and fifth. An RBI-single by sophomore Tyler Szczech drove Armstrong home to make it 4-2 and then senior Ryan Bakie drilled a leadoff home run over the left field fence off Scanlon to pull the Cougars to within 4-3. Cranford then had two men on base in the fifth when the final out by Scanlon was registered on a pickoff when the runners were moving.
Westfield answered with the game’s final runs in the sixth. Senior Matt LaCorte drove home Pansini with a double and then junior Jake Lerie brought in LaCorte with an RBI-single.
Hiltz entered the game in the bottom of the sixth and allowed just an infield single in that frame. He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to close the game and earn a save.
Xiao also made the defensive play of the game in the fifth. With runners on first and second and one out, Cranford sophomore catcher Mike McGee hit a ball to right that Xiao caught over his shoulder, saving two runs.
When Barden went down, senior Kobi Wolf was moved from right to center. Xiao had three putouts in right, two of them to end innings.
Scanlon improved to 6-1 on the mound with his fourth straight victory. He allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits, while striking out two and walking one in a 90-pitch performance. He won both of his starts against Cranford, including 9-3 at Westfield on April 8.
Westfield went a rare 3-0 vs. Cranford this year.
Hiltz allowed no runs on one hit and struck out two in his two inning, 21-pitch stint.
Graceffo, now 3-3 and 0-2 against Westfield, went seven complete, tossing 105 pitches. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits, while striking out three, walking none and hitting three batters.
Graceffo pitched extremely well against a potent Westfield lineup twice, allowing just seven runs total while receiving only the support of three runs.
Offensively for Westfield, senior James Friel was his team’s only player with two hits, going 2-for-4. LaCorte, Pansini, Lerie, junior Chris Wagner, Wolf, Manning and Xiao had one hit each. Pansini led with two RBI.
Pansini’s and LaCorte’s doubles were Westfield’s extra-base hits.
For Cranford, Bakie was 2-for-4 with a home run, a single, an RBI and a run. He slugged his third homer of the season, with his first two coming against Elizabeth. Bakie’s second against the Minutemen came at home in the quarterfinals.
Armstrong and Maglino were 2-for-3, with Armstrong scoring two of Cranford’s three runs.
Armstrong and Bakie produced Cranford’s extra-base hits.
NOTES: Westfield and Cranford will now go their separate ways, with Cranford seeking to repeat as North 2, Group 3 champs – the Cougars have won the section five times this decade – and Westfield out to excel in North 2, Group 4.
Cranford has reached Toms River three times this decade – winning Group 3 in 2010, 2012 and 2013 – while Westfield has reached Toms River twice – falling in the Group 4 final in 2011 and 2013.
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
Johnson 9, Gov. Livingston 5
Westfield 12, Rahway 2
Cranford 13, Elizabeth 3
Scotch Plains 10, Union 0
Saturday, May 6
At Cranford’s Memorial Field
Westfield 15, Johnson 4 (5 inn.)
Cranford 3, Scotch Plains 2 (8 inn.)
Friday, May 12
At Kean University
Westfield 6, Cranford 3