Cranford baseball has fine season conclude in Group 3 state championship game; Junior RH Graceffo magnificent for 7 innings in 5-1, 8-inning defeat

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery discusses ground rules with Allentown’s coach and players prior to the Group 3 state championship game vs. Allentown at Toms River South.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – The Cranford Cougars produced another fine season in 2017, winning North 2, Group 3 for the 11th time since 1997 and finishing 21-8.

TOMS RIVER – Chris Reeder prides himself on defense.

The Allentown junior backstop, according to head coach Brian Nice, has proved all season long that he is a catcher capable of helping get one of his pitchers out of a jam.

Lately, he’s also found his stroke at the plate. In a thunderous way.

With one homer prior to Wednesday, Reed not only blasted a home run over the left field fence for the game-winning hit – his second round-tripper in as many games and third this season – but his throwing out two runners on the basepaths also proved critical in keeping the Cranford off the scoreboard.

After a scoreless first seven innings – which was a first for Allentown this season and only the second time for Cranford – Reed homered over the left field fence on an 0-2 slider to lead off the top of the eighth, giving the Redbirds the lead for good and igniting a five-run rally.

Cranford, to its never-say-die credit, answered in the bottom of the eighth with its only run and then loaded the bases with one out, twice having the tying run at the plate.

Allentown’s third pitcher, junior right hander Jimmy Frein, retired the game’s final two batters on a strikeout looking and a fly ball to right to give Central Jersey, Group 3 champion Allentown a 5-1 win in eight innings over North 2, Group 3 champ Cranford in Saturday’s Group 3 state championship game at Toms River South High School’s Ken Frank Field.

Reeder picked off a Cranford runner on second with nobody out in the fourth and threw out a runner attempting to steal second with one out in the sixth.

Cranford also had a baserunner picked off at first by Allentown starting pitcher Ryan Huth.

“Jackson (Fogarty shortstop) and I always talk about trying to get at least one baserunner a game,” Reeder said.

“Reeder has done that all year for us,” said Nice, who in his third year at the helm led Allentown to its first group state championship nine years ago when the Redbirds captured Group 2. “I can’t count how many times he has saved our pitchers this year.

“He’s a rock behind the plate. He’s been swinging the bat well lately too and we even thought of moving him up in the order.”

Allentown finished with a seven-game winning streak and a 26-2 record for 2017. Cranford had a nine-game winning streak snapped and closed at 21-8.

For Allentown it was the program’s second group state championship and first since winning Group 2 in 2008. Cranford lost in the Group 3 final for the first time since dropping a 5-2 decision to Seneca in the 2007 title game, which was also played at Toms River South. After that, Cranford won the Group 3 state championship in 2010 at Toms River North, 2012 at Toms River South and 2013 at Toms River East.

Throughout Saturday’s game, Allentown hit the ball very hard, but right at Cranford fielders. The Cougars did well to not commit a single error in eight innings.

However, off of junior right hander Gordon Graceffo, the hits started falling in the top of the eighth.

Before that, Graceffo dominated unlike any pitcher Allentown faced this year. He was magnificent in pitching a historic seven innings for a group state championship game, allowing only three baserunners and only two hits in seven complete before the eighth.

Nice asked, “he only threw how many pitches? He was always around the zone and we hit the ball hard to all fields. We knew he was good. We just had to keep on having good at-bats.”

Graceffo also did it by pitching and not with a 90 mph fastball. His control, minus one hit batter, was perfect, with three strikeouts and no walks before the eighth.

“We will work hard to try to get back (to this game) next year,” Graceffo said.

“Gordon pitched a great game, having command with several of his pitches,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said. “They were able to string together some hits there in the eighth.”

Graceffo retired Reeder with the first of his three strikeouts on a 3-2 count of an eight-pitch at bat with one out in the second. He then got Reeder to fly out to left on another full count with one out in the fifth, a ball hit hard.

Leading off the top of the eighth with the game still scoreless, Graceffo had Reeder in an 0-2 hole. He then tried to sneak the third pitch of the at-bat by him.

“He had only thrown me two fastballs,” Reeder said. “The home run pitch was a slider up. He hung it and I took it for a ride.”

“I still felt strong, but a little tired in the eighth,” Graceffo said. “That’s not an excuse. You still have to execute.”

Allentown, after producing only two hits in the first seven innings, continued to smack the ball around in the eighth. Jordan Winston followed with a single to center, Allentown’s first single, and then Guisseppi Arcuri singled to center.

After a sacrifice bunt by Jackson Fogarty moved runners to second and third, leadoff batter Aydon Chavis blasted a two-run double to left to make it 3-0. That was it for Graceffo.

Matt Colante, the other way to left, and then Ferrier down the right field line followed with RBI-doubles off Cranford relief pitcher Vince Genova for a 5-0 lead.

Allentown produced a five-run, six-hit eighth inning to remember, but the game was not over.

After a strikeout, senior Tom Armstrong reached on an infield single, beating the throw from second to first. He and Mike McGee were Cranford’s batters with two hits.

Tyler Szczech reached on the game’s only error to make it first and third with one out and then he promptly stole second without a throw. Matt Perino followed with an RBI-single up the middle that Allentown shortstop Fogarty got a glove on to prevent a second run. With runners on first and third and still one out, Cranford designated hitter Mike Meola walked on four pitches to load the bases.

Now Cranford had the tying run at the plate. Pat Connelly was fooled on an off speed pitch for strike three. McGee almost homered over the left field fence in the fifth, with his hit off the fence going for a single. He then went the other way to right for an opposite field single with one out in the seventh. Frein retired him in the eighth on one pitch, a fly ball to right to end the game.

Cranford had seven stolen bases in eight attempts (Reeder did not throw down once) and had runners in scoring position in five of the first seven innings, with runners on second all five of those innings when they ended.

Cranford’s only 1-2-3 inning was by Huth in the second, while Cranford also had a runner in scoring position in the fourth that was caught off base at second. Cranford had runners in scoring position in seven of its eight at-bats.

Including the three runners the Cougars left on base in the eighth, Cranford left 10 on. Cranford did not have a batter reach third until the game’s first and only error in the bottom of the eighth.

In the bottom of the seventh with its first chance to win the game in walk-off fashion, Cranford had courtesy runner James Wozniak on second with one out after he stole the base running for McGee. Frein then retired the next two batters on strikeouts, the first one looking and the second one swinging.

“We had several chances,” McCaffery said. “If we executed offensively the game would not have gone eight innings. Poor (offensive) execution and base running cost us a state championship.”

Wozniak and Szczech had two stolen bases each for Cranford.

When asked if he thought he had a team capable of playing in the Group 3 final this year,” McCaffery said: “expected.” When asked about next year, he once again said: “expected.”

McCaffery continued: “there’s no time to sulk. We will be back at practice Monday for next year.”

NOTES: Cranford, as the home team, took the field for the top of the first at 10:51 a.m. while the announcer began to name the Allentown players so they could be introduced along the third base line in front of its dugout.

A very weird scene. Total confusion in the press box.

Also, the press box announcer told the crowd that Mike Meola was the starting pitcher for Cranford.


First pitch was 10:53 a.m., a foul ball back to the screen by Allentown leadoff batter Aydon Chavis.

Reeder hit a solo home run in Allentown’s first game and on Wednesday in its Group 3 semifinal victory over South Jersey, Group 3 champion Highland at Rowan College at Gloucester County he hit a two-run homer in Allentown’s comeback 7-4 victory.

“This is so surreal right now,” Reeder said. “We just never gave up this year.”


TOP OF THE FIRST, 10:53 a.m.:

Allentown batting.

18: fly out 9, diving to his left 0-2 (3). Lefty 6- Fly out 8 1-0 (2), first 2 batters hit ball hard. Lefty-12: sliding triple to right off wall, hit hard. 1-2 (4).

15-FO 8 (3-1 (5). No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB. OKs, 0BBS. 14 pitches.


Cranford batting (Huth has 94 pitches for game.):

35-BB1 3-0 (4). First 0 outs. Oblachinski picked off at first, 1-3. 4-K1 look 0-2 (3). 42-BB2 3-2 (6). First 2 outs. Shriner steals 2B. Second 2 outs. Lefty 55-BB3 3-2 and 2 fouls (8).

1st and 2nd 2 outs. 46-Fly out 9 (1). No runs, no hits, no errors, 2 LOB. 22 pitches. 1K, 3BBs.

TOP OF THE SECOND, 11:08 a.m.:

Allentown batting:

21-Fly out 9 1-0 (2), hit hard again. 17-K1 swing. 2-2 and 3 fouls (8). 9-Line out 6 (1), hit hard. First 1-2-3. No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB. 1K, 0BBs.

11 pitches. 25 pitches total:


Cranford batting:

36-FO 8 3-2 (6). Lefty 52-K2 swing 0-2 and 2 fouls (5). Lefty 11-G0 6-3 0-2 (3). First 1-2-3. No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB.

1K, 0BBS. 14 pitches. 36 pitches so far.

TOP OF THE THIRD, 11:25 a.m.:

Allentown batting:

14-Foul out 2 0-1 (2). Lefty 11-GO 6-3 0-2 (3). 18-GO 6-3 1-2 (4). Second straight 1-2-3, 7 in a row. No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB.

0Ks, 0BBs. 9 pitches. 34 pitches so far.


Cranford batting:

21-K3 swing 1-2 (4). 35-FO 8, overruled by first base ump after discussion now safe, CF did not catch diving in front of him. Outfield ump did not see. Ruled a bloop single. Cranford’s first hit. On pitch No. 49. 1-2 and foul (5). First 1 out. Stolen Base Oblachinski – 2nd 1 out, 3-2 on Bakie. 4-K2 look, down. 3-2 and foul (6). 55th pitch.

2nd 2 outs. 42-K5 look 1-2 (4). No run, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB. 19 pitches (20 adjusted). 55 pitches so far. 2Ks, 0BBS.

TOP OF THE FOURTH, 11:45 a.m.

Allentown batting:

Lefty 6-Line out 7, hit hard again. 1-2 (4). Lefty 12-HBP 1 (leg) 2-2 (5). 15-4-6-3 DP (1). No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB. Third inning just 3 batters.

0Ks, 0BBs. 10 pitches. 44 pitches so far.


Cranford batting:

Lefty 55- Double to right, bounces off weird configuration 3-2 (6). Second and no outs. Picked off 2-4, second Cranford runner picked off. 46- GO 6-3

0-2 and 2 fouls (5). 36-BB4 3-2 and 1 foul (7). First and 2 outs. Lefty 52-K6 swing 2-2 and 1 foul (6). No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB. 1K, 1BB.

24 pitches (25 adjusted). 81 pitches so far, 13 left.

TOP OF THE FIFTH, 12:02 p.m.

Allentown batting:         

21-K2 swing 3-2 (6). 17-FO 7, hit hard 3-2 (6). 9-Pop up 4 1-1 (3). Third 1-2-3, Fourth only 3 batters. No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB.

1 K, 0 BBS. 19 pitches. 63 pitches so far.


Cranford batting:

Lefty 11- GO 1-3 1-2 (4). 21-Single off LF fence -2-2 and 1 foul (6). First and 1 out. CR James Wozniak.

Huth out – 91 pitches. Had 3 left. 4 and 1/3 innings, no runs plus one baserunner, 3 hits, 5 Ks, 4 BBS.

3-Colton Johnson, senior LH now pitching

Stolen base: Wozniak on first Johnson pitch (low for ball one). Second 1 out.

35- (swinging away) K1 swing 1-2 off speed (4). 4-Foul Out 3 2-0 (3).

No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB.

3- 7 pitches, 1K, 0BBs.

TOP OF THE SIXTH, 12:21 p.m.

Allentown batting:

14-FO 7, hit hard again (1). 11-GO 6-3 (1). 18-GO 1-3 1-1 (3). 4th 1-2-3, second in a row again, 5th inning only 3 batters.

No runs, no hits, no errors, 0 LOB. 0Ks, 0BB. 5 pitches. 68 pitches so far.

Has retired 7 in a row again and 14 of 15.


Cranford batting:

42-K2 swing 1-2 (4). 55-BB1 3-1 (5). First, 1 out. Thrown out stealing 2-6. Count 1-1 on Szczech 46-Infield single 6-3, does not throw to 1B. 2-2 (5).

First, 2 outs. Stolen base Szczech. Second, two outs. Count 1-0 on Perino. 36-INTENTIONAL WALK 3-0 (4). First and second, 2 outs. Lefty 52-GO 3 1-0 (2).

No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 2 LOB.

1 K, 2 BB. 20 pitches. 27 pitches so far.

TOP OF THE SEVENTH, 12:25 p.m.

Allentown batting:

Lefty 6-GO 4-3 1-0 (2). Lefty 12-K3 swing 2-2 and 1 foul (6). 15-Opposite field double off R-C fence 1-1 (3). PR 27 Matt Tannenbaum, sophomore.

Second and 2 outs. Only 2nd Allentown hit. 21-Diving catch coming in with two hands by F0 9 on first pitch. First base ump calls out. (1).

No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB. 1 K, 0 BBS. 12 pitches. 80 pitches so far.


Johnson 1 and 1.3 innings. No runs, 2 hits, 2Ks, 2BBs (1 intentional). 27 pitches.

Now pitching junior RH Jimmy Frein (No. 13).

Cranford batting:

Lefty 11-GO 6-3 1-1 (3). 21-Opposite field single 1-0 (2). CR Wozniak. First and 1 out. Wozniak steals second on strike. Second and 1 out. 35-K1 look 0-2 (3).

Second, 2 outs: 4- strike look, ball look, check swing strike two, breaking ball low 2-2, K2 swing, off speed 2-2 (5).

No runs, 1 hit, no errors, 1 LOB. 2Ks, 0 BBS. 13 pitches.

TOP OF THE EIGHTH, 12:50 p.m.

Allentown batting:

17-Home run 0-2 (3) over left field fence.1-0 Allentown. 9-Single to center (1). Allentown’s first single. 14-Single to CF 1-2 (4). First and second, 0 outs.

11-Sac bunt 1-3 (1). Second and third 1 out. (top of the order) 18-2-run double off LF fence on a bounce (1). (3-0 Allentown). Second, 1 out.

Graceffo done. 1/3 inning 4 runs on 5 hits. 0 Ks, 0 BBS, 10 pitches.

18 pf 20 and only 3 baserunners first seven innings. 4 1-2-3s and another 3-batter inning.

Graceffo 7 and 1/3 innings, 4 runs on 6 hits, 3 Ks, 0 BBs, 1 HBP. 90 pitches.

Senior RH Vince Genova now pitching for Cranford.

Second and 1 out. Lefty 6-opposite field RBI double to left (4-0 Allentown). 1-1 (3). Second, 1 out. Lefty 12-RBI-double down right field line (5-0 Allentown). 1-0 (2).

15-INTENTIONAL WALK. First and second 1 out. 13-K1 swing (1-2). First and second, 2 outs. 17-K2 swing 0-2 (3).

5 runs, 6 hits, no errors, 2 LOB.

Genova 2/3 inning: 1 run on 2 hits, 2Ks, 1BBs (intentional). 8 pitches.


Cranford batting:

42-K3 look (off speed), looked at 3 pitches 0-2 (3). 55-Infield single 4-3, beats throw 1-0 (2). First, 1 out. Stolen base Armstrong.

Second, 1 out. 46-E-5 (off glove) 1-0 (1). First error of the game. First and third, 1 out. Stolen base Szczech. Second and third, 1 out. 36-RBI-single to CF, SS knocks down. 1-0 (2). (5-1 Allentown). First and third, 1 out. Lefty 52-BB1 3-0 (4). Bases loaded 1 out, tying run at the plate. 37 CR at first base. Lefty 11 – K4 off speed looking 2-2 and 1 foul (6). BL still, 2 outs: 21: FO 9 (1). 1 run, 2 hits, 1 error, 3 LOB.

2Ks, 1BB. 19 pitches, finished with 32.

Game ends 1:20 p.m. – Saturday, June 10, 2017 in Toms River, NJ.


CJ-ALLENTOWN (26-2)                 0   0   0     0   0   0     0 5 – 5   8   1

N2-CRANFORD (21-8)                    0   0   0     0   0   0     0 1 – 1   7   0



Senior RH Ryan Huth

4 and 1/3 innings, 91 pitches (had 3 remaining):

No runs, 3 hits, 5 strikeouts (3 swinging and 2 looking), 4 walks.

Pitches: 1-22. 2-14. 3-20. 4-25. 5-10. Total: 91.



Senior LH Colton Johnson

1 and 1/3 innings, 27 pitches

No runs, 1 hits, 2 strikeouts (both swinging), 2 walks (1 intentional).

Pitches: 5-7. 6-20. Total: 27.



Junior RH Jimmy Frein

2 innings complete, 32 pitches. The winning pitcher (4-1).

1 run (unearned), 3 hits, 4 strikeouts (1 swinging, 3 looking), 1 walk.

Pitches: 7-13. 8-19. Total: 32.



Junior RH Gordon Graceffo (6-4)

7 and 1/3 innings, 90 pitches:

4 runs, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts (all swinging), 0 walks, 1 HBP.

1-2-3 innings: second, third, fifth, sixth

Innings faced minimum 3 batters: second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth

Retired 8 in a row from first to fourth innings and then 10 in a row from fourth to seventh innings, including an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play in the fourth.

Graceffo entered the eighth inning having retired 18 of the last 20 and allowed only three baserunners in first seven innings: a two-out triple by Austin Ferrier in first, he hit Ferrier in the leg with one out in the fourth and a one-out opposite field double by Huth in the seventh.

Pitches: 1-14. 2-11. 3-9. 4-10. 5-19. 6-5. 7-12. 8-10. Total: 90.



Senior RH Vince Genova

2/3 inning, 8 pitches

1 run, 2 hits, 2 strikeouts (both swinging), 1 walk (intentional)

Pitches: 8-8. Total: 8.



Allentown – Jordan Winston. Guisseppi Arcuri.

Cranford – Brian Oblachinski, Mike McGee (2), Tyler Szczech, Tom Armstrong,

Matt Perino.



Allentown – Ryan Huth, Aydon Chavis, Matt Colante, Austin Ferrier.

Cranford – Tom Armstrong.



Allentown – Austin Ferrier.

Cranford – None.



Allentown – Chris Reeder.

Cranford – None.



18-Aydon Chavis, senior, second base

6-Matt Colante, senior, left field

12-Austin Ferrier, junior, right field

15-Ryan Huth, senior, pitcher

21-Frankie DelGuercio, senior, first base

17-Chris Reeder, junior, catcher

9-Jordan Winston, senior, designated hitter

4-Ryan Barbar, senior, center field (not batting)

14-Guisseppe Arcuri, junior, third base

11-Jackson Fogarty, senioir, shortstop



35-Brian Oblachinski, senior, shortstop

4-Ryan Bakie, senior, center field

42-Jim Shriner, sophomore, right field

55-Tom Armstrong, senior, first base

46-Tyler Szczech, sophomore, second base

36-Matt Perino, senior, third base

52-Mike Meola, sophomore, designated hitter

49-Gordon Graceffo, junior, pitcher

11-Pat Connelly, junior, left field

21-Mike McGee, sophomore, catcher