MORRIS TOWNSHIP – Among the many clichés in the sport of baseball is that a pitcher’s best friend is a double play.
On Saturday the wind – blowing in a bit – was just as friendly to Cranford pitcher Ryan Williamson.
After hitting a home run the opposite way over the right field fence in the bottom of the fourth to give his team the lead and break up Williamson’s perfect game, Delbarton senior Jeff Anderson just missed tying the game with another home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
This time he crushed a Williamson fastball deep to left field, with everyone in attendance thinking that it was going out. Instead, it was a fly out to left, with the ball caught just a step in front of the 350-foot sign in left-center.
“Off the bat I thought it was another home run, but my shortstop, Tommy Trotter, said it wasn’t out and that it was going to stay in the park,” Williamson said.
“I thought for sure it was going out and then I looked again and said, ‘oh no, the wind is blowing it back in’,” Anderson said. “I didn’t hit it off the sweet part of the bat, but I hit it good.”
“It looked like it was gone off the bat,” Cranford senior catcher Chris Folinusz said.
On Monday Anderson worked out the details, although there is no athletic scholarship money yet, to join Folinusz next year at Rutgers.
“When it was hit he put a good swing on it and made good contact,” said Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery, who on Thursday in his 15th season it was reported that he won his 300th game at the helm of the Cougars. “I thought it was gone. I thought our left fielder did a nice job of making the play.”
Three batters later – with the tying run on second base – Williamson retired Brian Rapp on a line out to second as Cranford held on for a 2-1 come-from-behind road win at Delbarton’s Brian E. Fleury Field.
Cranford, which this week was ranked No. 2 in the state by The Star-Ledger, improved to 7-0. Delbarton, ranked No. 4, lost for the second time this week and slipped to 8-2-1.
Williamson, one of the top left handers in the state and who will continue at North Carolina State, was outstanding, tossing a two-hitter in a 94-pitch performance that saw him allow only four baserunners. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 25 batters he faced and retired the side in order in the first, second, third and sixth innings.
“I was throwing a lot of first pitches for strikes and my curveball was on today, it was breaking,” said Williamson, with Anderson – ironically – hitting a curveball for the home run he slugged while down 0-2 in the count.
Williamson, now 3-0 this season and 20-5 lifetime with his last loss coming as a sophomore, retired the first 11 batters he faced until Anderson’s home run with two outs in the bottom of the fourth gave the Green Wave a 1-0 lead.
Williamson has allowed only one run in three starts so far this season, with his first two wins coming at Morristown-Beard 4-0 on April 5 and at home against Union 3-0 Tuesday.
“My changeup was called a couple of times and that was working for me too, I was throwing that for strikes,” Williamson said. “I was fortunate to have all three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) going for strikes today.”
Williamson struck out 10 – eight swinging and two looking – and walked two, one in the fifth and one in the seventh with two outs. He struck out the side in the sixth on 12 pitches, getting all three batters swinging. The most pitches he threw in an inning were the 22 he tossed in the seventh.
“Every time Ryan’s on the mound he always puts us in the best possible shape; we’ve just got to put more runs on the board,” Folinusz said. “There’s not much more you can ask for. He throws strikes to get people out. If he’s spotting up and keeping things low you can’t touch him.”
“Ryan pitched a very good game, was highly-competitive and kept his composure the whole game,” McCaffery said. “He did an outstanding job against a very, very good team. He had control of three pitches.”
Delbarton catcher Chris Schafter produced his team’s other hit, connecting on a single up the middle to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Schafter also walked with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, with Delbarton’s courtesy runner reaching second on Williamson’s only wild pitch.
Cranford was in good shape to score first off Delbarton senior righty Adam Schreck in the top of the fourth when senior Sean Feeney drilled a shot to the right-center gap that went for a leadoff triple. However, Feeney was stranded after the next three batters were retired on a line out and two ground balls.
The Cougars also had a runner on third with two outs in the fifth, but was unable to push across a run.
Cranford, down to its final five outs, struck for both of its runs in the sixth. Feeney, with one down, went the other way to produce a hit down the left field line that went for a double. Batting second in the lineup, the lefty-hitting Feeney – a four-year starter – was 2-for-3, with two extra-base hits and a walk.
“Sean’s a battler, he’s been doing it for four years,” McCaffery said. “He’s gone to morning hitting every day for the last four years and he hits before school every day. He’s an extremely hard-working player who gives everything he has every day.”
Andrew DiFrancesco followed with a shot to right field that went over the outfielder’s head and reached the bottom of the fence. His double – Feeney had to hold up on the basepaths to see if the ball was going to be caught – put runners on second and third with one out.
Folinusz, Cranford’s cleanup batter, was intentionally walked to load the bases. Williamson, who had a bloop single to right-center in the second and a ground out to first in the fourth, was up next.
On a 0-1 count, Williamson pushed a pitch the other way to left field for an RBI-single, tying the game at 1-1. The bases remained loaded.
Schreck was taken out, tossing 72 pitches in 5 and 1/3 innings. Schreck was eventually charged with both Cranford runs, while he struck out four, walked one and allowed six hits.
“He threw me a knuckleball on the first pitch and on the second pitch he threw me an up-and-in fastball and I just waited on it and took it the other way to left field,” Williamson said.
With Rapp now pitching for Delbarton, Cranford senior Jake Forrestal hit a ground ball to second base that the infielder booted, but picked up and threw to first base to nip Forrestal, despite the protestations of Cranford fans behind the fence who yelled at the umpire to tell him that he made the wrong call.
The ball was not hit quite hard enough for a potential inning-ending double play to keep the game tied at 1-1. What it did was bring in Cranford’s second run, with Forrestal producing the game-winning RBI.
“Our guys wanted to play them really bad, they’re a solid team,” Williamson said. “So are we.”
“We battled, but just couldn’t come through,” Anderson said.
NOTES: Cranford, with its next game vs. Johnson Tuesday, will be the top seed for the 60th annual Union County Tournament, which will be seeded Monday night at 7 at Cranford High School.
Cranford has won the tournament seven times – all under McCaffery – with championships won in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011. The only title the Cougars did not win last year – they won division, section and state championships – was the UCT when Union senior lefty Devin Zimmerman handcuffed them 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Cranford was also the top seed last year as the two-time defending champion.
“Last year was a stinger vs. Union,” Williamson said. “We’re ready for the county tournament, but we’re going to take it one game at a time.”
“Seeds don’t really matter,” Folinusz said. “We just have to play our game and come out and win every game.
“We can’t let our guard down. We just have to keep playing tough all year.”
CRANFORD (7-0) 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 – 2 8 0
DELBARTON (8-2-1) 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 – 1 2 1
WINNING PITCHER: Ryan Williamson, senior lefty, (3-0).
LOSING PITCHER: Adam Schreck, senior righty, (1-1).
DOUBLES: Cranford – Sean Feeney, Andrew DiFrancesco. Delbarton – None.
TRIPLES: Cranford – Sean Feeney. Delbarton – None.
HOME RUNS: Cranford – None. Delbarton – Jeff Anderson.