If Union Catholic is going to reach the Union County Tournament semifinals for the first time in a long time, the eighth-seeded Vikings will have to knock off top-seeded, state-ranked and undefeated (at the moment) Cranford at Cranford’s Memorial Field to do so.
It’s a difficult task, but one that’s not impossible.
Just ask Union last year?
The eighth-seeded Farmers – as the lower-seeded team and the visitors – upended top-seeded and two-time defending champion Cranford 3-1 in a quarterfinal game that was moved to Union’s Gordon LeMatty Field because Cranford’s Memorial Field was unplayable due to rain that week.
Union senior lefty Devin Zimmerman – now playing at Raritan Valley Community College – held the Cougars in check, tossing a complete-game two-hitter that included 10 strikeouts and just three walks.
Union Catholic and Cranford have Union County Conference road division games scheduled to be played Tuesday before they meet in one of the four UCT quarterfinal games that are to start Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the higher seeds.
On Tuesday in 4 p.m. games, Cranford (9-0) is at Elizabeth (10-6) in Watchung Division play, while Union Catholic (11-3) is at New Providence (7-6) in Mountain Division competition. Union Catholic begins the week with the most wins of any Union County team.
Union Catholic has not faced Cranford this year and the teams did not play each other in 2012 and 2011.
The last time they met was May 6, 2010 in Scotch Plains, with Union Catholic coming back with six runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out a wild 14-13 UCC-Mountain Division triumph at home. Cranford was 13-3 at the time and Union Catholic 7-11.
“We have a really hard task in front of us,” said Union Catholic head coach Dr. Jim Reagan Jr., at the helm of the Vikings since 2001. “Cranford is so well-coached.”
The last time the teams played each other at Cranford’s Memorial Field was April 13, 2010, which was a Cranford 5-3 UCC-Mountain victory.
“We have to make plays,” Reagan said. “We have decent pitching. We’ll need to scratch out some runs, which will be our biggest challenge.”
Reagan said that junior right hander Anthony Colletti (3-1) will start on the mound vs. Cranford.
“Anthony’s our No. 2 pitcher,” Reagan said. “It will be the same story for us. We’ll need to throw strikes consistently and not give up free passes in order to be right in the ball game.”
That will be a tough task against a top five of the batting order that might rank with the best in the state. Cranford has quick Tommy Trotter batting leadoff, four-year starter and lefty bat Sean Feeney second, another quality left-handed bat in senior Andrew DiFrancesco third, slugging senior cleanup batter Chris Folinusz fourth and lefty-hitting senior Ryan Williamson fifth.
Cranford, ranked No. 2 in the state by The Star-Ledger, improved to 9-0 with its 5-1 home win over 16th-seeded Roselle Park. Williamson pitched another solid game to improve to 4-0. The North Carolina State-bound left-hander has allowed only two runs in four starts.
Union Catholic’s ace is junior lefty Ryan Kahn, who also improved to 4-0 after beating ninth-seeded Summit 2-1 Saturday.
Colletti also plays third base for Union Catholic and was batting .333 going into Saturday’s UCT game vs. Summit.
Union Catholic last won the UCT in 1984, which also may be the last year the Vikings reached the semifinals.
“We’ve been in the quarterfinals a lot over the last 10 or so years,” Reagan said. “We’ve played Cranford and Scotch Plains in the quarterfinals numerous times, but have not gotten over the hump.
“Our kids are excited, prepared and will give it their best shot against a really formidable foe.”
Reagan pointed out that three of the eight teams that reached the quarterfinals – Union Catholic, Johnson and New Providence – are from the Mountain Division.
“That’s not bad since the top six seeds all went to Watchung Division teams,” Reagan said.
Wednesday’s other three UCT quarterfinals include 13th-seeded New Providence at fifth-seeded Elizabeth, 10th-seeded Linden at second-seeded Scotch Plains and 11th-seeded Johnson at third-seeded and defending champion Westfield.
Lower-seeded teams that won on the road Saturday in first round play included 11th-seeded Johnson, 10th-seeded Linden and 13th-seeded New Providence.
Johnson downed sixth-seeded Union 8-2 at Union’s Gordon LeMatty Field. Union reached the final last year for the first time since 1993, defeating top-seeded and two-time defending champion Cranford in the quarterfinals.
Linden upended seventh-seeded Dayton 6-4 at Ruby Field in Springfield. Dayton reached the semifinals last year for the first time since 2005.
New Providence eliminated fourth-seeded Governor Livingston 6-3 up on the hill in Berkeley Heights. New Providence also defeated GL 3-1 at home last Tuesday in a Union County Conference-crossover clash.
Saturday’s five higher-seeded teams that won at home included top-seeded Cranford, second-seeded Scotch Plains, third-seeded and 2012 winner Westfield, fifth-seeded Elizabeth and eighth-seeded Union Catholic.
Scotch Plains, the 2004 and 2009 winner under present head coach and 1992 Roselle Park graduate Tom Baylock, and Westfield are both one win away from reaching the semifinals for the sixth straight season.
Elizabeth is attempting to reach the semifinals for the first time under fourth-year head coach Matt Belford. The Minutemen were last in the semifinals in 2009 during Ray Korn’s final year as head coach. Elizabeth last won the crown in 2008, becoming the first top seed to win the UCT that year since Westfield in 1995.
60TH ANNUAL BASEBALL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Cranford. 2-Scotch Plains. 3-Westfield. 4-Gov. Livingston.
5-Elizabeth. 6-Union. 7-Dayton, 8-Union Catholic.
9-Summit. 10-Linden. 11-Johnson. 12-Rahway.
13-New Providence. 14-Roselle Catholic. 15-Oratory Prep. 16-Roselle Park.
17-Plainfield. 18-Hillside. 19-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth.
Thursday, April 25
Roselle Catholic 16, St. Mary’s, Elizabeth 6 – at RC
Oratory Prep 13, Hillside 0 – at Oratory Prep
Roselle Park 3, Plainfield 2 – at Roselle Park
Saturday, April 27
Elizabeth 14, Rahway 0 – at Elizabeth
New Providence 6, Gov. Livingston 3 – at GL
Union Catholic 2, Summit 1 – at Union Catholic
Cranford 5, Roselle Park 1 – at Cranford
Linden 6, Dayton 4 – at Dayton
Scotch Plains 6, Oratory Prep 1 – at Scotch Plains
Johnson 8, Union 2 – at Union
Westfield 9, Roselle Catholic 2 – at Westfield
Wednesday, May 1, 4 p.m.
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
13-New Providence at 5-Elizabeth
8-Union Catholic at 1-Cranford
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
11-Johnson at 3-Westfield
10-Linden at 2-Scotch Plains
Date, site and times still to be determined.
Saturday, May 11
At Kean University
Semifinal winners, TBA