Three games were decided by one run.
Two of them went right down to the wire, with the home team scoring a single run to snap a tie and win in its final at-bat.
Let’s hope the semifinals are exciting as the quarterfinals were.
The 60th annual baseball Union County Tournament moves on to the semifinal round, with games scheduled to be played Sunday at Elizabeth’s Williams Field.
This is the eighth straight season that the semifinals will be played at Williams Field, starting in 2006. They were last played at Rahway’s Veterans Field in 2005.
Playing the semifinals on this Saturday – an SAT day – was avoided this time because in the same scenario last year only the first semifinal was able to be played at Williams Field, with Westfield and Dayton having to come back to Williams Field the next day.
Playing on Sunday instead of Saturday because of the SATs also means that all four semifinalists will be better suited to go with their top pitchers because of the extra day of rest.
The UCT first went to a Saturday first round, Wednesday quarterfinal and then Saturday semifinal format in 2006 to prevent teams from having the opportunity to use the same starting pitcher for the entire tournament.
Sunday’s final four includes an all Watchung Division card, with fifth-seeded Elizabeth taking on top-seeded Cranford in the first game at noon, followed by third-seeded Westfield vs. second-seeded Scotch Plains in the3 p.m. contest.
All four squads won at home in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round play. Elizabeth defeated 13th-seeded New Providence 4-3, Cranford slipped past eighth-seeded Union Catholic 6-5 in 11 innings, Westfield downed 11th-seeded Johnson 11-1 and Scotch Plains edged 10th-seeded Linden 8-7.
Scotch Plains and Westfield both reached the semifinals for the sixth straight season. Scotch Plains has lost in the semifinals the past three years.
Cranford, after getting upset in the quarterfinals last year, is back in the semifinals after reaching the semis six straight seasons from 2006-2011.
Elizabeth is the semifinals for the first time under fourth-year head coach Matt Belford, who is also the owner and director for all the programs for Full Count Baseball. The Minutemen, after not reaching the semifinals for 11 seasons from 1996-2006, made it to the final four the last three years – 2007-2009 – Ray Korn was the head coach, winning the crown for the sixth time in 2008.
Korn guided Elizabeth to the last five of the six championships the Minutemen captured.
Scotch Plains head coach Tom Baylock has guided the Raiders to the semifinals seven of the 10 seasons he’s been at the helm, including his first year in 2004.
“It’s about the kids we have and the coaching staff and all the hard work they put into it,” said Baylock, who is a 1992 Roselle Park graduate. “That helps us come through in big spots.”
Baylock has led the Raiders to the last two – 2004 and 2009 –of their four championships, with the first two coming in 1969 and 1976.
Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery has guided the Cougars to the semifinals 12 of the 15 seasons he’s been at the helm, beginning with his first year in 1999. Cranford was eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2002 byPlainfield, in 2005 by Dayton and in 2012 by Union – all three times as the higher seed.
McCaffery is also 7-0 in the finals, leading Cranford to all seven of its championships.
Under head coach Bob Brewster – in his 31st season at the helm of the Blue Devils – Westfield is 9-6 in the finals. The Blue Devils are 13-8 overall in the championship game.
Westfield has won the most county crowns and has also appeared in the most finals.
Brewster has guided Westfield to the semifinals eight of the last nine seasons since 2005.
Here’s a look at both semifinals:
5-Elizabeth vs. 1-Cranford, noon: The division rivals just met for the first time on Tuesday, with Cranford scoring nine straight runs to snap a 7-7 tie en route to a 16-8 triumph. Against New Providence, Elizabeth’s Martin Taveras scored the game’s final run on a wild pitch in the third inning to give the Minutemen a 4-3 advantage. Lefty Joshua Felix pitched into the sixth to earn the mound victory and improve to 3-2.
Elizabeth, which began its season in South Carolina, won for the sixth time in seven games.
Cranford overcame a 5-3 deficit by tying Union Catholic with two runs in the sixth. Senior lefty-bat Sean Feeney provided the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 11th, driving in the winning run to snap a 5-5 deadlock.
Senior left hander Ryan Williamson improved to 5-0 and 22-5 lifetime by earning the mound victory in relief. He has not lost since his sophomore season.
Union CountyConference-Watchung Division play:
April 30: Cranford 16, Elizabeth 8 – at Elizabeth
May 24: Elizabeth at Cranford, 4 p.m.
3-Westfield vs. 2-Scotch Plains, 3 p.m: These neighborhood arch rivals are facing each other in the UCT for the first time since the classic 2009 final at Elizabeth won by Scotch Plains 2-1 in 10 innings.
Westfield was sparked offensively vs. Johnson by junior lefty-hitting catcher Mike Ionta, who was 2-for-4, with a two-run homer, a three-run double and five RBI. Brad DeMartino, a junior, allowed just one run on three hits in five innings for the mound victory.
Scotch Plains trailed Linden twice by four runs – 4-0 after the top of the first and then 6-2 in the second – and then saw Linden tie the game at 7-7 with a run in the sixth. The Raiders overcame both deficits and then found a way to scratch out a run in the bottom of the seventh to advance.
“We stressed not panicking,” Baylock said. “We start five sophomores and two juniors, so we’re a very young team, but one that does not get overwhelmed.
“When we were down 4-0 we still had a full game to play. We had to chip away, have good at-bats, keep to the game plan and be disciplined at the plate.
“We quickly got down again by four runs at 6-2, but managed to come back again. That spoke to the character of our team.”
In the bottom of the seventh with sophomore pinch runner Garrett Zito on first, two outs and Linden senior right hander and Adelphi-bound T.J. Santiago ahead of Mike Colineri 0-2, the visiting Tigers were one pitch away from getting the game to the eighth inning.
Instead, Colineri managed to send a single to right field, with Zito heading to third.
“The right fielder bobbled the ball and then threw to second over the shortstop’s head,” Baylock said. “We kept running, with the third baseman getting the ball and throwing home. It was a bang-bang play at the plate, with the catcher dropping the ball and our kid safe.”
Scotch Plains scored three runs in the fourth to pull to within 6-5 and then took the lead for the first time by scoring two runs in the sixth for a 7-6 advantage.
“We could have easily packed it in, but the kids showed no panic in them,” Baylock said. “We kept plugging away. We left about 10 guys on base and had the bases loaded once or twice. We were a couple of hits away from blowing it open.”
Senior right hander James D’Angelo, who will continue at Manhattan, pitched for the first time in two weeks, throwing one inning, and is a candidate to start Sunday’s game, which is the Raiders’ next contest.
“He felt real good,” Baylock said. “We have several people we can go to.”
When Scotch Plains played at Westfield on April 2 and came away with a 5-3 win in eight innings, starting pitcher Chris Gibbons, a sophomore lefty, was lost for the season the following Saturday after suffering an ACL injury playing soccer.
Senior right hander Kevin Maxwell started Tuesday’s division home game against the Blue Devils.
Westfield started senior righty Kevin Galasso the first time vs. the Raiders and then junior Michael Androconis Tuesday, who allowed three runs in six innings to improve to 3-0.
Westfield and Scotch Plains could meet for a fourth time in one season for the first time since both are situated in North 2, Group 4 this year.
Union CountyConference-Watchung Division play:
April 2: Scotch Plains 5, Westfield 3 (8 inn.) – at Westfield
April 30: Westfield 7, Scotch Plains 3 – at Scotch Plains
WESTFIELD THE LAST 5 SEASONS IN THE SEMIFINALS:
2012: Westfield 7, Dayton 3 – at Elizabeth
2011: Gov. Livingston 17, Westfield 14 – at Elizabeth
2010: Westfield 5, Johnson 4 – at Elizabeth
2009: Westfield 8, Cranford 7 – at Elizabeth
2008: Westfield 5, Cranford 1 – at Elizabeth
SCOTCH PLAINS THE LAST 5 SEASONS IN THE SEMIFINALS:
2012: Union 10, Scotch Plains 8 (8 inn.) –at Elizabeth
2011: Cranford 15, Scotch Plains 5 – at Elizabeth
2010: Cranford 10, Scotch Plains 7 – at Elizabeth
2009: Scotch Plains 8, Elizabeth 5 – at Elizabeth
2008: Elizabeth 7, Scotch Plains 5 (8 inn.) – at Elizabeth
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 Park3, 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
Elizabeth 4, New Providence 3 – at Elizabeth
Cranford 6,Union Catholic 5 (11 inn.) – at Cranford
Westfield 11, Johnson 1 – at Westfield
Scotch Plains 8, Linden 7 – at Scotch Plains
Sunday, May 5
At Williams Field, Elizabeth
5-Elizabethvs. 1-Cranford, noon
3-Westfield vs. 2-Scotch Plains, 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 11
At Kean University, Union
Semifinal winners, TBA