ELIZABETH – Jack McCaffery slugged a home run in the title contest to help lead Cranford’s JV team to a county championship at Williams Field a year ago.
Twelve months later he found himself crossing home plate at Williams Field again – this time for the game’s only run in the bottom of the eighth – to help Cranford’s varsity squad advance to another county championship game.
This time his smile was even wider, just moments before he was mobbed by his exuberant teammates.
McCaffery scored the only run on a one-out suicide squeeze that was assisted by the game’s only wild pitch as top-seeded Cranford prevailed over fifth-seeded Elizabeth 1-0 in eight innings in Sunday’s semifinals of the 60th annual baseball Union County Tournament. Cranford scored a single run in the bottom of the 11th to oust eighth-seeded Union Catholic 6-5 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
It took an opposite field bunt single down the third base line by McCaffery, Elizabeth’s only two errors and a low pitch that got past Minutemen catcher Martin Taveras for McCaffery – the only player to produce two hits – to score an unearned run and for there to finally be closure.
“Their pitcher might have seen me running and got a little nervous,” said the lefty-swinging McCaffery, who was 2-for-3, including a one-out single to right in the fifth.
Not counting 10-run rule games, the three at-bats McCaffery had Sunday were his first true ones on the varsity level. His hit in the fifth gave him more confidence when he went up to the plate with one out and nobody on in the eighth.
“I knew I could bunt for a hit,” McCaffery said. “I’m more comfortable pushing the ball down the third base line. I was just trying to do something to give our team a chance to win.”
McCaffery reached first base and then advanced to second on a throwing error. Alex Plick then reached on another infield error, putting runners on first and third with one out.
Leadoff batter Tommy Trotter was 0-for-3, but hit the ball hard all three times up. On a 0-1 count, Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery, Jack’s uncle, sent No. 16 from third base, with Guerrrero’s pitch not on target for what would have been a play at the plate.
In the second semifinal, third-seeded Westfield held on in the bottom of the seventh to top second-seeded and neighborhood arch rival Scotch Plains 6-4. The Raiders scored all four of their runs in their last at-bat.
“Scotch Plains is a gritty team and you know with the rivalry we have that they were not going to quit,” Westfield head coach Bob Brewster said.
Westfield senior right hander Kevin Galasso was brilliant for six innings, allowing no runs on just two hits. After getting just one out in the seventh, he gave way to lefty reliever Quinn Dursee, who recorded the final two outs.
Scotch Plains had the bases loaded after getting the score to 6-4 before its final batter was retired on a fly ball to center.
“I would have liked to have completed the game, but was happy with the way I pitched,” said Galasso, who improved to 4-1.
In next Saturday’s championship game at Kean University’s Jim Hynes Class of 1963 Field in Union it will be Galasso (4-1) opposing Cranford senior lefty Ryan Williamson (6-0) for the title.
Cranford beat Westfield 11-5 at home in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play back on April 11. The teams will play their second division game against each other May 14 at Westfield’s Bob Brewster, Sr. Memorial Field.
Westfield, the defending UCT champion, is in the final for the fifth time in the past six seasons, while Cranford is in the title contest for the third time in the last four years.
Since 2006, Cranford has won the UCT three times and Westfield twice. To say Cranford and Westfield are the gold standard in Union County would be an understatement.
Westfield head coach Bob Brewster is 9-6 in the final, while the Blue Devils are 13-8 overall. Westfield has won the most county championships and has appeared in the most finals, next week being its 22nd.
Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery is 7-0 in the UCT final, leading the Cougars to all seven of their championships. In 15 seasons at the helm of the Cougars he has led Cranford to the semifinals 12 times – his record in the semis is now 8-4 – and to the final now eight times.
The last time Westfield and Cranford met in the final was in 2010, with Cranford coming back from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 on a wild pitch. Williamson, a freshman at the time, earned the mound victory in relief that day. The only other time the teams played each other in the final was in 1978, with Westfield winning 3-2.
Cranford improved to 13-0 and has a winning streak of 21 dating back to last year when the Cougars finished 22-4 and closed with eight straight wins en route to their second Group 3 state championship in three seasons.
Cranford’s last loss was at home to South Brunswick 11-7 on May 12, 2012.
Elizabeth lost for the second straight time and for the third time in four games after posting a five-game winning streak. The Minutemen begin the week with an 11-9 record.
Cranford won at Elizabeth 16-8 Tuesday in their first of two UCC-Watchung Division games. The teams will play again at Cranford’s Memorial Field on May 24.
Westfield, which split with Scotch Plains in UCC-Watchung Division action, won its fifth straight to improve to 11-8. The Blue Devils were selected as the third seed on April 22 with a record under .500 at 5-6.
Scotch Plains, which won at Westfield on April 2 and then lost at home to the Blue Devils last Tuesday, slipped to 11-5.
The teams could meet a fourth time in the same season for the first time – that would be in state tournament play – because both are situated in North 2, Group 4.
In one of the best-pitched UCT games ever, it was Cranford senior lefty Ryan Williamson and Elizabeth senior righty Fernando Guerrero who mowed down batter after batter. The first seven innings took just one hour and 43 minutes.
There was not one RBI. There was not one extra-base hit.
Williamson tossed a four-hitter, striking out 12 and walking four. He was a bit wild early on – walking one batter in each of the first three innings as he had some trouble getting his fastball down.
Despite a high pitch count of 134, he was ready to take the mound if there was a ninth inning.
“I felt fine, my arm was good and I was ready to go back out there,” said Williamson, who improved to 6-0 this year and 23-5 lifetime.
“We wouldn’t have had Ryan pitch the ninth,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said.
McCaffery had senior George Georgeadis (2-0) warming up and would have given him the ball.
“Ryan threw a lot of pitches today and has pitched a lot of innings for us lately,” McCaffery said.
Williamson also improved to 3-0 in this UCT, beating 16th-seeded Roselle Park 6-1 in seven innings complete last weekend and in relief throwing 6 and 1/3 innings and giving up no runs to earn the win Wednesday against eighth-seeded Union Catholic.
Because of Saturday’s SATs moving the semifinals to Sunday that allowed McCaffery to pitch Williamson vs. Elizabeth.
Williamson’s 6-0 record includes five wins by start and one in relief. In his five starts he has allowed only two runs, including the first one to state-ranked Delbarton, which he said was his best start.
“Against Delbarton I was ahead of most of the hitters,” Williamson said. “Although I wasn’t getting ahead of some of the batters today, both of my pitches (fastball, curveball) were working pretty good.”
Williamson has thrown 42 and 1/3 innings so far this season and has allowed just one home run, which was the opposite way to Delbarton first baseman and Rutgers-bound senior Jeff Anderson. Williamson, who has not lost since his sophomore season, has struck out 54 and walked just 12.
In Sunday’s first UCT semifinal, a baserunner did not reach third until Elizabeth leadoff batter Kevin Campbell stole second and moved to third on a throwing error with one out in the top of the eighth. When Taveras was intentionally walked after a 3-2 count, Elizabeth had runners on the corners with one out.
Williamson then struck out cleanup batter Ivan Olivera on a high 1-2 fastball and got Alvin Vega to ground out to short to end the threat. Campbell led off the frame by reaching on an infield single on a spinning ball he pushed just past Williamson.
Guerrero, who transferred from St. Mary’s of Elizabeth and is now 2-1, tossed a five-hitter that included four strikeouts and just one walk. He tossed 1-2-3 innings in the first, third and sixth frames.
FIRST UCT SEMIFINAL AT WILLIAMS FIELD
5-ELIZABETH (11-9) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 4 2
1-CRANFORD (13-0) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 – 1 5 2
Cranford senior LH Ryan Williamson (6-0):
8 innings complete: 134 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-25. 2-16. 3-16. 4-13. 5-10. 6-19. 7-14. 8-21.
0 runs, 4 hits (two of them infield, 4 singles total),
12 strikeouts (8 swinging, 4 looking), 4 walks (1 intentional).
Elizabeth senior RH Fernando Guerrero (2-1):
7 1/3 innings complete: 98 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-9. 2-15. 3-9. 4-18. 5-14. 6-11. 7-11. 8-11.
1 unearned run, 5 hits (one infield, 5 singles total),
4 strikeouts (3 swinging, 1 looking), 1 walk, 1 wild pitch.
RBI: Elizabeth – None. – Cranford – None.
SINGLES: Elizabeth – Martin Taveras, Alvin Vega, Ivan Olivera, Kevin Campbell.
Cranford – Ryan Williamson, Andrew DiFrancesco, Jack McCaffery 2, Chris Folinusz.
DOUBLES: Elizabeth – None. Cranford – None.
TRIPLES: Elizabeth – None. Cranford – None.
HOME RUNS: Elizabeth – None. Cranford – None.
5-ELIZABETH MINUTEMEN (11-9)
7-Kevin Campbell, shortstop
10-Julian Tirso, second base
20-Martin Taveras, catcher
16-Ivan Olivera, center fielder
19-Alvin Vega, first base
3-Elliot Lopez, left field
17-Fernando Guerrero, pitcher
9-Joe Torres, designated hitter
15-Gary Westbury, right field
6-J.C. Ball, third base
1-CRANFORD COUGARS (13-0)
1-Tommy Trotter, center field
20-Sean Feeney, shortstop
6-Andrew DiFrancesco, right field
17-Chris Folinusz, catcher
3-Ryan Williamson, pitcher
4-Jake Forrestal, second base
2-Albert Gargiulo, designated hitter
10-Johnny Oblachinski, third base
16-Jack McCaffery, left field
8-Alex Plick, first base
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
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
Cranford 1, Elizabeth 0 (8 inn.)
Westfield 6, Scotch Plains 4
Saturday, May 11
At Kean University, Union
3-Westfield vs. 1-Cranford, TBA