UNION – Question No. 1: How will Westfield hit Ryan Williamson?
Question No. 2: Is Cranford capable of providing Williamson a bit more run support than they have in the past?
With Williamson on the mound Cranford’s offense usually doesn’t need to produce a whole lot. In six games Williamson has given up just two runs – both in starts.
Westfield will counter with senior right hander Kevin Galasso.
That’s the pitching matchup for the championship game of the 60th annual baseball Union County Tournament, which pits third-seeded and defending champion Westfield against top-seeded Cranford.
Westfield, last year, and Cranford, the two seasons prior, have combined to win the last three UCTs. Cranford was 15-0 as of Thursday and is also ranked second in the state.
First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday – weather permitting, there’s rain in the forecast – at Kean University’s Jim Hynes Class of 1963 Field.
Cranford defeated Westfield 11-5 at home in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play back on April 11. The teams are scheduled to play their division game at Westfield Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Williamson and Galasso did not pitch in the April 11 contest.
Williamson shut out fifth-seeded Elizabeth 1-0 in an eight-inning effort that included 134 pitches during Sunday’s first semifinal at Williams Field. His third shutout in five starts included 12 strikeouts and four walks, one intentional.
Galasso was two outs away from shutting out second-seeded Scotch Plains. He gave up no runs and only two hits through the first six innings, with the Blue Devils holding on in the seventh for a 6-4 semifinal triumph.
Westfield will be appearing in its fifth final in the past six seasons, while Cranford is in the UCT title game for the third time in the last four years.
Since 2006, Cranford has won the UCT three times and Westfield twice.
Cranford is 7-6 in the UCT final – 0-6 before head coach Dennis McCaffery and 7-0 under McCaffery – who has been at the helm of the Cougars since 1999. McCaffery has guided Cranford to eight UCT finals in 15 seasons.
Westfield is 13-8 in the UCT final, including 9-6 under head coach Bob Brewster, and 4-2 before him. Brewster has been at the helm of the Blue Devils since 1983 and has now led them to 16 UCT finals in 31 seasons.
Westfield has won the most county championships and has appeared in the most title games.
Cranford is doing its best to catch up.
The UCT was the only championship Cranford did not win last year, with the two-time defending champions – as the top seed – falling to eighth-seeded Union 3-1 in the quarterfinals. In a game that was moved to Union’s Gordon LeMatty Field because Cranford’s Memorial Field was unplayable due to rain, Union senior lefty Devin Zimmerman stymied the Cougar bats that day.
Williamson has done the same for Cranford in this UCT, with a tournament record of 3-0. In 21 and 1/3 innings he has given up just one run. He first beat 16th-seeded Roselle Park 6-1 and then got the win in relief – pitching six and 1/3 innings – in a 6-5, 11-inning triumph over eighth-seeded Union Catholic.
“It’s a privilege to play on this team,” said Williamson, who will continue on scholarship at North Carolina State.
Williamson earned the mound victory in relief of senior righty Pat Gilstrap in the 2010 UCT final against Westfield, with Cranford coming back from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 on a wild pitch.
Cranford repeated as UCT champs in 2011, with junior right hander Kurt Rutmayer pitching in the championship game, while Williamson manned center field.
Williamson has a chance to play on three Cranford UCT championship teams in his four varsity seasons. His lifetime record is 23-5, including 6-0 this year.
“Losing to Union last year stung a bit,” said Williamson.
Cranford bounced back to win North 2, Group 3 and then Group 3 both for the second time in four seasons.
“Our approach is to take it one game at a time,” Williamson said. “We got back to the county final and now we have a chance to win it again.”
After the first three innings of last year’s championship game against Union, Brewster’s Blue Devils got to Zimmerman in the fourth inning en route to a 15-5, five-inning triumph.
The challenge Saturday against a lefty on a bit higher level will be even loftier.
“We’ll have to hit the ball,” Brewster said. “Win, lose or draw, thank God the kid is graduating.”
Westfield took an 11-8 record and five-game winning streak into Thursday night’s division game against Governor Livingston at Snyder Park in Berkeley Height. GL head coach Chris Roof said Thursday afternoon that the game was still on.
That was to be Westfield’s first game since Sunday. The Blue Devils have bounced back nicely from a 0-3 start.
“We’ve done a better job at the plate lately,” Brewster said.
Because of Williamson’s UCT innings total, including his high pitch count from Sunday, Brewster’s batters may try to work the count if they can, to try to get Williamson to throw more pitches than he might want to.
Williamson was a bit wild high in the first three innings against Elizabeth, walking one batter in each frame.
“He’s thrown a lot of pitches,” Brewster said. “We’ll see what happens.
“One thing for sure is that we’ll play our butts off.”
Galasso has won his last four decisions after his only loss, which was a 5-3, eight-inning defeat at home against Scotch Plains on April 2.
“Since we’re defending champs there’s a target on our backs,” said Galasso, who will continue playing baseball at Tufts University. “There’s pride in being county champions and now we have a chance to accomplish that again.”
Galasso was in complete control against Scotch Plains Sunday until giving way to lefty reliever Quinn Dursee in the seventh.
“I wanted to finish, I wanted to get the last couple of batters,” Galasso said. “My fastball was working and I was hitting my spots well. My changeup was pretty consistent, keeping them off balance.”
Now Galasso is preparing to face a Cranford lineup that also has some pretty tough outs in it.
“They have a really strong middle of the order with (Chris) Folinusz and Williamson (Cranford’s No. 4 and 5 batters),” Galasso said. “I’m really going to need a strong approach for everybody in their lineup.”
NOTES: In the 2010 final, which was only the second time the team’s faced each other in the county championship game – 1978 was the first time, with Westfield winning that game 3-2 – Williamson allowed no runs on three hits in four and 1/3 innings of relief. He struck out four, did not walk a batter and hit one.
Williamson threw 60 pitches, including 26 in the final inning. He threw only six pitches in the sixth, which was the game’s only 1-2-3 inning.
Westfield took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first by plating a run on a passed ball. The Blue Devils then scored their final four runs in the third inning for a 5-0 advantage. The big hit was an opposite field three-run homer blasted over the right field fence at Williams Field by senior designated hitter Greg Fortino.
Cranford came right back with five runs in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 5-5. Mark Osofsky produced an opposite field two-run single to right and then lefty-batting Nick Cook slugged a three-run homer over the right field fence with two outs.
Cranford’s Eric Walano led off the fifth with a double down the left field line and later reached third base with two outs. With Cook up and a 1-2 count, Westfield pitcher Aiden Scanlon’s next pitch – a fastball – sailed high over the head of catcher A.J. Murray and far enough behind him for Walano to slide head first across home plate with what turned out to be the winning run.
On that day, Westfield became the first team to lose three straight UCT championship games. In contrast, Westfield is the only team to have won four straight UCT titles, doing so from 1994-1997.
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 Roselle Catholic
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 Gov. Livingston
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
JV: 4-Scotch Plains vs. 2-Westfield, noon
Varsity: 3-Westfield vs. 1-Cranford, 3 p.m.
CRANFORD VS. WESTFIELD IN UCT FINALS (1-1):
2010: Cranford 6, Westfield 5
WP: Ryan Williamson. LP: Aiden Scanlon.
1978: Westfield 3, Cranford 2
WP: K.C. Knobloch. LP: Scott Kley.
CRANFORD BASEBALL IS 7-0 IN UCT FINALS
UNDER HEAD COACH DENNIS McCAFFERY,
WHICH IS ALL 7 OF ITS CHAMPIONSHIPS
HERE’S A LOOK AT THE COUGAR CROWNS:
2011: Cranford 14, Gov. Livingston 1 – at Kean
WP: Kurt Rutmayer. LP: Joey Graziano.
2010: Cranford 6, Westfield 5 – at Elizabeth
WP: Ryan Williamson. LP: Aiden Scanlon.
2007: Cranford 7, Gov. Livingston 1 – at Linden
WP: Dan Moreno. LP: Anthony Corsi.
2003: Cranford 7, Linden 4 – at Linden
WP: Brian Ciencin. LP: Mike Loureiro.
2001: Cranford 11, Plainfield 1 – at Linden
WP: Tom Polito. LP: Eladio Ortiz.
2000: Cranford 10, Rahway 0 – at Linden
WP: Tom Polito. LP: Steve Brown.
1999: Cranford 6, New Providence 5 – at Linden
WP: Tom Polito. LP: Todd Simo.