BASKING RIDGE – There are moments that define a player, a game, a season.
If Westfield baseball was to capture another sectional championship – this one, perhaps, the most unlikely of them all – the Blue Devils had to come through with the game on the line in the bottom of the sixth.
With the Westfield clinging to a one-run lead, Ridge had the bases loaded with one out. Freshman Jayden Hylton, who previously flied out and grounded out, worked the count full vs. Westfield left hander Michael Catanzaro.
Westfield head coach Bob Brewster, seeking to extend his 37th season at the helm of the Blue Devils, intentionally walked the batter before Hylton to set up a force at any base.
One more ball by Catanzaro, who earlier in the inning issued his first two walks, would tie the game. Catanzaro – on the eighth pitch of the at-bat – challenged Hylton with a fastball.
Hylton hit the ball hard, but right at Westfield junior third baseman Victor Coustan, who had not mishandled a chance all game. He was not about to here.
Coustan kept his glove down, scooped the hard-hit, low line drive and immediately fired a rope straight to second. There junior second baseman Christian Pansini caught the throw and then smoothly – in one motion – stepped on second and threw to junior first baseman Daniel Kohler.
Brewster obviously had faith in his defense, otherwise he does not intentionally walk the bases loaded. You will never see a more clutch 5-4-3 double play executed in a bigger spot during a game that has a trophy at stake.
If Brewster comes back for another season he will have the chance to see all three – Coustan to Pansini to Kohler (Westfied’s version of Tinkers to Evers to Chance) – perform as seniors in 2020.
The double play kept Westfield in front, elicited a great deal of emotion and excitement from Coustan being pumped up in front of his team’s bench and fans and sent the game to its final inning.
There Catanzaro, after Westfield produced a huge insurance run in the top of the seventh, fired a fifth perfect inning in the bottom of the seventh.
Suddenly this Westfield team, which began the season 0-4, was only 5-10 at the state cutoff date and was only 7-11 when the state playoffs commenced, was a sectional champion for the second consecutive season for the first time in program history.
Eighth-seeded Westfield defeated second-seeded Ridge 4-2 in Saturday’s North 2, Group 4 state sectional championship game. For the Blue Devils it was the fourth time they won the section this decade, the other years being 2011, 2013 and 2018.
Brewster, who tied Union’s Gordon LeMatty for second place among the winningest baseball coaches in Union County history with his 641st victory, has now guided Westfield to five North 2, Group 4 crowns, the first one coming in 1988.
Brewster and Westfield’s quest to – for the first time – win a Group 4 state championship continues Monday at 4 p.m. at Kean University when the Blue Devils – now 11-11 – will face repeat North 1, Group 4 champion Ridgewood (23-4) in the Group 4 semifinals.
Records don’t mean anything as evidenced by this Westfield run. The Blue Devils, after beating ninth-seeded Union at home, went on the road to knock out the top-seeded Bayonne, fourth-seeded Scotch Plains and then second-seeded Ridge.
The winner of Monday’s semifinal advances to next Saturday’s Group 4 state championship game at Veterans Park in Hamilton, DeMeo Field. The group finals were first played there last year, with Westfield falling to Hunterdon Central 7-0 in the Group 4 championship game.
Before that, Westfield defeated Ridgewood 4-2 in the Group 4 semifinal played at Northern Valley Regional at Demarest. It was Michael Carlone who got the job done on the mound for the Blue Devils that day.
Carlone, a senior right hander, will get the ball once again for Westfield on Monday.
“Ridgewood is a good team, we know that,” Brewster said. “They have been beating everyone by 10 runs. It won’t be easy.
“Michael pitched against them last year and gave up two bombs, but did a good job. He will face them again on Monday.”
So how has Westfield been able to repeat as sectional champions after having a season that has still not seen the Blue Devils play above .500 ball?
“We were built for this tournament,” said leadoff batter Matt McIntyre, who will always remember producing a 4-for-4 performance in a winning, championship-game atmosphere away from home.
McIntyre reached on an infield single in the first, hitting the ball of pitcher Jack Love’s right leg to start the game, single to center in the third, singled to right in the fifth, stole second and then scored the game’s second run and doubled to right in the seventh, stole third and scored the game’s final run on a throwing error.
Three singles, a double, two stolen bases and two runs. To say McIntyre made Westfield go would be an understatement. He also caught the game’s final out in center field.
The only reason McIntyre didn’t get five hits is because he didn’t get up a fifth time.
“We’ve been getting great pitching from Michael and Michael Carlone and we got hot at the right time,” McIntyre added. “We also didn’t have Andrew Caminiti earlier in the year.”
Ridge threw two Westfield runners out on the basepaths. In the top of the first, Andrew Caminiti hit a shot the other way to right-center that went for a double, but also resulted in McIntyre getting thrown out at home on an 8-6-2 relay. Westfield argued that the Ridge catcher – before receiving the throw home – blocked home plate and prevented McIntyre from having a clear path to score.
In the fifth, with a runner on first and two outs, Chris Ho blooped a single to center. Ridge first tried to get the lead runner out at third and after that was unsuccessful the Red Devils were able to throw Ho out at second on an 8-5-6 execution. Ho attempted to reach second after the throw to third.
Pitching, clutch hitting, defense and taking advantage of other team’s mistakes wins championships. Here’s how Westfield produced all four Saturday:
Pitching: Catanzaro went the distance, tossing a four-hitter that included four strikeouts and three walks (one of them intentional). Retiring the first six batters he faced, Catanzaro went on to toss perfect innings in the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings. He threw 85 pitches, 21 of them in the sixth.
He struck out two batters swinging and two looking, mixing up his fastball and off speed pitches enough to keep Ridge batters guessing throughout.
Pitching coach Brian Sloan had Catanzaro ready to compete at his best.
“My two-seam and my curve worked best,” said Catanzaro, who improved to 7-1 with a 1.71 ERA. “I hated to walk the leadoff batter in the sixth, but was able to slow the game down in the seventh.”
Clutch hitting: Love struck out Westfield No. 3 batter in the lineup Sean Flynn with an off-speed pitch in the first. Flynn was not about to let that happen again.
In the third with runners on first and third with two outs, Flynn hit a 3-2 pitch to left field for an RBI-single, giving Westfield a 1-0 lead.
In the fifth with a runner on second and two down – on Love’s second pitch – Flynn reached the left field fence on one bounce for a standup, RBI-double that put Westfield back in the lead and for good at 2-1.
In addition to producing the game-winning hit there, Flynn also doubled to left again in the seventh – the ball reaching the 360-foot sign on one bounce – for a 3-for-4 performance that included a single, two doubles and two RBI. All three of Flynn’s hits came with two outs.
“I thought I had a good approach the whole day,” Flynn said. “We had a good scouting report on their pitcher, saw him on film and were aware of his pitches.”
Westfield slugged 11 hits, getting to Love in every frame but the second and sixth. Love left the game in the seventh with two outs due to the 110-pitch count limit.
Defense: Westfield did not commit a single error, which is one way to advance in state tournament play. That was also a big reason why Catanzaro threw five perfect innings with only four strikeouts.
The only two innings – the third and the sixth – that Ridge had baserunners, Westfield ended with double plays. In addition to the huge one in the sixth, Ridge had first and second and one out in the third after tying the game at 1-1 on an RBI-single to center hit by leadoff batter Chris Parker.
Brendan Love then hit a ball to Kohler, who gloved, but didn’t catch. Kohler then picked up the ball, stepped on first and then threw to second for the tag and a 3-4 DP. That kept the game at 1-1 and continued to inspire confidence among a road team seeking to pull off another upset.
Taking advantage of other team’s mistakes: Westfield’s third and fourth runs were unearned, scoring on the game’s only two errors. After Flynn’s first of two doubles gave Westfield the lead for good at 2-1 in the top of the fifth, Westfield immediately scored again to make it 3-1 when Kohler reached on an errant throw.
Ridge closed to 3-2 on an RBI-double to center smashed by Bobby Parisi in the sixth. The second runner on the play did not get a good jump, perhaps thinking McIntyre was going to catch the ball, and held up a third.
After McIntyre’s double to right in the seventh, Brewster sent him to attempt a steal at third. Not only did McIntyre make it sliding head first, but the throw went past the third baseman enough for McIntyre to get up and score the game’s fourth run.
“We talk about that all the time, to try to get the other team to bite,” McIntyre said of the play.
Westfield scored its first three runs with two outs and its first with two outs and two strikes.
PITCHING ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE THE DIFFERENCE
“We’ve struggled offensively this year, but have got great pitching during this run,” Brewster said of Westfield’s first four-game winning streak this season. “Our defense has been outstanding.”
The pitchers Westfield went up against were all quality, starting with Union senior right hander Zach Fernandez (and junior RH Andrew Sanborn), continuing with Bayonne senior lefty Jonathan Lee and then Scotch Plains senior left hander Danny Wilkinson, who will next pitch at Villanova.
“Those are some really good pitchers there who we were able to get past,” Brewster said.
In order for Westfield to reach a fourth Group 4 state championship game the Blue Devils will have to get past Ridgewood a second straight season, the Maroons from Bergen County one of the state’s best. Ridgewood just won at Bloomfield 10-0 in Friday’s North 1, Group 4 final, winning with a no-hitter.
Ridgewood has now won North 1, Group 4 the past three seasons.
NOTES: Westfield beat ninth-seeded Union 4-2 at home in the first round and then won at top-seeded Bayonne 3-2 in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils then won at Scotch Plains 3-1 in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Westfield won the section as the top seed last year, defeating second-seeded Millburn 4-2 at home in the final, also for its fourth win in a row at the time.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 STATE SECTIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
8-Westfield (11-11) 0 0 1 0 2 0 1 – 4 11 0
2-Ridge (18-10) 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 – 2 4 2
WESTFIELD STARTING PITCHER:
Michael Catanzaro, senior LH, (WP 7-1)
7 innings complete, 85 pitches
Pitch count: 1-10. 2-11. 3-15. 4-7. 5-14. 6-21. 7-7. Total: 85.
2 runs (both earned) on 4 hits
4 strikeouts (two swinging, two looking) 3 walks (one intentional)
Catanzaro retired the side in order in the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings.
RIDGE STARTING PITCHER:
Jack Love, senior RH, (LP 4-4)
6 and 2/3 innings, 114 pitches
Pitch count: 1-13. 2-17. 3-20. 4-18. 5-14. 6-16. 7-16. Total: 114.
4 runs (two earned) on 10 hits.
8 strikeouts (five swinging, three looking), 0 walks
Love retired the side in order in the second and sixth innings.
RIDGE RELIEF PITCHER:
Brendan Bell, junior RH
1/3 inning, 10 pitches
Pitch count: 7-10. Total: 10.
0 runs on 1 hit
1 strikeout (looking), 0 walks
Westfield – Matt McIntyre (3), Christian Pansini,
Sean Flynn, Victor Coustan, Chris Ho.
Ridge – Jason Arrigo (bunt), Chris Parker.
Westfield – Sean Flynn (2), Andrew Caminiti, Matt McIntyre.
Ridge – Cooper Bobowicz, Bobby Parisi.
Westfield – None.
Ridge – None.
Westfield – None
Ridge – None.
WESTFIELD HITS (11) IN ORDER:
3-Matt McIntyre – single off pitcher’s leg in first
9-Andrew Caminiti – opposite field double to right-center in the first
4-Christian Pansini – single to left in the third
3-Matt McIntyre – single to center in third
23-Sean Flynn – RBI-single to left in third gives Westfield 1-0 lead
8-Victor Coustan – single to left in fourth
3-Matt McIntyre – single to right in fifth
23-Sean Flynn – standup RBI-double in fifth gives Westfield 2-1 lead
THAT WAS THE GAME-WINNING HIT:
22-Chris Ho – bloop single to center in fifth
3-Matt McIntyre – double to right in seventh
23-Sean Flynn – double to left in seventh
Westfield’s third and fourth runs scored as the result of throwing errors.
RIDGE HITS (4) IN ORDER:
40-Cooper Bobowicz – opposite field double to left in third
7-Jason Arrigo – bunt single down 3B line in third
10-Chris Parker – RBI-single to center in third ties game at 1-1
16-Bobby Parisi – RBI-double to center in sixth cuts Westfield’s lead to 3-2
8-WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS:
3-Matt McIntyre, senior, center field
9-Andrew Caminiti, senior, shortstop
23-Sean Flynn, senior, left field
12-Daniel Kohler, junior, first base
22-Chris Ho, sophomore, right field
8-Victor Coustan, junior, third base
7-John Czarnecki, junior, designated hitter
1-Michael Charlton, senior, catcher
4-Christian Pansini, junior, second base
Did not bat:
5-Michael Catanzaro, senior, pitcher
2-RIDGE RED DEVILS:
10-Chris Parker, junior, second base
28-Brendan Bell, junior, third base-relief pitcher
16-Bobby Parisi, junior, center field
1-Greg Bozzo, junior, catcher
9-Jayden Hylton, freshman, right field
8-Jack Love, senior, pitcher
40-Cooper Bobowicz, senior, first base
7-Jason Arrigo, sophomore, shortstop
12-Lukas Goodman, junior, left field