Cranford baseball repeats as state champions for first time; Cougars capture Group 3 for 3rd time in 4 years; 4th time overall

Williamson tosses 5-hitter to finish 11-0; Bottom order of lineup sparks 3-run 5th inning rally

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford finished 25-1, on an eight-game winning streak and captured a second straight state championship for the first time in program history.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford finished 25-1, on an eight-game winning streak and captured a second straight state championship for the first time in program history.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford junior left fielder Matt Ravitier (No. 24) delivered the game-winning hit, a two-run single in the fifth.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford junior left fielder Matt Ravitier (No. 24) delivered the game-winning hit, a two-run single in the fifth.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford players congratulate Ryan Williamson, player with hat off, after he led off the sixth with a double to right-center.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford players congratulate Ryan Williamson, player with hat off, after he led off the sixth with a double to right-center.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford senior Ryan Williamson won a second straight Group 3 final. He finished 11-0 this year, won his last 17 games and concluded 28-5 lifetime.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford senior Ryan Williamson won a second straight Group 3 final. He finished 11-0 this year, won his last 17 games and concluded 28-5 lifetime.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford went 93-15 the past four seasons, perhaps the best 4-year stretch in program history.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford went 93-15 the past four seasons, perhaps the best 4-year stretch in program history.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford won Group 3 state championships at Toms River North in 2010, at Toms River South in 2012 and now at Toms River East in 2013.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford won Group 3 state championships at Toms River North in 2010, at Toms River South in 2012 and now at Toms River East in 2013.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - The Cranford bench, led in front by head coach Dennis McCaffery, awaits the final out before celebrating another state championship.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – The Cranford bench, led in front by head coach Dennis McCaffery, awaits the final out before celebrating another state championship.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Three of Cranford's outstanding seniors include, from left, catcher Chris Folinusz, right fielder Andrew DiFrancesco and pitcher Ryan Williamson.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Three of Cranford’s outstanding seniors include, from left, catcher Chris Folinusz, right fielder Andrew DiFrancesco and pitcher Ryan Williamson.

TOMS RIVER – Down by a run heading into the bottom of the fifth against the biggest underdog in Toms River, there was no way Cranford was going to be denied another state championship.

“If we didn’t win this game I probably wouldn’t have lived it down,” said Cranford pitcher Ryan Williamson.

While Cranford’s top five batters in its lineup have received a great deal of notoriety all season long, it was the batters from No. 6 on that got the Cougars going in support of Williamson.

Playing small ball – led by the ability to get the bunt down once again – Cranford pushed across three runs in the fifth to give Williamson back the lead.

Then the senior lefty took over, leading the Cranford baseball program to its first back-to-back state championships as the North 2 champion Cougars topped South Jersey champ Burlington Township 4-2 in Sunday’s Group 3 state championship game at Toms River East.

Williamson, who won last year’s Group 3 state title game over Freehold Borough 4-1 at Toms River South, tossed a five-hitter, striking out eight and walking two to finish a perfect 11-0.

Williamson won all nine of his starts this season and concluded a stellar four-year varsity career with a 28-5 record that ended with a 17-game winning streak and no losses his last two seasons.

The game’s final batter grounded Williamson’s last high school pitch to senior Alex Plick at first, who stepped on the bag for the game’s final out.

Another celebration – Cranford’s third in four years – ensued on a Toms River mound.

“To see that last out was the greatest feeling in the world,” Williamson said.

After losing the Group 3 final in 2000, 2003 and 2007 under head coach Dennis McCaffery, Cranford has now won its last three Group 3 finals under the 15th-season mentor and has also won at all three Toms River schools.

Cranford won its second Group 3 title over Ocean City 15-3 at Toms River North in 2010, with Williamson also pitching in that game in relief. Cranford captured its first state championship in 1971 when it won the first Group 4 state championship game. The Cougars then won Group 3 for the first time in 1997 when McCaffery was an assistant coach and James Shriner the head coach.

Williamson also found out on Saturday that he was drafted in the 28th round by the Texas Rangers.

“I was very excited when I found out I was drafted, but my focus is on this win today,” said Williamson, who will continue pitching in college at North Carolina State.

Burlington Township, which had never won a state championship and was playing in only its third state title game – the Falcons lost the Group 1 finals in 1979 and 1983 – came in with a 16-7 record and not given much of a chance to put up a fight against mighty Cranford, which finished 25-1 and on an eight-game winning streak.

However, the Falcons came to play, led by an outstanding pitching performance from senior right hander Ryan Bell (6-4).

After giving up a single to Tommy Trotter and a run-scoring double to Sean Feeney on the first two pitches he delivered, Bell settled down and went on to retire the next 12 batters he faced, including perfect second, third and fourth innings.

“I think Ryan is one of the most underrated players in our area because he does so much,” Burlington Township head coach Jason Stec said. “He doesn’t light it up, but he can pitch and he can battle. He’s one of our captains and he gave a great effort today.”

Cranford took the approach to swing at the first pitch, but after the first two batters the Cougars were hitting the ball right to Burlington Township fielders. Amazingly, Bell retired the side in order in the second on just three pitches, including a fly ball to center, a ground out to the catcher and a pop up to short.

Bell had a pitch count of only 29 through four innings.

Bell also had the lead going into the bottom of the fourth after Burlington Township scored its only two runs off Williamson in the top of the fourth. Williamson ended up yielding just seven runs this year, with only six earned.

Bell led off the fourth with a single to center on an eight-pitch at-bat. Then Ronnie Grant hit an off-speed pitch to left for another single.

After a fielder’s choice from catcher Chris Folinusz to third baseman Johnny Oblachinski at third produced the first out, Williamson was called for a balk, putting runners at second and third.

“We were looking to do a pickoff at second base, but couldn’t get it down,” Williamson said.

After striking out swinging his first time up, Dennis Stewart managed to get his bat on a Williamson offering for a check swing single to left that brought home Bell with Burlington Township’s first run.

With runners on first and third with one out and the score now tied 1-1, sophomore Zach Schuyler hit a grounder to second that Cranford attempted a 4-6-3 double play on. Plick scooped up Feeney’s throw, but the ump ruled that Schuyler beat the throw to first.

As a result, Grant scored, giving Burlington Township a 2-1 lead.

Then Bell set Cranford down again in order in the fourth, retiring Andrew DiFrancesco on a pop up to third, Folinusz on a pop up to second and Williamson on a fly ball to center.

Williamson settled down by getting the Falcons out in order in the fifth.

Dare to dream but Burlington Township was now nine outs away from pulling off a huge upset.

It was not to be.

Designated hitter Albert Gargiulo led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to center and then Plick bunted the ball toward first base for what was ruled a sacrifice and an error on Bell, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

An even better bunt came off the bat of Jake Forrestal, this one down the third base line. The Falcon fielders let the ball roll, hoping it would go foul. Instead, it stayed on the chalk, with the home plate umpire immediately calling it a fair ball.

Now Cranford had the bases loaded and nobody out.

Next up was No. 9 batter Matt Ravitier, who was 2-for-3 with three RBI in Cranford’s 5-1 sectional championship win at home over South Plainfield.

Ravitier came through in the clutch again this time, lining a two-run single the opposite way to right for what turned out to be the game-winning hit. Scoring on the play were Gargiulo and Plick, with Cranford back ahead for good at 3-2.

Three batters later, DiFrancesco drove in Cranford’s fourth and final run with a sacrifice fly to center that brought home pinch runner Jack McCaffery.

Schuyler, pitching in relief in the sixth, got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam when his team executed a 1-2-1 inning-ending double play to keep the score at 4-2.

After Williamson walked only his second batter to lead off the seventh, Burlington Township had the tying run at the plate the entire top of the seventh. The final three Falcon batters didn’t come close to getting a hit, the first two striking out looking.

“We delivered the first punch, they threw a punch back and they battled,” Williamson said. “We did the little things again like bunting and moving runners over, which is very important.”

Feeney was also a key part of Cranford’s three state championships in four years. He will attend Rutgers and attempt to make the baseball team there as a walk-on.

“This is such a great feeling, there’s none better,” Feeney said. “We’re the best team in our group and in New Jersey.”

After the way Cranford played the last two years – going a combined 47-5 – it’s hard to believe the Cougars did not win the 2011 Group 3 state championship. Cranford was picked off at home by Mendham in the North 2, Group 3 quarterfinals that season.

“That was a big let down and left a bad taste in our mouths,” Feeney said. “We had to re-focus and play the way we were capable of.”

Cranford, back-to-back state champions now for the first time, just might proved to have been the best team in New Jersey this year as well.

NOTES: Here’s a look at Cranford’s overall record the past four years, Williamson’s pitching record and the scores of Cranford’s last three state championship wins:

 

CRANFORD BASEBALL LAST 4 YEARS:

2013 (25-1)

UCC-Watchung Division champions

Union County Tournament champions

North 2, Group 3 champions

Group 3 state champions

2012 (22-4)

UCC-Watchung Division champions

North 2, Group 3 champions

Group 3 state champions

2011 (20-5)

UCC-Watchung Division champions

Union County Tournament champions

2010 (26-5)

UCC-Mountain Division champions

Union County Tournament champions

North 2, Group 3 champions

Group 3 state champions

RECORD: (93-15)

 

RYAN WILLIAMSON PITCHING RECORD

2013 (11-0) – won all 9 games he started,

won Group 3 state championship game

won UCT championship game

2012 (6-0) – won Group 3 state championship game

2011 (4-2)

2010 (7-3) – won UCT championship game in relief

TOTAL: (28-5)

 

CRANFORD IN GROUP 3 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES THE PAST 4 YEARS:

2010: Cranford 15, Ocean City 3 (5 inn.) – at Toms River North

2012: Cranford 4, Freehold Borough 1 – at Toms River South

2013: Cranford 4, Burlington Township 2 – at Toms River East

 

GROUP 3 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AT TOMS RIVER EAST

Burlington Township (16-8)          0     0     0       2     0     0       0 – 2  5  2

Cranford (25-1)                                   1     0     0       0     3     0       x – 4  6  0

 

WINNING PITCHER:

Cranford senior LH Ryan Williamson (11-0)

7 innings complete, 101 pitches: 2 runs (both earned), 5 hits,

8 strikeouts (five swinging, three looking), 2 walks, 1 balk, 1 wild pitch

Retired side in order in first and fifth innings.

 

LOSING PITCHER:

Burlington Township senior RH Ryan Bell (6-4)

5 innings, plus one batter, 49 pitches: 4 runs (3 earned), 6 hits,

2 strikeouts (both swinging), 1 walk

Retired side in order in second, third and fourth innings.

 

SINGLES: Burlington Township – Bobby Palentchar, Ryan Bell, Ronnie Grant, Dennis Stewart, Aaron Chrichlow. Cranford – Tommy Trotter, Albert Gargiulo, Jake Forrestal, Matt Ravitier.

DOUBLES: Burlington Township – None. Cranford – Sean Feeney, Ryan Williamson.

TRIPLES: Burlington Township – None. Cranford – None.

HOME RUNS: Burlington Township – None. Cranford – None.

 

CRANFORD STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS:

1971 – Group 4

1997 – Group 3

2010 – Group 3

2012 – Group 3

2013 – Group 3

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