CRANFORD, NJ — The quest to repeat as North 2, Group 3 sectional state champs and then win the program’s first Group 3 state championship in a decade continues for the Cranford Cougars baseball team on Thursday, May 25.
Cranford High School took care of business in its first state tournament game on Monday, May 22, defeating 15th-seeded Rahway High School 6-0 at Memorial Field in first-round North 2, Group 3 play.
The second-seeded Cougars improved to 25-0 for what is believed to be the first time in program history.
Cranford last won the Group 3 state championship when it repeated in 2013. That was also the third time in four seasons the Cougars won the crown, including in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Cranford first won Group 3 in 1997.
On Friday, May 19, Cranford won at New Providence High School 15-4 in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play to capture the Watchung Division title outright for the fourth straight season.
Cranford will host 10th-seeded James J. Ferris High School of Jersey City in its Thursday, May 25, quarterfinal game. James J. Ferris won at seventh-seeded Belleville High School 9-6 in one of Monday’s eight first-round games.
The semifinals are scheduled for Tuesday, May 30 and the final for Friday, June 2, all at the higher seeds.
If there are no upsets, then second-seeded Cranford can be expected at top-seeded Millburn High School for the third straight year on Friday, June 2. Millburn won in 2021 and Cranford in 2022.
Both did not go on to win Group 3. Millburn lost in the Group 3 semifinals two years ago and Cranford in the finals last year, sparked by a pitching count discrepancy that did not go the way of the Cougars.
Cranford began the week ranked No. 2 in the state and Millburn No. 3. Both are county champions and by shutout. Cranford defeated Governor Livingston High School 1-0 at Kean University on Monday, May 15, to repeat as Union County Tournament champs. Millburn beat Seton Hall Preparatory School 3-0 at Verona High School on Sunday, May 21, to take the Greater Newark Tournament crown for the second time in three years.
Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery, at the helm of the Cougars since 1999 and now in his 24th season, enters the sectional quarterfinals with 497 victories, which is fourth best in Union County history behind Westfield High School’s Bob Brewster with 655, Roselle Catholic High School and Elizabeth High School’s Ray Korn at 651 and Union High School’s Gordon LeMatty at 641.
Cranford had three pitchers take the mound and combine for the shutout vs. Rahway on Monday, May 22. Winning pitcher Ben Monahan threw five innings and allowed only one hit and one walk. Brendan Berry pitched two innings, striking out one, walking one and hitting one batter, and Michael Zalinkanskas threw nine pitches, walking one batter.
Cranford scored twice in the bottom of the first to take the lead for good and then added four more insurance runs in the fourth.
Shea Grady was 4-for-4 with four singles, three RBIs and one run scored. Jake Carter was 2-for-4 with two singles and one run.
It was Cranford’s seventh win by shutout this season.
North 2, Group 3 baseball states
1-Millburn. 2-Cranford. 3-Randolph. 4-South Plainfield. 5-Summit. 6-North Hunterdon Regional. 7-Belleville. 8-West Morris Central. 9-Chatham. 10-James J. Ferris. 11-West Morris Mendham. 12-Warren Hills Regional. 13-Colonia. 14-Nutley. 15-Rahway. 16-Donald M. Payne Sr. School of Technology.
Monday, May 22
Millburn 11, Payne Tech 1 – at Millburn
Chatham 2, West Morris 1 – at West Morris
Warren Hills 5, Summit 3 – at Summit
South Plainfield 5, Colonia 2 – at South Plainfield
Randolph 13, Nutley 3 – at Randolph
North Hunterdon 5, Mendham 1 – at North Hunterdon
James J. Ferris 9, Belleville 6 – at Belleville
Cranford 6, Rahway 0 – at Cranford
Thursday, May 25
Top side of the bracket
9-Chatham at 1-Millburn
12-Warren Hills at 4-South Plainfield
Bottom side of the bracket
10-Ferris at 2-Cranford
6-North Hunterdon at 3-Randolph
Tuesday, May 30
Quarterfinal winners at higher seeds.
Friday, June 2
Semifinal winners at highest seed.