Cranford baseball is off to a 4-0 start

CRANFORD, NJ — The past two seasons, after capturing the Last Dance Tournament in August of 2020, following no baseball season at all that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cranford High School baseball concluded highly successful campaigns with a bad taste in their mouths.

Two years ago was the controversy regarding the suddenly missing outfield fence at Millburn High School in a 1-0 loss in the North 2, Group 3 sectional final. Last year, after coming back late to win at Millburn in the North 2, Group 3 final, Cranford fell in the Group 3 final at Hamilton to Middletown North High School 5-4 in eight innings. Cranford argued that the Middletown North pitch count for its starter should have been higher than what it was and that he should not have still been pitching when he was pitching.
With a new season upon us, Cranford has blocked out the notions of fences and pitch counts and has concentrated on building toward its ultimate goal of winning a state championship for the first time in 10 years.

Through the first week of the season, so far, so good, as the Cougars came through it 4-0 and began the week one of only two Union County schools still undefeated. The other was Union County Conference-Valley Division leader Roselle Catholic High School at 3-0 overall.

Cranford defeated UCC-Mountain Division squads Jonathan Dayton High School 7-5 and Elizabeth High School 6-0 at home, blanked Watchung Division rival Governor Livingston High School 4-0 at home and then topped Somerset County school Watchung Hills Regional High School 11-7 on Saturday, April 8, in its first road contest.

Cranford was scheduled to play at Watchung Division foes Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Tuesday, April 11, and Arthur L. Johnson High School on Wednesday, April 12. Cranford’s next scheduled game is back at home on Friday, April 14, at 10:30 a.m., vs. Watchung Division rival Union High School.

Union began the week 3-1 and was scheduled to host Franklin High School on Monday, April 10, play at Watchung Division foe Arthur L. Johnson on Tuesday, April 11, and then play at Mountain Division squad Union Catholic High School on Thursday, April 13, at 11 a.m.
Union ace Aiden Baiardi, a senior lefty, struck out 14 Elizabeth batters in six innings on Saturday, April 8, receiving a no-decision in a 4-3 Union win in nine innings. He is a candidate to start for Union in its game at Cranford on Friday, April 14.
Cranford has received fine pitching as well. Michael Zalinkanskas, six innings, and Dan Olear, one, combined to shut out Elizabeth 6-0, with the Minutemen only getting five hits. Zalinkanskas struck out eight and Olear with three in his only inning for 11 total strikeouts by Cranford pitchers.

The next day, against Governor Livingston, senior right-hander Sean Woodruff tossed a complete-game one-hitter, striking out two and walking none in stifling the visiting Highlanders 4-0.

On opening day at home against Jonathan Dayton, Ryan Jaros scored twice, Sebastian Morales had two hits and Dennis McCaffery drove in three runs in Cranford’s 7-5 UCC-crossover triumph against the defending Mountain Division champions.

Jaros was 2-for-3, with three runs and two RBIs in Cranford’s 11-7 win at Watchung Hills. Sean Riley was 2-for-4 with one run and McCaffery 1-for-5 with three RBIs.

Three Cranford seniors got the job done on the mound, with starter Benjamin Monahan allowing five runs on seven hits in six and one-third innings. He struck out six and walked one. Only two of the runs he gave up were earned.

Olear, who gave up the game’s final two runs, as Watchung Hills scored four times in the bottom of the seventh after Cranford scored four times in the top of the frame, got the second out of the seventh inning after throwing 29 pitches.

Matt Chapman came in to get the game’s final out, tossing only two pitches to do so. Chapman will continue playing baseball at the University of Scranton.

Cranford began the week a combined 49-8 since the start of the 2021 season, including 20-3 in 2021, 25-5 in 2022 and 4-0 so far in 2023.