UNION, NJ — Once Cranford High School captured its first baseball Union County Tournament championship in 1999, the Cougars began to win the event quite often.
Lately, however, Cranford ran into a dry spell.
That was until Monday night.
Sparked by the pitching of senior Will Gallagher and an offensive attack lifted by the heavy-hitting performance of junior Ryan Jaros, the Cougars are back on top in Union County.
In the 68th annual baseball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Jim Hynes Baseball Stadium on Monday, May 23, top-seeded Cranford defeated 11th-seeded Jonathan Dayton High School, 12-2, in six innings.
It was the first title the Cougars won since 2015. Cranford played in the final for the first time since 2017.
Gallagher went the distance, tossing a five-hitter. He struck out nine, did not walk a batter and hit one.
Gallagher was perfect in four innings — the first, second, third and fifth — and struck out the side twice, doing so in the second and fifth. He retired the first 11 batters he faced.
“We deserved to win this,” Gallagher said. “We were the team to beat. Everyone was coming after us, and we always have a target on our back.”
Jaros, one of the best juniors in the state and Cranford’s fine-fielding third baseman, produced an RBI single to left in the first for the game-winning hit that put Cranford ahead for good at 1-0, banged out an opposite-field two-run triple to right-center in the fifth that increased Cranford’s lead to 6-1 and then in the sixth he smoked a single to center that drove in a run to make it 11-2.
Jaros then stole second and third and later came home on an errant pickoff attempt. When Jaros scored, the game ended on the 10-run mercy rule as Cranford immediately celebrated its first UCT title in seven years.
“This is just awesome,” said Jaros, who was denied playing as a freshman when the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We brought the trophy back where it belongs.”
Cranford has now won the second-most titles with 10, all under head coach Dennis McCaffery, who began his tenure in 1999, when Cranford won its first UCT title. The Cougars are 10-1 in the UCT championship game under McCaffery, losing only in 2017. Westfield has won the most titles with 15.
Shane Van Dam drove in Cranford’s second run when his long fly ball to deep center went off the glove of Tommy DeSarno, who almost made a fine over-the-shoulder catch. Cranford’s third run in the bottom of the first came as the result of a throwing error.
Dayton committed two errors in the first inning that contributed to two unearned runs and then did the same thing in the fifth inning, after starting pitcher Logan Solomine regrouped by pitching perfect second, third and fourth innings. Solomine retired 10 straight batters before Cranford’s leadoff batter in the fifth reached on an error.
In a six-run fifth, also belting a two-run hit for Cranford was its designated hitter, Jack Conley. The lefty bat went the other way, with his single to left driving in Cranford’s final two runs of the inning for a 9-1 Cougar lead.
Cranford leadoff batter Jake Carter drove in his team’s 10th run with an RBI single to left in the sixth that brought home Gallagher, who led off the inning with a single to left.
Justin Teixeira, Jonathan Dayton’s senior shortstop, was Jonathan Dayton’s first base runner after he singled to center off Gallagher with one out in the fourth. Freshman cleanup batter Frank Dasti then hit a single to left-center on an off-speed pitch that put runners on the corners. Senior first baseman and lefty-swinging Montrel Mayo-Smith followed with an RBI single to right, scoring Teixeira to pull the Bulldogs to within 3-1.
Jonathan Dayton still had some “Rocky” underdog mojo going on by trailing only 3-1, going into the bottom of the fifth. That ended when Cranford scored six times in the fifth and then three more times in the sixth, to end things.
Cranford first took out 17th-seeded Rahway High School, 10-0, at home in the first round and then got by ninth-seeded Summit, 4-2, at home in the quarterfinals. The Cougars then went back to being totally dominant by beating Westfield High School, 10-1, at Kean University in the semifinals on Saturday, May 21.
Jonathan Dayton did well to defeat three higher seeds to reach the final for the first time since 2015. The Bulldogs won at sixth-seeded Arthur L. Johnson High School, 8-3, in the first round and the team was victorious at third-seeded and defending champion Governor Livingston High School, 4-1, in the quarterfinals.
Jonathan Dayton then defeated second-seeded New Providence High School, 4-3, in the first UCT semifinal played at Kean University on Saturday, May 21. Dasti drove in the game-winning run with an RBI single to left in the seventh that scored Brady Rosenstock. Dasti then pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh to earn a save and send the Bulldogs to their first UCT final in 17 years.
Since 1999, no team has won more UCT titles than Cranford.
Cranford’s 10 UCT championship game victory scores:
• 2022: Cranford 12, Jonathan Dayton 2, at Kean University.
• 2015: Cranford 3, Governor Livingston 1, at Kean University.
• 2013: Cranford 8, Westfield 0, at Kean University.
• 2011: Cranford 14, Governor Livingston 1, at Kean University.
• 2010: Cranford 6, Westfield 5, at Elizabeth’s Williams Field.
• 2007: Cranford 7, Governor Livingston 1, at Linden’s Memorial Field.
• 2003: Cranford 7, Linden 4, at Linden’s Memorial Field.
• 2001: Cranford 11, Plainfield 1, at Linden’s Memorial Field.
• 2000: Cranford 10, Rahway 0, at Linden’s Memorial Field.
• 1999: Cranford 6, New Providence 5, at Linden’s Memorial Field.
Photos by JR Parachini