UNION COUNTY, NJ — With only one loss against a county opponent, defending champion Cranford High School was considered the favorite to garner the top seed for the 46th annual softball Union County Tournament.
The UCT was to be seeded earlier this week, with first-round games scheduled for Thursday, May 5. The quarterfinals are set for this Saturday, May 7, and the semifinals, at Kean University, are on Wednesday, May 11.
The championship game will also be contested at Kean, on Friday, May 13.
46th annual UCT softball schedule:
• Thursday, May 5: first round.
• Saturday, May 7: quarterfinals.
• Wednesday, May 11: semifinals at Kean University.
• Friday, May 13: final at Kean University.
Cranford, behind the superb pitching of then-senior Morrigan Gardiner, captured the UCT title for the sixth time last year and for the first time since 2010.
The catcher on the 2010 team was sophomore Melissa Moreno, who is now in her first season as head coach of the Cougars.
Union High School has won the most titles with 11, Westfield High School is second with nine and Governor Livingston High School is third with seven.
As of Monday, May 2, Cranford had a record of 12-5 and was leading the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division standings at 6-1. Cranford’s only loss to a county opponent was its 12-6 Watchung Division setback at Governor Livingston on Friday, April 22. Cranford defeated Governor Livingston 13-2 at home in Watchung Division play on Monday, April 4.
Cranford’s other losses came to state powers Old Bridge High School, Immaculate Heart Academy, Nutley High School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
The Cougars have been led offensively by first baseman and sometimes pitcher Sophia DeMarco. The sophomore standout, as of Monday, May 2, led the team in hits with 29, home runs with five and RBIs with 23.
Fellow sophomore Madison DeLong, Cranford’s right fielder, led the team in runs scored with 16.
Junior pitcher Avery Toddings had 74 strikeouts in 62 innings.
Elizabeth High School, which, amazingly, has never won the UCT, was in line for the second seed. As of Monday, May 2, the Minutemen stood at 11-4 overall and in second place in the Watchung Division at 5-3.
Elizabeth had only three losses to county opponents, all to Watchung Division schools: two to Cranford and one to Arthur L. Johnson High School. Elizabeth’s other loss was to Shore Conference school Manasquan High School.
Elizabeth lost at home to Cranford, 9-3, on Monday, April 11, and then fell at Cranford, 12-3, on Thursday, April 28.
One of Elizabeth’s biggest wins was a 3-2 decision at home over Watchung Division rival Union on Thursday, April 21. Elizabeth won the game in extra innings, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Elizabeth also shut out Union, 6-0, at Union on Monday, April 4.
Guided by head coach Maggie Margadonna, the Minutemen are led offensively by sophomore Gabby Duran and senior Sabrina Ferreira. Duran led with 30 hits, 30 runs and one home run. Ferreira led with 18 RBIs.
Duran had 48 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched. Also on the mound at times for the Minutemen is sophomore Makayla Lecky.
Other high schools in line for high seeds include Westfield (9-7), Governor Livingston (8-5), Union (8-6) and Arthur L. Johnson (9-7).
Other UCC division leaders as of Monday included Jonathan Dayton High School, 7-5 overall, in the Mountain at 5-0; Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, 13-5, in the Valley at 6-0; and Linden High School, 6-6, in the Sky at 6-0.
Scotch Plains–Fanwood had only two losses to county opponents, falling to Watchung Division schools Cranford and Union. The other losses were to South Plainfield and last week to Bridgewater–Raritan Regional High School and West Milford Township High School.
Scotch Plains–Fanwood has won the UCT only once, in 1977, the second year of the event.
Games that were scheduled to be played on Monday, May 2, that might have had an impact on the seedings included Roselle Park High School at Summit High School, Barringer High School at Hillside High School, Roselle High School at Rahway High School, David Brearley High School at Jonathan Dayton, Scotch Plains–Fanwood at New Providence High School and Westfield at Cranford.
Cranford was the last team to win the UCT three years in a row, from 2006 to 2008. Union won it a record six straight times from 1991 to 1996. Westfield was the first team to win it three years in a row, from 1984 to 1986.
Cougars top Blue Devils for 13th win
On Monday, May 2, Cranford won its 13th game of the season, downing Westfield 7-2 in Watchung Division play at its Adams Avenue Field in Cranford.
That probably cemented the top UCT seed for Cranford.
The Cougars were once again led offensively by DeLong and DeMarco, who combined to drive in five of their team’s seven runs.