Cranford softball starts 8-0, outscores opponents 70-5

Cranford High School softball senior first baseman Giulia Olear is batting more than .400. Olear will play softball in college at Rutgers-Newark.

CRANFORD, NJ — The first two weeks of the season were near perfect for Cranford High School softball.

A Union County-best 8-0 start, that includes a leading 3-0 record in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division, saw the Cougars outscore their first eight opponents by an impressive 70-5 margin.

Cranford allowed runs in just four of those games, posting four consecutive shutouts from games three to six. Senior right-hander Avery Toddings, the architect of those shutouts, began the week with an earned-run average less than 1.00.

“In the beginning of the season, we talked about one game at a time and to really focus on what to do,” second-year Cranford head coach Melissa Moreno said. “Avery has just been shutting it down. Sophia DeMarco also shut it down for us against (Jonathan) Dayton.”

Leading the way offensively were junior first baseman-pitcher Sophia DeMarco, with a team-best .519 batting average, and senior third baseman Giulia Olear, next at .423.

“Cranford is known for its hitting and we’re just doing well now,” Moreno said. “The kids are seeing the ball and being aggressive. On defense, they’re making the plays and covering the gaps in the outfield quickly. I’m really happy with everyone’s performance.”

Toddings, before the scheduled Watchung Division game at 5-1 Governor Livingston High School on Tuesday, April 18, had an ERA of 0.50, with 55 strikeouts, just eight walks and only three earned runs allowed in 42 innings.

Cranford goals include a third straight Union County Tournament title for the second time in program history and another North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 championship. The Cougars came up a bit short last year, after last winning the section two years ago.

Cranford’s ultimate goal is the program’s first overall group state championship. The Cougars reached the Group 2 state championship game in 2009, falling to Pequannock Township High School at Toms River North, and then appeared in the Group 3 final in 2021, falling to Colts Neck High School at Kean University.

Although a state championship was not on the line, Cranford produced a huge 2-1 win in 11 innings against host Immaculate Heart Academy on Sunday, April 16, in the annual Anthony LaRezza Invitational. The late LaRezza was at one time a highly successful softball coach at IHA in Bergen County.

IHA entered with a state ranking of No. 4 and Cranford No. 17.
IHA, which fell to 6-2, scored its only run in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead. Cranford tied the game in the top of the fourth and then the Cougars scored the game’s final run in the top of the 11th and did not allow IHA to answer in the bottom of the 11th, finishing the game with 10 consecutive scoreless innings.

With the extra-inning international tiebreaker rule in effect, Cranford began the top of the 11th with a runner on second – junior Maddy DeLong. DeMarco was then walked intentionally.

That brought up Olear, who placed a bunt well enough to move the runners to second and third. Sabrina Prata was then intentionally walked to load the bases, enabling IHA the opportunity to get a force at any base and seeking one at home plate.

Emma Grace didn’t hit a ground ball, though. She lifted a shot to left field that was able to bring DeLong in from third on a sacrifice fly RBI. For the first time, Cranford had the lead at 2-1.

IHA had a runner on third with one out against Toddings, who pitched the distance. On a bunt back to Toddings, she was able to get the ball to Prata at home plate, with Prata making the tag for the inning’s second out. The next batter flew out to DeLong in center and, all of a sudden, Cranford found itself victorious against one of the best programs in the state.

“Avery did absolutely amazing,” Moreno said. “I’m speechless, she did so well. She had movement on her pitches. She fought and did really well. We’re really proud of her.”

Toddings struck out 12, walked four and gave up only one earned run on just five hits in a masterful 11-inning effort.

IHA used two pitchers. Starter Arianna Barrett allowed one earned run on six hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking one. Natalie Bonsignore yielded one earned run on no hits. She did not strike out any batters and issued three walks, two of them intentional.

“Their first pitcher did well and got us out with a few changeups,” Moreno said. “Their second pitcher shut us down even more.”

In the 8-0 home win against Watchung Division foe Elizabeth at Adams Avenue Field on Thursday, April 13, DeMarco reached career totals of 100 hits and 100 RBIs. She is believed to be the first Cranford softball player to achieve that feat.

DeMarco, who is already committed to playing softball at Seton Hall University after graduation next year, began the week with a team-leading 14 hits in 27 at-bats. The three-year varsity starter also led the team in runs with 11, RBIs with 12 and home runs with three.

“She has the most confidence up there at the plate,” Moreno said. “With two strikes on her, she’s going to fight. She rarely strikes out and hits the ball to all fields. She’s very smart at the plate, aggressive and doesn’t let strikes go by.”

Olear was described as a similar offensive threat and can also pick it at third base. She will continue playing in college at Rutgers-Newark.

Moreno also praised Prata’s play behind the plate and her hitting as well and said that DeLong and senior Madi Jones are off to fast starts.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Moreno