UNION, NJ – First senior right-hander Sean Woodruff put up seven zeros to keep the game scoreless going into the bottom of the seventh.
Then junior Sean Riley led off the bottom of the seventh with a single.
Two batters later, freshman Brayden Fry turned out to be the hero for Cranford High School.
Here’s how it unfolded:
Fry began playing baseball — catch with his dad, Greg — in his backyard at age four.
Did he always dream, even back then, of getting the game-winning hit?
“I sure did,” said Fry, Cranford’s second baseman.
On Monday night, May 15, at Kean University, the freshman’s dream came true, 10 years after he began learning the game he loves.
With pinch-runner Matt Chapman on first base and one out in the bottom of the seventh, 14-year-old Fry delivered the biggest hit of the game. His shot to the left-center gap on the first pitch of the at-bat thrown by Governor Livingston senior right-hander and starter John Schmidt was good enough for Chapman to race around the bases and slide head first across home plate for the game’s only run.
Fry, who will turn 15 on Friday, Aug. 11, produced only the fifth Cranford hit and his team’s only extra-base hit as the top-seeded Cougars defeated second-seeded Governor Livingston in walk-off fashion by the score of 1-0 in the 69th annual baseball Union County Tournament championship game, played at Kean University’s Class of 1963 field.
Cranford, which is now 21-0 for the first time with head coach Dennis McCaffery, captured its 11th UCT title with the mentor who has guided the Cougars since 1999. McCaffery tied former Westfield High School head coach Bob Brewster for most UCT titles won at 11.
Westfield still has the most titles with 15, but Cranford is closing in now with 11.
Cranford became the first repeat champion since the Cougars did so by beating Westfield in 2010 and Governor Livingston in 2011. Cranford is now 4-0 vs. Governor Livingston in the finals, the other wins coming in 2007 at Linden and 2011 and 2015 also at Kean.
Governor Livingston had won its last three UCT championship game appearances for all three of its UCT crowns, those wins coming in 2016 against Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and 2018 and 2021 vs. Westfield.
Cranford’s only loss 10 years ago was to Westfield in Watchung Division play, when the Cougars went 25-1 in 2013. Cranford’s only loss in a UCT final with McCaffery came to Westfield in 2017.
McCaffery’s record now in the UCT final is 11-1.
Fry, very humble in victory, was just glad to be a part of it.
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Fry said.
In his previous at-bat in the bottom of the fifth off Schmidt, Fry hit a decent fly ball out the other way to right field.
“I was looking for first-pitch fastball and got a good swing on it and hit it hard,” Fry said of his game-winning at-bat. “It’s just an awesome feeling to be able to do something there. I’m happy for the older guys.”
The last time Cranford began 20-0 was in 1998, when it lost the UCT final to Summit High School 5-4. That was the third and final season James Shriner was the head coach, with McCaffery one of his assistants. It was the first time Cranford was in the final in 20 years, since losing to Westfield in the 1978 championship game 3-2.
Cranford would go on to win the UCT for the first time in 1999 during McCaffery’s first year as head coach. The Cougars won again in 2000 and 2001 and have now won 11 of the last 24 UCTs, all of them with McCaffery, who now has 493 victories.
Cranford’s other UCT crowns came in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2022 and now 2023.
Both pitchers were outstanding. Cranford senior right-hander Sean Woodruff tossed a four-hit shutout, yielding only three singles and a double. He struck out three, walked one and hit two batters. Woodruff, now 6-0, threw four perfect innings.
“My changeup, for sure, was working best for me,” Woodruff said. “I wanted to hit my spots and keep them off balance with my fastball.”
Schmidt, coming back from an early season injury, also threw a fine game. He hurled a five-hitter, giving up four singles and the double to Fry. Schmidt, in six and one-third innings, struck out six and walked five. He entered with a 3-0 record and was making his fourth start.
Governor Livingston, which is now 16-5, had won 14 of its previous 15 after a 2-3 start.
“Woodruff was very good and I thought our guy (Schmidt) was amazing,” said Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof, who has guided the Highlanders to all three of their UCT titles and to eight championship game appearances during a tenure at Governor Livingston that began in 2004. Roof is also well beyond 400 wins.
“It was a great game,” Roof said. “Everyone got their money’s worth.”
With a runner on second and two outs, Woodruff struck out the next Governor Livingston batter for his third and final strikeout to close the top of the seventh.
Sean Riley, Cranford’s No. 6 batter in the lineup, led off the bottom of the seventh against Schmidt. With the count 2-2, Riley stuck out his bat and poked an opposite field single through the hole between the second baseman and first baseman on the 100th pitch Schmidt fired.
On the next pitch, designated hitter Ryan Carracino also hit a ball to the right side, with Governor Livingston executing a 4-6 fielder’s choice that was close to being a double play.
McCaffery then inserted senior Matt Chapman to run for Carracino. Chapman was thrown out stealing in the fourth, after he went into pinch run.
As a matter of fact, Governor Livingston freshman catcher Michael Basile not only threw out Chapman, but also picked off two other Cranford baserunners.
“Just an outstanding job by a 15-year-old,” Roof said.
There would be no stolen base attempt by Chapman this time. As Fry’s hit traveled deep into the outfield in left-center, Chapman rounded second and then, with everyone in a Cranford uniform waving him home, rounded third to score the game’s only run.
“Brayden put a great swing on the ball and it feels good, especially to win with this group and this senior class,” Chapman said.
“I’ve seen him since he was in sixth grade,” McCaffery said. “Brayden got a pitch he liked and put a good swing on it.”
This was the fourth 1-0 game in UCT finals history. The last was in 1976, when Scotch Plains beat Cranford. The first two were in 1972, when Summit stopped Union High School, and in 1973, when Union blanked Arthur L. Johnson High School.
Governor Livingston’s best opportunity against Woodruff came in the sixth, with No. 9 batter Basile smoking a hard-hit single up the middle to lead off the inning. Leadoff and lefty-swinging batter George Provel then delivered a single to right.
With the lead runner rounding second and heading for third on Provel’s hit, right fielder Riley made a perfect throw to Ryan Jaros at third, who applied the tag. Instead of first and third and nobody out, Governor Livingston had to settle for a man on second and one out.
“If he (Riley) doesn’t make that play we lose, game over,” McCaffery said. “That was huge.”
Governor Livingston managed to load the bases with two outs after Anthony DeNora was hit by a pitch and then pitcher John Schmidt was walked on a nine-pitch at-bat. It was the only walk Woodruff issued. Woodruff came back to produce his second strikeout to end the threat.
With runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Schmidt struck out the inning’s final batter, his sixth and final strikeout, to keep the game scoreless.
Governor Livingston’s lone extra-base hit was produced by Jonathan Schmidt, Governor Livingston’s first baseman, in the seventh with one out. He was stranded at second, as Woodruff got the next two batters on a ground out to third and a strikeout.
69th annual baseball Union County Tournament
championship game at Kean University in Union
2-Governor Livingston (16-5) 000 000 0 – 040
1-Cranford (21-0) 000 000 1 – 150
WP: Sean Woodruff. LP: John Schmidt.
Singles: Governor Livingston – Zach Geertsma, Michael Basile, George Provel. Cranford – Ryan Jaros, Jake Carter, Shea Grady, Sean Riley.
Doubles: Governor Livingston – Jonathan Schmidt. Cranford – Brayden Fry.
2-Governor Livingston Highlanders
5-George Provel, RF
2-Matt Shaffer, 2B
42-Anthony DeNora, LF
13-John Schmidt, P
33-Zach Geertsma, SS
8-Matty Diskin, DH
27-Jonathan Schmidt, 1B
12-Jason Habedank, 3B
17-Michael Basile, C
14-J.P. Murphy CF (did not bat)
2-Jake Carter, C
15-Ryan Jaros, 3B
5-Shea Grady, SS
14-Dennis McCaffery, LF
28-Sebastian Morales, C
8-Sean Riley, RF
21-Ryan Carracino, DH
7-Brayden Fry, 2B
11-Ben Monahan, 1B
44-Sean Woodruff, P (did not bat)
Photos by JR Parachini