Cranford wins third straight softball UCT title

The members of the top-seeded and state-ranked Cranford High School softball team hold their index fingers up symbolizing they are No. 1 after defeating third-seeded Governor Livingston High School 2-1 in the 47th annual softball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Cougar Field in Union on Friday night, May 19.

UNION, NJ — Sometimes it’s not as difficult to win when you’re the team everyone is looking to beat.

Sometimes the pressure of being considered the best team and earning the No. 1 seed in a tournament is too much for teams to go on and win when expected.

But that was not the case for the Cranford Cougars concerning the softball Union County Tournament. Two-time defending champion Cranford High School was the No. 1 seed. The Cougars were expected to win.

They did.

Was it easy?

No, but when all was said and done, they still went on to hoist the trophy once again.

Behind a stellar pitching performance by senior right-hander Avery Toddings, a game-tying home run by junior first baseman Sophia DeMarco and a game-winning RBI-single by senior catcher Sabrina Prata, top-seeded and state-ranked Cranford came back in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat third-seeded Governor Livingston High School 2-1 in the 47th annual softball Union County Tournament championship game contested at Kean University’s Cougar Field in Union on Friday night, May 19.

It was the fourth time Cranford defeated Governor Livingston in the final. The first three times were in 2006, 2010 and 2021.

Cranford, which improved to 21-4 after winning its fifth straight, captured the UCT title for the third year in a row. This is the second time in program history the Cougars have done so. The first time was when Cranford won the championship in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The 2009 Cougars, who were Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional state champions and reached the Group 3 state championship game against Pequannock Township High School at Toms River North, were denied a fourth consecutive UCT title by Linden High School, with the Tigers beating Cranford at Linden in the semifinals.

Cranford came back in 2010 to win the UCT for the fourth time in five seasons, with a key player being freshman catcher Melissa Moreno.

Now in her second season as the head coach, Moreno has guided Cranford to its last two UCT titles — last year and this year. Cranford’s three straight UCT titles in 2021, 2022 and 2023 are the program’s first since that 2010 season.

Christine Pemoulie guided Cranford to its 2021 championship. She was also the winning pitcher in 2002 for the Cougars when Cranford won its first UCT crown with head coach Terry Biunno.

Cranford has now won the UCT eight times – third best behind Union High School with 11 and Westfield High School with nine. Governor Livingston is fourth with seven titles.

Cranford and Governor Livingston split Union County Conference-Watchung Division games, with a 7-5 loss at home at Adams Avenue Field to Governor Livingston on Wednesday, May 10, being Cranford’s only setback to a Union County opponent.

Cranford also captured another Watchung Division title, winning the six-team division with a 9-1 record.

Governor Livingston had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 17-6. The Highlanders were seeking their first UCT title since 2017.

The UCT final on Friday night, May 19, was a true pitchers’ duel, with Governor Livingston senior Katie DeBello matching Toddings zero for zero after Governor Livingston managed to score a run off Toddings in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by senior catcher Elise Faxon.

Cranford had a base runner thrown out at home plate in the bottom of the first in its initial attempt to tie the game. It would take five more innings for the Cougars to do so.

With one out and nobody on in the bottom of the sixth, DeMarco delivered, blasting a home run over the fence in right-center. Just five outs shy of losing, DeMarco came through in the clutch, after popping up her first two times up against DeBello, to tie the game at 1-1.

Earlier this season in a victory against Elizabeth, DeMarco became Cranford’s first player to amass 100 career hits and 100 career RBIs.

Cranford was not done in the sixth against DeBello. Maddy DeLong and Giulia Olear followed with singles to put runners on first and second. Then Prata hit a blast that reached the top of the center field wall, as DeLong came around to score what would be the winning run.

Toddings then put up her sixth consecutive zero in the top of the seventh and it was time for the Cougars to start celebrating again.

Toddings tossed a four-hitter, allowing only one earned run while striking out 11 and walking none. Toddings retired the side in order in the seventh on two strikeouts and a fly out. She retired the final 14 batters she faced.

DeBello allowed five hits in six innings and gave up just one earned run. She struck out one and did not walk a batter.

DeLong and Governor Livingston sophomore Chelsea Kiesewetter were the only batters to produce two hits, both going 2-for-3 with two singles.

Cranford Cougar UCT Softball Championships

2023: Cranford 2, Governor Livingston 1 – at Kean
WP: Avery Toddings. Head coach: Melissa Moreno.

2022: Cranford 9, Elizabeth 0 – at Kean
WP: Avery Toddings. Head coach: Melissa Moreno.

2021: Cranford 5, Governor Livingston 1 – at Linden
WP: Morrigan Gardiner. Head coach: Christine Pemoulie.

2010: Cranford 4, Governor Livingston 3 – at Kean
WP: Kelly Hardman. Head coach: Bob Bruno.

2008: Cranford 2, Union 0 – at Linden
WP: Kelly Hardman. Head coach: Bob Bruno.

2007: Cranford 13, Linden 0 – at Linden
WP: Kelly Hardman. Head coach: Bob Bruno.

2006: Cranford 1, Governor Livingston 0 – at Linden
WP: Elena Morge. Head coach: Shannon Norton.

2002: Cranford 3, Union 0 – at Linden
WP: Christine Pemoulie. Head coach: Terry Biunno.

Photo Courtesy of Cranford Softball Team