Believe it or not, there’s something the Cranford baseball program has not achieved yet.
That’s win back-to-back state championships.
The Cougars are now seven innings away from doing that for the first time.
Believe it or not, there’s something the Westfield baseball program has not achieved yet.
That’s win a state championship.
The Blue Devils are now seven innings away from doing that for the first time.
Cranford, guided by head coach Dennis McCaffery who in this his 15th season won his 300th game, has never repeated as state champs after winning Group 4 in 1971 and Group 3 the first two times in 1997 and 2010.
Westfield, guided by head coach Bob Brewster who in his 30th season last year won his 500th game, is not only seeking its first state championship, but is making only its second appearance in a group final in Toms River, seeking a first-ever state title win off exit 82.
Cranford has won more than 300 games under McCaffery since 1999 and Westfield more than 500 under Brewster since 1983.
Here they are, still winning.
These were the teams that met in this year’s Union County Tournament championship game.
Westfield is the only team to beat Cranford this year.
Cranford is the only team to beat Westfield twice this year.
For all of the reasons above, to say that Cranford and Westfield – both on seven-game winning streaks – are the gold standard in baseball in Union County would be an understatement.
Cranford (24-1) is back in the Group 3 final for the third time in four years and will be making the trip to Toms River to play in a state championship game for the fifth time since 2003.
The repeat North 2, Group 3 champions will take on South Jersey, Group 3 champ Burlington Township (16-7) Saturday at 11 a.m. at Toms River East.
Cranford’s only loss was to a team it defeated twice, once in a championship game and that team also won a sectional championship and will be making the trip to Toms River to play in a state championship game.
That team is Westfield, who seems to have the patent on winning state tournament games in its final at-bat, including two this year and seven in the past three.
Westfield, which captured North 2, Group 4 for the second time in three years after winning it only once under the present format in 1988, will face South Jersey, Group 4 champion Eastern (26-3) Saturday at 2 p.m. at Toms River North.
With rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, the games could be moved to Sunday. On Thursday, the NJSIAA came out with a statement that said a decision would be made by Friday whether to move the games up a day.
CRANFORD IN GROUP FINALS UNDER HEAD COACH DENNIS McCAFFERY,
all Group 3:
2000: Lost to Hamilton West 5-0 at East Brunswick Tech
2003: Lost to Toms River South 9-4 at Toms River North
2007: Lost to Seneca 5-2 at Toms River South
2010: Defeated Ocean City 15-3 at Toms River North
2012: Defeated Freehold Borough 4-1 at Toms River South
NOTES: Cranford won the very first Group 4 state championship game in 1971 when it defeated Ewing and captured Group 3 for the first time in 1997 when it beat Sayreville in the title game. McCaffery was an assistant coach and James Shriner the head coach in 1997.
WESTFIELD IN GROUP FINALS UNDER BOB BREWSTER,
2011: Lost to Manalapan 29-14 at Toms River South
NOTES: That’s the only state final Westfield has played in.
It’s rare that a team gets to Toms River without any losses, but Cranford almost pulled it off. The Cougars were 17-0 before they fell at Westfield 2-1 on May 14 in a Union County Conference-Watchung Division game.
Two days earlier – behind senior left hander Ryan Williamson – Cranford defeated Westfield 8-0 in the Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University.
Cranford won the UCT for the third time in four years. Westfield won its record 13th UCT championship last season.
Cranford also repeated this season as the Watchung Division champion, winning it for the third straight year after winning the UCC’s first Mountain Division title in 2010.
Williamson went the distance in beating Freehold Borough 4-1 in last year’s Group 3 final at Toms River South. He is 10-0 this year, 27-5 lifetime and on a 16-game winning streak. His last loss was his final decision his sophomore season.
Williamson has won all eight of his starts this season and his second win in relief came Tuesday when Cranford outlasted Paramus 12-7 in the Group 3 semifinal played at Elizabeth’s Williams Field. He has allowed only five runs, with just four of them earned, for an earned-run average under 1.00.
Of all the pitchers McCaffery has handed the ball to the last 14 years, the North Carolina State-bound Williamson might be the best.
The Cougars have also been sparked on the mound by senior right hander John Armstrong (7-0), junior righty Matt Ravitier (4-1) and senior righty George Georgeadis (2-0).
Cranford’s first five of its lineup is as solid as it gets with junior Tommy Trotter leading off, senior lefty bats Sean Feeney and Andrew DiFrancesco second and third, Rutgers-bound senior catcher Chris Folinusz cleanup and Williamson, another big lefty bat, fifth.
Folinusz was the Player of the Year in Union County last year and Williamson is the leading candidate to get that award this season.
In Friday’s 5-1 sectional championship home win over South Plainfield, big at-bats were produced by Alex Plick – a suicide squeeze bunt that drove in the winning run – and Ravitier, who was 2-for-3, with three RBI.
Burlington Township, seeking its first state title, used what was described as a “bunt-rotation play” to hold on for a 4-3 win over Northern Burlington in Tuesday’s other Group 3 semifinal played at Rider University. It was a play in which senior pitcher Ryan Bell bounced off the mound, fielded the ball and threw to third to get the lead runner.
The Falcons started 1-3 and had to play their first 13 games, counting scrimmages, on the road because their home field was under repair.
Head coach Jason Stec was quoted in Phil Anastasia’s story on philly.com, the website for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying, “it sounds weird, but this is a team of destiny.”
Westfield was still two games under .500 at 6-8 as late as April 26. The season could have gone either way until a UCT win against Roselle Catholic sparked a five-game winning streak.
The Blue Devils have now won 13 of their last 16 and for the second time in three years defeated a Morris County school in their Group 4 semifinal. Westfield defeated Morris Knolls 8-5 in eight innings in the 2011 Group 3 semi at Kean.
On Tuesday in the Group 4 semifinal at Ramapo College, Westfield defeated Randolph 3-2 in a game that saw it no-hit for the first five innings and down 2-0. The Blue Devils got their first hit and run in the sixth inning to pull to within 2-1.
In the bottom of the seventh, after Westfield tied the game, it was senior Eric Demers driving in Chris Arena with a double to end the game.
Westfield is 10-2 in state tournament games the past three seasons, winning seven of them in its final at-bat.
The Blue Devils are led on the mound by senior right hander Kevin Galasso (8-2) and junior lefty Brad DeMartino (4-4). Junior righty Michael Androconis is 5-1, while senior lefty Quinn Dursee has proved valuable in relief and has a record of 2-1.
Junior catcher Michael Ionta, who bats third in the lineup and is also solid defensively, leads the team in hits with 29 and is batting .341. Demers has 27 hits and is batting .290.
Eastern, which lost at home to Cherry Hill West 6-4 in Wednesday’s Camden County Tournament final, is led by the youngest brother of Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens – Tom Flacco.
Flacco (6-2, 180) is a junior third baseman and center fielder who is regarded as one of South Jersey’s premier underclassmen. He has all the tools and has been on fire at the plate in recent weeks.
Flacco had two doubles, a triple, two RBI and four runs in his team’s sectional final win.
He has a mythical 1.833 OPS during the post-season, which dropped after Tuesday. He did reach on an infield error.
Flacco leads the team in most offensive categories, including hits with 41, extra-base hits with 15 and stolen bases with 26.
He has 100 hits in three seasons, two at Eastern and one at Camden Catholic.
Here is Eastern’s probable lineup:
Nick Tierno, senior, second base, lefty batter, righty thrower
Ryan Delany, senior, center field, righty batter, lefty thrower
Tom Flacco, junior, third base, lefty batter, righty thrower
Steve Priolo, senior, pitcher, righty batter, righty thrower
Jake Quinn, junior, first base, righty batter, righty thrower
Alex Bussison, senior, right field, righty batter, righty thrower
Matt Marella, senior, designated hitter, righty batter, righty thrower
Billy Beasley, senior, catcher, righty batter, righty thrower
Mat Costa, senior, lefty, righty batter, righty thrower
Ben Hoffman, senior, left field, righty batter, righty thrower
NOTES: Tierno is also listed as a reserve catcher. He grew up as a shortstop. He has a good arm and will play at LaSalle.
Flacco played against Central with Priolo at third.
Priolo will continue playing at Marist. He won the sectional final over Shawnee as well as the first round game against Millville and the quarterfinal vs. Toms River North.
BULLDOGS CONCLUDE FIRST SECTIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON AT 20-5
Dayton, which captured its first sectional championship by winning North 2, Group 1, saw its season end at 20-5 Tuesday when it was defeated by Pompton Lakes 14-0 in the Group 1 semifinal played at William Paterson University in Wayne. The Bulldogs had a season-high 13-game winning streak snapped.
Dayton also repeated as Union County Conference-Mountain Division champions and won 20 games for a second straight season.
Under fourth-year head coach Mike Abbate, the Bulldogs are 71-29 (.710), including winning records of 14-12 in 2010, 17-7 in 2011, 20-4 in 2012 and 20-5 in 2013. Dayton captured the UCC’s Valley Division title in 2010 and has now won a division crown three of the last four years.