CRANFORD, NJ – The top-seeded Cougars knew they were going to be in for a challenge when facing eighth-seeded David Brearley High School in one of the softball Union County Tournament quarterfinals on Monday, May 9.
The teams first clashed on Wednesday, April 20, in Kenilworth, with the visiting Cougars coming away with a hard-fought 2-0 triumph.
Cranford High School scored the first runs on Monday, May 9, in the bottom of the first, and, for quite some time, it appeared that the final score might be the same as the result on Wednesday, April 20.
That was until Cranford pushed across another unearned run in the bottom of the sixth. David Brearley’s only hit came on a home run belted over the left-field fence in the top of the seventh.
Seeking to strike out the side in the seventh, Cranford junior right-hander Avery Toddings shook off the home run she yielded and retired the game’s final batter on a ground ball hit back to her. Toddings settled for two strikeouts in the inning and finished with six for the game.
This time, Cranford came away with a 3-1 triumph to advance to the UCT semifinals at Kean University in Union, scheduled for Wednesday, May 11, after press time.
“We stuck it out together,” said first-year Cranford head coach Melissa Moreno, who was the catcher as a sophomore on Cranford’s 2010 UCT championship team.
Cranford led 2-0 after scoring twice in the bottom of the first. The score remained 2-0 until Cranford went ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth.
Cranford was to play fourth-seeded Union High School in the semifinals. Union advanced on Monday, May 9, by downing fifth-seeded Westfield High School for a third time this year, this time by a score of 8-2. The Farmers, who improved to 11-7 with their third straight win, also swept Westfield in Union County Conference–Watchung Division play.
As of Tuesday, May 10, Cranford and Union had met only once in UCC–Watchung Division action, with Cranford coming out on top, 9-1, at home on Monday, April 18.
The other quarterfinals saw second-seeded Elizabeth High School down seventh-seeded Arthur L. Johnson High School, 6-1, while sixth-seeded Jonathan Dayton was scheduled to play at third-seeded Governor Livingston High School on Tuesday, May 10, after the LocalSource print deadline. Elizabeth was to face the Jonathan Dayton–Governor Livingston winner in the other semifinal on Wednesday, May 11.
The UCT championship game is scheduled for Kean University on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m.
The only time Cranford has repeated as champions was when the Cougars won three crowns in a row, in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Union last won the UCT in 2009 and has captured the most titles with 11 championships.
Cranford improved to 16-5 on Monday, May 9, winning for the fourth straight time.
Senior center fielder Samantha Brunton drove in the game’s first run, and her RBI double in the bottom of the first also turned out to be the game-winning hit, giving Cranford the lead for good.
“We stayed aggressive up at bat and remained focused,” Moreno said.
Cranford caused some havoc on the bases to push across another run in the first and a big insurance run in the sixth.
Meanwhile, on the mound, Toddings was getting the job done by putting up zeros every inning until the seventh.
“Avery had her curve on today and her changeup was great,” Moreno said.
“From the first inning on, I was able to move the ball around with my curveball,” Toddings said. “I struggled a little later on. When that happens I just keep pushing myself.”
Getting to the UCT championship game on Friday, May 13, will not be easy for Cranford, as it was to face a formidable Union squad, also led by a first-year head coach, Shannon McMahon, in the semifinals on Wednesday, May 11, after press time.
Whichever teams advanced to the title contest on Friday, May 13, will surely have earned it.
46th annual softball
Union County Tournament seeds
• 1: Cranford.
• 2: Elizabeth.
• 3: Governor Livingston.
• 4: Union.
• 5: Westfield.
• 6: Jonathan Dayton.
• 7: Arthur L. Johnson.
• 8: David Brearley.
• 9: Scotch Plains–Fanwood.
• 10: Roselle Park.
• 11: Summit.
• 12: Union Catholic.
• 13: New Providence.
• 14: Rahway.
• 15: Roselle.
• 16: Oak Knoll.
• 17: Linden.
• 18: Kent Place.
• 19: Roselle Catholic.
• 20: Plainfield.
Tuesday, May 3
Rahway 20, Roselle Catholic 1, at Rahway
New Providence 21, Plainfield 0, at New Providence
Roselle 11, Kent Place 0, at Roselle
Wednesday, May 4
Oak Knoll 5, Linden 0, at Oak Knoll
Thursday, May 5
Cranford 8, Oak Knoll 0, at Cranford
David Brearley 8, Scotch Plains–Fanwood 0, at David Brearley
Union 10, New Providence 0, at Union
Westfield 11, Union Catholic 0, at Westfield
Elizabeth 18, Roselle 1, at Elizabeth
Arthur L. Johnson 8, Roselle Park 0, at Arthur L. Johnson
Governor Livingston 8, Rahway 2, at Governor Livingston
Jonathan Dayton 12, Summit 4, at Jonathan Dayton
Monday, May 9
Cranford 3, David Brearley 1, at Cranford
Union 8, Westfield 2, at Union
Elizabeth 6, Arthur L. Johnson 1, at Elizabeth
Tuesday, May 10
No. 6 Jonathan Dayton at No. 3 Governor Livingston
Semifinals at Kean:
Wednesday, May 11
No. 4 Union vs. No. 1 Cranford
No. 7 Arthur L. Johnson/No. 2 Elizabeth vs. No. 6 Jonathan Dayton/No. 3 Governor Livingston
Final at Kean:
Friday, May 13
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
Photos by JR Parachini