Somerset County Tournament Semifinals return to TD Bank Park Monday night

TD Bank Park in Bridgewater plays host Monday night to the Somerset County Tournament Semifinals.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortened 2021 season, the first Somerset County Tournament for baseball since 2019 returns to TD Bank Park in Bridgewater Monday, with a pair of semifinal games on tape.

Ridge, Somerville, Bridgewater-Raritan and Rutgers Prep will all be vying for a spot in the finals, two weeks later on Monday, May 23rd.

All games can be heard live on Central Jersey Sports Radio by clicking here.

Somerset County Tournament Semifinals
4 pm: (2) Somerville vs. (6) Rutgers Prep
7 pm: (1) Ridge vs. (4) Bridgewater-Raritan

One thing is for sure, there will be a new champion, after Immaculata won the last two SCTs, in 2018 and 2019. In fact, the last three champions have all won back-to-back, Hillsborough in 2014 and 2015, followed by Rutgers Prep in 2016 and 2017, and then the Spartans.

Here’s a breakdown of both Monday’s semifinals:

(2) SOMERVILLE (10-7, 8-3 in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division, 3rd place) vs.
(6) RUTGERS PREP (12-2, 8-1 in the Skyland Conference Valley Division, 1st place)
First pitch weather: 65 degrees, mostly sunny, wind NE 12 mph (left field to right)

Starting Pitchers:
Somerville – Kolbie Stellpflug (3-1, 3.59 ERA)
Rutgers Prep – Zach Fronio (2-0, 1.02 ERA)

How they got here:

The Pioneers had a bye to the quarterfinals, and beat 7-seed Pingry 9-8 in their first game in the SCT. They nearly didn’t make it, though. Somerville led the Big Blue – playing its fourth game in as many days – 7-0 after two, but Pingry tied the game in the top of the 7th at 8-8. It took a three-base error on Pingry and a walk-off single by Tyler Stone to put The ‘Ville into the semifinals. For a top pitcher on the team, Kolbie Stellpflug is not a strikeout pitcher; he’s walked as many as he’s fanned this season, but he can get the job done.

Somerville starter Kolbie Stellpflug delivers to the plate in the fourth inning against Bridgewater-Raritan on April 21, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Rutgers Prep had an opening round bye, and beat 11-seed Bernards in the second round 5-3 on April 23. They then knocked off third-seed Montgomery 8-3 on the road in the semifinals, avenging an earlier road loss to the Cougars, 9-1, on the second day of the season. Zach Fronio is just a freshman, but has fit nicely in with the starters on the pitching staff, and veteran head coach Larry Santowasso – who recently won his 300th game – trusts him with the ball in a big spot here.

Notes:

Rutgers Prep and Somerville used to be in the same division, and played each other frequently, but after the 2020 season was cancelled and a shorter-than-ususal year last year, these teams haven’t played each other since 2018.

Throw out the record on this one, with Somerville playing in the Skyland’s top division, the Delaware. They have losses to Ridge – the top seed in the tournament – as well as Hunterdon Central, which was back in the statewide rankings last week, after beginning the season in the top five. The Pioneers have won four of their last six, and haven’t put together more than three wins in a row this season, with out-of-conference losses to Robbinsville, North Brunswick, Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the Autism Awareness Challenge, and Delran in the Thank You Classic. They also lost their last game, 11-5 to Hillsborough back on Thursday.

Rutgers Prep on the field after a 15-6 win over Bernards on April 16, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Rutgers Prep, meanwhile, has had a long layoff, thanks in part to a rain-out Saturday morning against Pingry. But the six days off also means the pitching staff is fresh, and ready to go. The Argonauts have won seven in a row since a 3-2 loss to Voorhees up in Glen Gardner on April 20th. They’ve scored eight or more runs five times in that span, and ten or more three times. They lead Voorhees by a half game in the Valley Division standings.

Last titles, finals appearances:

Somerville last won the Somerset County Tournament in 1995 – it’s last trip to the finals – and has won four titles overall in the event, which began in 1973. They also won in 1992, 1987, and in the SCT’s second year, in 1974. The Pioneers are seeking their sixth finals berth.

Rutgers Prep has only been to the finals twice, but won it both times, taking back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Past Coverage:

Somerville:

Rutgers Prep:

(1) RIDGE (14-2, 9-2 in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division, tied for 1st) vs.
(4) BRIDGEWATER-RARITAN (9-8, 6-5 in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division, tied for 4th)
First pitch weather: 61 degrees, sunny, wind NE 11 mph (left field to right)

Starting Pitchers:
Ridge – Connor Byrne (7-1, 1.83 ERA)
Bridgewater-Raritan – Jason Cozzi (1-2, 4.71 ERA)

How they got here:

Both Ridge and Bridgewater – as top four seeds – had byes right to the quarterfinals of the SCT, and have only played one game each.

The Red Devils were 13-3 winners over 9-seed Gill St. Bernard’s on April 30th. Though the Knights took a 1-0 lead in that game in the top of the first, Ridge answered back with six in the bottom of the inning, and led 11-1 after three, with eight batters driving in at least one run each in the game. The Red Devils can score runs in bunches; it’s a big reason they’re the top seed in this tournament. Byrne has been solid all year long, and can go long, throwing 100 pitches twice this season, and topping 90 two more times.

Ridge pitcher Andrew Shawah delivers to Pingry in a game on April 29, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Bridgewater-Raritan topped 5-seed Watchung Hills in the quarters, 5-3, scoring five unanswered for the win, coming back from a 3-0 deficit. The win was the fourth in five games for the Panthers, who then beat Phillipsburg in a regular season home game 7-1 to make it five of six, before a 6-4 loss to North Hunterdon back on Thursday.

Notes:

Ridge beat Bridgewater-Raritan in their only other meeting this year, 10-2 on April 18th. It was a game suspended due to rain and lightning and finished two days later, and neither coach believes it’s indicative of how this one will go. (It was also the Panthers’ biggest losing margin of the season, as six of their eight losses have come by three runs or less.) The two will meet again on May 17th in Basking Ridge.

The Red Devils’ 12-game winning streak is their best in quite some time. They won eight in a row to close out April in 2014, a year they made the North 2 Group 4 semifinals. By the end of that streak, they had won 13 of 14, with the only loss coming to Warren Hills, and then won six straight after that until a 4-3 loss to Hillsborough in the Somerset County Tournament Finals. That team finished 22-6, but this year’s squad could give that record a run for its money.

Last titles, finals appearances:

Ridge last won the SCT in 2011, but made its most recent appearance in the title game in the last one played, losing 6-5 to Immaculata in the 2019 final. The Red Devils are third in Somerset County in trips to the finals, with 14, winning six titles, their most recent coming in 2011, when they beat Hillsborough 4-3. They also won titles in 1989, 1985, 1984, 1980 and 1976.

Bridgewater-Raritan last made it to the finals in 2012, losing to Hillsborough 4-3. The Panthers’ only title since the merger came in 1996, but Bridgewater-Raritan East won the title four times – in 1990, 1978, 1978, and he very first year, 1974. West won it once, in 1998. The current B-R has made the finals four times; the other appearances were in 1998 and 1997, the latter of which began a strecth of seven straight SCT crowns for Immaculata, and 11 in 13 seasons from 1997 to 2008.

Past Coverage:

Ridge:

Bridgewater-Raritan:

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