Masterful Byrne blanks Rutgers Prep, Ridge bats do the rest as Red Devils win 7th Somerset County crown

Ridge players celebrate with the 2022 Somerset County Tournament Championship Trophy on the field at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater on May 23, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Junior pitcher Connor Byrne remembers watching Ridge’s last trip to the Somerset County Tournament finals. He was in junior high, and sat down the right field at TD Bank Park, where his future Red Devil team lost 6-5 to Immaculata in a marathon, four-hour, 12-inning game.

One day, he wanted to be out on that field.

He’s now been on it twice, and come out a winner both times. Now, he’s a Somerset County Tournament Champion. And so are his Red Devil teammates.

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Top-seed Ridge won its seventh Somerset County Tournament Championship Monday night, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio, beating 6th-seed Rutgers Prep 6-0 behind an outstanding performance from Byrne on the mound.

He went the distance, allowing just four baserunners all night and two hits, striking out ten, and walking one.

Ridge’s Connor Byrne pitches in the top of the 4th of the Somerset County Tournament Championship Game at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater on May 23, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

It was a pitchers’ duel until the bottom of the fourth. In a scoreless game, Mike Olivo got on with a double, and moved to third on a fly ball to right by Matt Aber.

The first runner to reach third all night for either team, Julian Kielb hit a grounder to third that should have been the final out. But third baseman Max Treonze threw wild to first, allowing Ridge the only run it turns out they would need all night.

But that wasn’t all they’d get. George Busnach blooped one into left field to score Kielb from second, since he was running with two outs, and Luke Somelefske followed with a double to drive in Busnach, before Rutgers Prep starter Zach Fronio could strike out Andrew Shahwah to get out of the inning. All three runs were unearned.

Ridge would add insurance in the fifth. With one out, Brian Leitz was hit by a pitch in his right hip for the second time in the game. After Brendan Callanan struck out, Mike Olivo drove Leitz in from first with a double to make it 4-0. Olivo stole third – continuing the Red Devils’ aggressiveness on the basepaths, and Matt Aber drove him in with a double. A third double by Julian Kielb made it 6-0, giving him his second RBI on the night.

Ridge players watch from the dugout in the 2022 Somerset County Tournament Championship Game at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater on May 23, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

In the top of the seventh, Prep got two on with one out when Anthony Brigante walked and Evan Laub singled. But Byrne fanned the last two batters – strikeout victims Nos. 9 and 10 – to seal the deal.

Byrne improved to 9-1 on the season with the win, while Prep freshman starter Zach Fronio fell to 3-2.

Click below for postgame reaction from Ridge’s Somerset County Tournament win over Rutgers Prep:

Ridge junior pitcher Connor Byrne
Junior Connor Byrne holds the 2022 Somerset County Tournament Championship trophy. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell

Notes and Nuggets:

Seventh Heaven: Ridge is now 7-8 all-time in Somerset County Tournament finals. It was the Red Devils’ second straight appearance in the title game, since their 2019 appearance was the last event, which went on a two-year hiatus due to the 2020 season being cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year’s tournament wasn’t played due to the condensed season.

Ridge also won titles in 2011, 1989, 1985, 1984, 1980 and 1976.

Rutgers Prep falls to 1-1 in county title games. They won in their only other appearance in 2017.

Blackwell’s 3rd County Ring: Tom Blackwell was a DH in the 1989 title game, when Ridge beat Bridgewater-Raritan West 5-4 in the 1989 SCT final. Now, he’s got two as a coach: this year’s win, and the 2011 title win over Hillsborough, 4-3 in 8 innings.

Quick one: While Ridge’s 2011 loss was an over four-hour affair that saw 11 runs scored between the teams and went 12 innings, tonight’s game was over lickety-split. Starting at 7:06, the game ended at 8:36, a speedy 90-minute game. Who needs pitch clocks?

Nothing Extra: “I didn’t need that text this morning,” said Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell before the game. He was referring to how we joked with him to rest his pitchers, since the last three times Ridge has been to a final, they’ve gone to extra innings. Once they exploded for six runs by the end of the sixth inning, it was clear that wouldn’t be in the cards tonight.

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