Ridge and Rutgers Prep: A look back at seven championships

Of the two participants in Monday night’s 2022 edition of the Somerset County Tournament – the first in three years – Ridge has won more titles than Rutgers Prep, but the Argonauts have won much more recently.

The Red Devils won in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1989 and 2011, but Rutgers Prep won it in 2017.

And along the way there have been some great stories, so we thought you might want to hear them

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RIDGE:

1976: Ridge 4, Watchung Hills 3 (10) – It was the last game of the year for the Red Devils, who’d already been eliminated from the state tournament, falling in the state Group 3 final to Lakewood. So this was it. Ridge jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the help of some Watchung Hills errors, but the Warriors got back into it with two in the fourth and one in the sixth to tie it. In the eighth, Lane Hobby slapped an 0-2 pitch down the left field line for a single. On a steal attempt, he was called out at second, but the umpire changed his call after he saw the ball had been dropped. Glenn Harris was intentionally walked, and with runners on first and second, Steve DeToro lined a shot back up the middle into center. Coach Pete Hall decided to send Hobby home, even though he told the media “the center fielder had the ball before Lane reached third base.” Figuring they might not get another chance to score – and it would still be tied if he were called out – he sent Hobby, who dove under the tag to win in walk-off fashion, before the term “walk-off” was fashionable. (This was 1976, after all.) Ridge finished what – at the time – was it’s longest baseball season ever: 25-6.

1980: Ridge 7, Franklin 1 – Less than 24 hours after losing to South Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group 2 title game, the Red Devils had to get back out there and put it all behind them, to try and end the season on a high note. The defeat at the hands of the Vikings – in which Ridge played uncharacteristically poor defense – was just their second of the year against 23 wins, and had left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. In fact, still “shell-shocked,” as writer John Belis put it in the Courier News, the Red Devils found themselves down 2-1 in the top of the fourth before the skies opened up. The game was called, wiped from the scorebook, and started anew five days later, which allowed the Red Devils some time to realize “this was our championship game now,” according to pitcher Brad Powell. And Powell – their star pitcher – by then had enough days’ rest he could start. As usual, he mowed just about everyone down, even retiring 14 straight at one point en route to a 7-1 victory, and a 24-2 finish to the season. Ridge also was the Mountain Valley Conference champion.

1984: Ridge 2, Immaculata 0 – Ridge got on the board with a two-run home run by Bob Saraceno in the top of the first inning, and the Red Devils took that 2-0 lead into the seventh with starter Dave Kern having not allowed a single hit to the Spartans. He and Immaculata’s Steve Jasinski were locked in an epic pitcher’s duel, that two-run homer notwithstanding. But the Spartans nearly took the lead in the top of the seventh. With one out, Pete Anderson reached on an infield error, and after another out, Angelo Parenti singled up the middle. Then, the unthinkable nearly happened: Andy Castin hit a high fly deep to left, but nearly at the wall, left fielder Dan Pace reeled it in for the last out. Ridge had the title, and denied Immaculata its first ever SCT championship, in just its second finals appearance ever. Ridge finished the year 20-4, winning its third title in eight seasons.

1985: Ridge 5, Immaculata 0 – The two would meet again in the 1985 SCT final, with Ridge trying to become just the second team in the event’s 13-year history to win back-to-back titles, after Watchung Hills did it in 1982 and 1983. This one would be a little more comfortable for Ridge, which saw left fielder Steve Alexander knock in all all five runs in the victory, on a three-run smash in the second inning, and a two-run crush in the fourth, in a game played in front of a standing room only crowd at Somerset County College in North Branch, two years before it would be renamed Raritan Valley Community College.

1989: Ridge 5, Bridgewater-Raritan West 4 – While Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell has been the Red Devils’ skipper in three Somerset County Tournament Championship games – winning it it in 2011 – he also won a title as a player, in 1989. And for a while, he had scored the go-ahead run, as he and Rich Swift scored on a triple into the gap in right field by Jason Hipsher to make it 5-3 Ridge over the Golden Falcons. In the top of the seventh, though, West made it interesting. Mike Winchock hit a screaming line drive to third that would have been extra bases, but Eric Schneideman leapt into the air to grab it for the out. Bob Collins then hit a double that would have driven him in and made it 5-4. Collins eventually came in to score on a single, and had Winchock reached, it would have been 5-5. But it wasn’t, and Ridge ended a two-game skid in the county final – having lost in 1987 and 1988 – and avenged the previous year’s 3-1 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan West in the process. But it also was the last in a stretch of 14 years in which the Red Devils had made eight Somerset County finals in 14 seasons, winning five of them. They would go 0-for-their-next-3 SCT title games – in 1995, 2000 and 2002, before Blackwell would return, taking over as head coach for the 2006 season.

2011: Ridge 4, Hillsborough 3 (8) Ridge was the eighth seed in the Somerset County Tournament in 2011, and rode senior right-handed pitcher J.B. Kole all the way to the county championship. With an 0-2 mark heading into the tournament, he was the winning pitcher in the opening round against Gill St. Bernard’s, in the quarterfinals against top-seed Immaculata, and in the semifinals against 4-seed Watchung Hills. Now, at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater, they faced third-seed Hillsborough, and fell behind early. But no matter; they had come back before. They erased a 3-0 deficit against the Warriors in the semis, and would have to do it again, allowing the Raiders two runs in the first and one more in the second. But he would keep his team in it as they chipped back. Ridge got a run in the fourth. Another in the sixth cut the lead in to 3-2. They tied it in the top of the seventh when Dan Volpacchio singled, moved to second on a balk, and came into score on Dan Curcio’s two-out single into right field, coming on a 3-2 pitch with two out. Then, Kole put his team ahead with one out in the eighth, driving in Greg Fazio, who’d reached on an infield error. All he had to do now was set Hillsborough aside in the eighth, and he did: 1-2-3 for a complete game, eight inning effort, scattering five Raider hits. The win put Ridge over the .500 mark at 11-10; they finished 15-13, going 3-1 in regular season play the rest of the way, and getting knocked out in the second round of the North 2 Group 4 playoff section by Hunterdon Central, 5-3, a team they’d beaten 3-2 in a regular season game just two days prior.

RUTGERS PREP:

2017: Rutgers Prep 7, Montgomery 2 – If you make a tournament final, of any kind, in any sport, you’re playing well. Call it luck, call it skill, you’re playing well. And many had discounted 10-seed Rutgers Prep five years ago, but nobody in an Argonaut uniform believed it. After all, they had beaten 2nd-seed Watchung Hills in the quarterfinals, 2-1 in 11 innings. Then they exploded against 3-seed Bridgewater-Raritan for a 12-2 semifinal win. But to all outside observers, no one imagined they’d beat top-seeded defending champion Montgomery. And yet, they did. Starter Sam Beck had the Cougar hitters off balance all night. The defense was crisp. And the bats came out to play. All that led to the first county title in program history. Beck threw 6 and 1/3 innings, alloweing just two runs on four hits, walking one and striking out six. The win also was career victory number 250 for head coach Larry Santowasso, who this year eclipsed the 300 mark, and now sits at 311 and counting heading into the 2022 SCT final, in this, his 26th season.

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