It’s Championship Friday! Five area teams vie for state sectional titles

One team seems like they’re there every year. Another has some of the deepest pitching in their league. A third has played the role of underdog to the hilt. And of the other two, one is guaranteed to go home a champion today.

Those are the story lines this Friday, as Middlesex, East Brunswick, Woodbridge, Immaculata and Gill St. Bernard’s all play for sectional titles in four separate championship games this afternoon.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will bring you one of those contests live, the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 title tilt between 3rd-seed Woodbridge and top-seed Hunterdon Central. Game time is at 3. Pregame begins at 2:30 from Flemington with Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas calling all the action. Click here to listen.

Scroll down for previews and more details on all four title games involving CJSR-area teams:

North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 Championship Game:

Details:
(3) Woodbridge (25-6) at
(1) Hunterdon Central (23-4)
3:00 pm Friday in Flemington, NJ
LISTEN LIVE

Starting Pitchers:
Woodbridge – Eddie Nunez (9-2, 1.98 ERA)
Hunterdon Central – Kyle McCoy (6-0, 0.00 ERA)

LISTEN TO THE HEAD COACHES:

Woodbridge head coach Mike Monaco
Hunterdon Central head coach Kevin Cuozzi

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Woodbridge:
1st Round: def. (14) Newark East Side, 12-2
Quarterfinals: def. (6) Westfield, 8-4
Semifinals: def. (2) Ridge, 5-4 (11 innings)

Hunterdon Central:
1st Round: def. (16) Phillipsburg, 14-0
Quarterfinals: def. (9) Elizabeth, 10-1
Semifinals: def. (4) Watchung Hills, 4-0

Key Stats:

Eddie Nunez can go nearly the distance Friday, having thrown 46 pitches against Ridge in relief in their 11-inning marathon Tuesday. That means he has 104 remaining, six shy of the 110 pitch limit for a single game. Matt Troche and Drew Lukachyk are also available, but Josh Vazquez – who started the Ridge game, is not.

Troche – at a respectable .239 – has the lowest average in the starting lineup, and only three starters are hitting below .300 heading into the final, which means there are no easy outs in the Barrons lineup.

Yes, you read that right about Kyle McCoy. The tall, lanky lefty has not allowed a single earned run all year, letting up just one inconsequential run up all year, that in the Red Devils’ opening round playoff game, a 16-1 victory over Elizabeth. He’s being talked about as an MLB Draft prospect, and head coach Kevin Cuozzi says they’ve eased him off the gas pedal a bit this year – something he can afford to do with a deep staff – to keep him McCoy fresh just for this time of year.

Championship History:

Woodbridge is seeking its first-ever state title, in only its fourth finals appearance since the advent of the playoffs in 1971. They were champs in 1935, 1938 and 1939, those last two coming under Nick Priscoe, who also was the football coach, and for whom the Barrons football stadium is named. His teams won double championships – in baseball and football – in ’38 and ’39, and he also won a state title on the gridiron in 1960.

In the playoffs, Woodbridge is oh-for-three in finals:

  • 1977: lost to Piscataway, 2-1, in the Central Jersey Group 4 final
  • 1987: lost to Hunterdon Central, 3-0, in the Central Jersey Group 4 final
  • 2017: lost to Millburn, 3-1, in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 final

Hunterdon Central last won a sectional title in 2018, when they went 28-2. They beat Manalpan 4-0 in the CJ 4 final, then went on to win the statewide Group 4 title, beating Westfield 7-0 in the championship game.

The also won the Central 4 title in 2017 (2-1 over Freehold) but lost to Millburn in the statewide Group 4 final, 10-5. In 2016, they beat South Brunswick 12-2 to win the CJ 4 title, then won the state Group 4 crown with a 4-2 win over Morristown. In 2013, they beat Brick Memorial in the CJ4 final, 2-1, but lost to Eastern in the Group 4 semis.

The Red Devils’ last sectional final loss came to Hillsborough in 2012, a 6-1 defeat. The Raiders that year went all the way to the Group 4 final, where they lost to Manalapan, 2-0, finishing 17-14.

More Red Devils: If Woodbridge is to win its first-ever sectional championship, they will have beaten the Red Devils in back-to-back games: Ridge in the semifinals, Hunterdon Central in the finals.

What’s Next? The winner of this game goes on to host the winner of North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4, based on the rotating host sites pre-determined by the NJSIAA. (Last year was the first year of that system, with Central and North 1 champions hosting. This year, South and North 2 champs host.) The North 2, Group 4 final is between 2-seed Passaic Tech (25-5) and 4-seed Livingston (20-8). That game is scheduled for 1:30 this afternoon at PCTI.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF WOODBRIDGE:

Central Jersey Group 4 Championship Game:

Details:
(9) East Brunswick (17-2) at
(2) Howell (22-6)
2:00 pm Friday in Howell, NJ

Starting Pitchers:
East Brunswick – Joe Ditzel (4-1, 0.84 ERA)
Howell – Nick Gomes (4-1, 2.76 ERA)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

East Brunswick:
1st Round: def. (8) Freehold Twp., 8-6
Quarterfinals: def. (1) Middletown South, 1-0
Semifinals: def. (5) North Brunswick, 4-2 (8 innings)

Howell:
1st Round: def. (15) Manalapan, 3-1
Quarterfinals: def. (7) Monroe, 5-4
Semifinals: def. (3) Jackson Memorial, 3-2

Key Stats:

East Brunswick has beaten all higher seeds to get to the final, including the top-seed, defending champ and heavy favorite Middletown South in the quarterfinals. And their win over 5th-seed North Brunswick was a revenge win for the Bears. They lost a regular season meeting in walk-off fashion on back-to-back home runs, and a 1-0 game in the GMC Tournament semifinals that took 12 innings.

The key pitching number to know is Ditzel’s sub-one earned run average. The Bears have allowed just eight runs in their first three state playoff games, including that shutout of Midd South. They’ve been playing solid baseball the last month or so

Championship History:

It’s been a while for both of these schools: East Brunswick has won only one sectional title, Central Jersey Group 4 in 1997. Howell hasn’t won since 1994. One very long streak will come to an end today.

What’s next? The winner here gets the South Jersey Group 4 winner. That game features 6th-seed Cherokee (21-7) at top-seed Kingsway (26-4), and is being played at noon today.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF EAST BRUNSWICK:

Central Jersey Group 1 Championship Game:

Details:
(1) Middlesex (23-5) vs.
(2) Point Pleasant Beach (19-9)
4:00 pm Friday at Mountainview Park in Middlesex, NJ

Starting Pitchers:
Middlesex – Stephen Young (4-1, 3.05 ERA) OR Aidan Kozak (4-1, 1.60 ERA)
Point Pleasant Beach – James Larsen (3-3, 4.62 ERA)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Middlesex:
1st Round: def. (16) Highland Park, 10-0 (5 innings)
Quarterfinals: def. (8) Riverside, 12-3 (6 innings)
Semifinals: def. (5) Shore, 11-1 (6 innings)

Point Pleasant Beach:
1st Round: def. (15) Henry Hudson, 10-0 (5 innings)
Quarterfinals: def. (7) Bound Brook, 4-0
Semifinals: def. (3) New Egypt, 9-1

Key Stats:

These teams have met in the Central Jersey Group 1 title game each of the last three playoff seasons, with Middlesex winning them all. Yes, they certainly have the Garnet Gulls’ number. The Jays beat them on a walk-off last year 2-1. They beat them in 2019, 6-1. And Middlesex shut them out 2-0 to win the CJ1 title in 2018.

For good measure, they also beat Point Beach in the 2017 Central 1 quarterfinals, making it four straight seasons they’ve ended Point’s year.

Championship History:

The numbers for Middlesex under Justin Nastasi indicate a dynasty. To wit:

  • 2021: GMC Blue Division Champions, Central 1 Champs, Group 1 State Champions
  • 2019: GMC Blue Division Champions, Central 1 Champs
  • 2018: GMC Blue Division Co-Champions, Central 1 Champs, Group 1 State Champions
  • 2017: Central 1 Champs, Group 1 State Champions
  • 2016: no titles
  • 2015: Central 1 Champs

It’s quite the remarkable run for the Blue Jays, who nearly moved up to Group 2 this year. Football and basketball did, but not baseball, owing to the different number of schools in each sport that field teams.

What’s next? The winner here gets the victor in the South Jersey Group 1 title game, featuring 9-seed Woodstown (16-9) at 6-seed Paulsboro (16-9). If it’s the Blue Jays and Woodstown, it would be a rematch of last year’s Group 1 semifinal at Middlesex, which they won 7-5 on a walk-off grand slam with two outs by Bobby Ulmer – you can read the recap and hear the game winning call below. Except this year, the game would be down at Woodstown, a mere 92 miles down the Turnpike, and South of the Mason-Dixon Line.

At today’s gas prices, assuming 30 miles per gallon, that’s about a $30 trip, plus another $11 in tolls round-trip.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF MIDDLESEX:

MIDDLESEX STATE TOURNAMENT COVERAGE FROM 2021:

Non-Public North B Championship Game:

Details:
(6) Gill St. Bernard’s (15-13) at
(5) Immaculata (13-12)
1:00 pm Friday at Diamond Nation in Flemington, NJ

Starting Pitchers:
Gill St. Bernard’s: Logan Mote (2-4, 4.16 ERA) OR Carter Nowak (4-3, 3.32 ERA)
Immaculata: Matt Warzeniak (3-2, 2.56 ERA)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Gill St. Bernard’s:
1st Round: def. (11) Mater Dei, 13-3 (5 innings)
Quarterfinals: def. (3) Montclair-Kimberley, 7-4
Semifinals: def. (2) St. Mary-Rutherford, 3-0

Immaculata:
1st Round: def. (12) Newark Academy, 10-0 (5 innings)
Quarterfinals: def. (4) Morristown-Beard, 9-6
Semifinals: def. (1) Rutgers Prep, 11-2

Key Stats:

One, two and three.

One, as in only one meeting ever between these two teams in the schools’ histories, at least so far as anyone remembers. And that meeting, ironically enough, came this year, when Gill beat the Spartans in the second round of the Somerset County Tournament, 4-2, also out at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Two, as in Gill St. Bernard’s – until the state tournament – had not won more than two games in a row all season.

Three, as in the Knights also haven’t lost more than three games in a row all season, and they only did that once, in late April/early May. Immaculata, meanwhile, has been slightly more up-and-down all year. The Spartans opened the season 0-3 – including a season-opening 15-4 loss to Somerville as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio – but then reeled off three straight wins to get back to .500 by mid-April. They had two more three-game skids throughout the year, and two more three-game winning streaks, including in the playoffs heading into today’s final.

Championship History:

The Spartans have had immense Somerset County Tournament success, winning a record 14 titles, all between 1991 and 2019, including an unprecedented run of six straight from 1997 to 2002, and four of the next five from 2004 to 2008.

But the state tournament is always tougher. Still, the Spartans have four to their credit, plus two group titles:

  • 2010: South A and Group A Non-Public Champs (beat St. Joseph-Metuchen in the Group A final)
  • 1997: North A Champs (lost to Bishop Eustace in the Group A final)
  • 1995: North B Champs and Group B Non-Public Champs (beat Gloucester Catholic in the Group B final)
  • 1985: North B Champs (lost to Gloucester Catholic in the Group B final)

For Gill St. Bernard’s, this will be their fourth trip to a sectional final in the last six seasons, still looking to bring home their first hardware. Previous finals appearances:

  • 2019: Lost at St. Mary-Rutherford 2-1 (North B)
  • 2018: Lost at DePaul 8-4 (North B)
  • 2016: Lost at Holy Cross 4-3 (South B)

What’s next? Since there are only two sections in each non-public group, unlike the four in the public ranks, the winner of this game goes right on to the Non-Public Group B final next Wednesday at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton. Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast the game, which should be either at 4 or 7 pm. Immaculata or Gill would get the winner of the South B title game, which is being played at 3:30 today, and features (2) Gloucester Catholic (21-9) at (1) Ranney (24-5) in Tinton Falls.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF IMMACULATA and GILL ST. BERNARD’S:

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