Author: Mike Pavlichko

NJSIAA Baseball brackets are out: 39 area teams qualify, Middlesex and Rutgers Prep get top seeds, Argos and St. Joseph-Metuchen earn first-round bye

The NJSIAA has released its state tournament brackets for 2022, and 39 teams from the Central Jersey Sports Radio coverage area – in Middlesex and Somerset Counties – have qualified for the state playoffs.

Two teams earned top seeds in the respective sections, including four-time defending Central Jersey Group 1 champion Middlesex in that section, and Rutgers Prep in Non-Public North B.

The Argonauts received a first-round bye, as did St. Joseph of Metuchen, which earned a two-seed behind St. Augustine – the No. 1 team in the latest statewide rankings out today – in Non-Public South A. The Falcons are ranked No. 4.

There will also be five all-local matchups, highlighted by North Brunswick vs. South Brunswick in Central Jersey Group 4, a rematch of last year’s GMC Tournament semifinals. Metuchen and Bernards will open against each other in Central 2, Middlesex and Highland Park will square off in CJ1, Piscataway and Watchung Hills will face each other in North 2, Group 4, as will JP Stevens and Bridgeater-Raritan.

Following are all the first round matchups involving area teams. Dates and times will be set by the host schools, which are the higher seeds:

Central Jersey Group 4:
(9) East Brunswick at (8) Freehold Township
(12) South Brunswick at (5) North Brunswick
(13) Montgomery at (4) Northern Burlington
(11) Rancocas Valley at (6) Old Bridge
(10) Marlboro at (7) Monroe

North 2, Group 4:
(9) Elizabeth at (8) Franklin
(13) Piscataway at (4) Watchung Hills
(14) Newark East Side at (3) Woodbridge
(10) JP Stevens at (7) Bridgewater-Raritan
(15) Plainfield at (2) Ridge

Central Jersey Group 3:
(11) Red Bank Regional at (6) Somerville
(15) JFK at (2) Brick Memorial

North 2, Group 3:
(12) South Plainfield at (5) Randolph
(10) Cliffside Park at (7) Colonia
(15) North Plainfield at (2) Ferris

Central Jersey Group 2:
(16) Carteret at (1) Rumson-Fair Haven
(12) Nottingham at (5) South River
(11) Manasquan at (6) Spotswood
(10) Bernards at (7) Metuchen
(15) East Brunswick Tech at (3) Wall

Central Jersey Group 1:
(16) Highland Park at (1) Middlesex
(9) Perth Amboy Tech at (8) Riverside
(12) Manville at (5) Shore
(13) Palmyra at (4) South Amboy
(10) Burlington City at (7) Bound Brook

North 2, Group 1:
(13) Dunellen at (4) Brearley

Non-Public South A:
(9) St. Thomas Aquinas at (8) Notre Dame
(12) Camden Catholic at (5) Pingry
(7) Donovan Catholic/(10) Union Catholic winner at (2) St. Joseph-Metuchen

Non-Public North B:
(9) Morris Catholic/(8) Timothy Christian winner at (1) Rutgers Prep
(12) Newark Academy at (5) Immaculata
(13) Wardlaw-Hartidge) at (4) Morristown-Beard
(11) Mater Dei at (6) Gill St. Bernard’s


Middlesex may be only public school to earn a top-seed in NJSIAA state tourney when brackets are revealed Wednesday; Rutgers Prep could get a top nod, too

There are a lot of good baseball teams in Middlesex and Somerset Counties, but in the latest and final power point standings available on NJ.com, the official NJSIAA repository for power point data, Middlesex and Rutgers Prep may be the only two teams to earn a top-seed in the upcoming playoffs.

The Blue Jays suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the GMC Tournament quarterfinals last Wednesday, as North Brunswick put together a seven-run top of the seventh to erase a 10-7 deficit and take a 14-10 lead, only for Middlesex to fall a run short, 14-13, after a three-run homer by AJ West, and a highly controversial call on a play at the plate, when Ty Nicolay tried to score on a wild pitch.

Middlesex almost always does well in the state tournament, and head coach Justin Nastasi has taken the program to unprecedented heights, so look for the Blue Jays to do some damage.

Rutgers Prep, despite a 6-0 loss to Ridge in the Somerset County Tournament final Monday night, is a solid team, too. At 18-4, they avenged regular season losses to Montgomery and Voorhees, and their only other two losses are in tournament title games – to Montclair-Kimberley in the Prep B Finals, and Ridge Monday night.

Overall, 41 teams from Middlesex and Somerset Counties appear to be in the playoffs.

Here’s a look, section by section, at where it appears teams in our coverage area stand. All team records are at the cutoff, which was this past Saturday.

Central Jersey Group 1: Middlesex (18-5) is a lock, in front by a healthy 477-352.5 over Point Pleasant Beach (15-8), the team the Jays beat in last year’s CJ1 title game. South Amboy is 4th at 12-4, Bound Brook 7th at 10-9. Perth Amboy Tech checks in at 8-11, Manville 12th at 6-12, Highland Park at 15 at 4-13. Projection: Expect to see the Blue Jays in the final, and they’re a good bet to win it. They’re that good, and a threat to make a run to the group final every single year. This year is no different.

Middlesex’s AJ West cranks a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh of the GMC Tournament Quarterfinals at North Brunswick Community Park on May 18, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Central Jersey Group 2: The highest-ranked team here is South River (18-6) at No. 5, with Spotswood (13-11) right behind them. Metuchen is 7th at 11-11. Bernards (9-11) is 10th, and East Brunswick Tech and Carteret, both 9-7, should be 15 and 16. Projection: With uber-freshman Julius Rosado – who we saw throw a 5-inning no-hitter at East Brunswick Tech on May 4th – the Rams should advance over a sub-.500 team in the first round. Do they have enough to get to the semis. Spotswood is a scrappy bunch, and will surprise some people with their good pitching, if they can get their defense in line. They played their “best game of the year” in the field in a 4-2 Commander’s Cup loss to East Brunswick last week, according to head coach Glenny Fredricks. And Metuchen beat Woodbridge – a Group 4 school – twice this year in the regular season, who who knows?

Central Jersey Group 3: Somerset County Tournament semifinalist and second-seed Somerville is the highest-ranked team here at 6, with a 10-12 record. JFK (7-16) is the only other area team likely to be in the field. Projection: Don’t let The ‘Ville’s sub-.500 record fool you. They’re as high as they are for a reason, a tough schedule, and anyone sleeping on Chris Banos’ team will find themselves with a longer summer than they expected.

Central Jersey Group 4: Three GMC teams are right in the middle of the top eight, with GMC Tournament finalist North Brunswick (17-8) in fifth, followed by Old Bridge (14-11) and Monroe (15-7). East Brunswick checks in 9th with a 13-11 record. South Brunswick is 10-11 in 12th, with Montgomery (8-110 right behind them. Projection: If North Brunswick can get enough pitching and piece it together after Zack Konstantinovsky – with his 100 Ks and just one walk on the year – they sky’s the limit for the Raiders. But any of those GMC Red teams can do some damage. East Brunswick battled North to a 12-inning, 1-0 defeat in the GMC Tournament semis Saturday, so we know the surging Bears can hang in there, pitching-wise. And with a Joey Tuttoilmondo – the new Viking single-season and career strikeout leader – South Brunswick can make a dent, too. If the standings hold, they’d open at North Brunswick. Circle that date on your calendar.

North Brunswick’s Zack Konstantinovsky deals to East Brunswick’s Romeo Diaz in the third inning of the GMC Tournament Quarterfinals at EB Tech on May 21, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

North 2, Group 1: The only two area teams here likely won’t make a dent: 13th-place Dunellen (7-10 and 16th-seed Somerset Tech (2-9).

North 2, Group 3: Colonia is the highest-ranked team here, at 12-10 and in 7th place. South Plainfield (11-12) checks in 12th, with North Plainfield (6-13) in 15th place. Projection: There are some really good teams at the top here. Cranford is the Union County Tournament Champion, and 20-4 Millburn with the top seed lost to Seton Hall Prep – ranked in The state top 20 at No. 14 – in the semifinals of the Greater Newark Tournament. It’ll be hard to get past them.

North 2, Group 4: Ridge is at No. 2 right now at 19-2 at the cutoff, followed by Woodbridge (19-5) and Watchung Hills (13-9) in third and fourth. Bridgewater-Raritan (11-10) and Franklin (9-10) are 7th and 8th. JP Stevens (7-15) checks in at 10 and Piscataway (7-16) is at 13. Projection: Ridge, fresh off its first Somerset County championship in eleven years, has got to be chomping at the bit to get another crack at Hunterdon Central, which, after a brief disappearance from the statewide Top 20, has vaulted all the way up to No. 6 right now. The Red Devils (Flemington) are the only team to beat the Red Devils (Basking Ridge) this season, doing it twice, 7-6 at Ridge on April 4, and 5-1 at home on May 3. How bad does Ridge want it? They should make mince meat of Plainfield in the opening round, then likely would meet Bridgewater-Raritan in the second round, a team they’ve already beaten twice this year. How fun would a battle of the Red Devils be in Flemington in the second week of June?

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)

Non-Public South B: In the unofficial standings in the 14-team section, Rutgers Prep (18-3) is just a half a power point ahead of St. Mary-Rutherford (17-50 – by a 436 to 435.5 margin. Can’t get closer than that! Immaculata (10-10) is fifth, Gill St. Bernard’s (11-11) 6th, Timothy Christian (10-5) in 8th, and Wardlaw-Hartridge (0-16) s 13th. Projection: The non-public are always tough to call, with so much variety. Should Rutgers Prep make the final, they could rematch with Montclair-Kimberley, which beat them 3-1 last week in the Prep B Final, down on Easton Ave.

Non-Public South A: St. Augustine, the expected top seed, is the No. 2 team in the state, at 20-1 at the cutoff. GMC Tournament finalist St. Joseph-Metuchen (20-6) is right behind them. Pingry (20-2) is fifth, St. Thomas Aquinas (13-5) is 9th in a 12-team field. Projection: There are a lot of good teams here. Augustine is one of the top teams in the state. St. Joe’s is ranked 12th statewide, and Pingry just won the Prep A tournament. Should be a good one!

INSTANT REPLAY: SCT Final – (1) Ridge 6, (6) Rutgers Prep 0

Top-seed Ridge won its seventh Somerset County Tournament Championship, and first since 2011, with a 6-0 win over 6th-seed Rutgers Prep on Monday, May 23, 2022. Junior Connor Byrne threw a complete game, two-hitter, striking out ten, while five Red Devils’ knocked in runs.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas call all the action live from TD Bank Park in Bridgewater:

VIDEO: Watch the final out as Ridge wins its first Somerset County Tournament title in 11 years

Top-seeded Ridge got a complete game, 10-strikeout, two-hit performance from junior Connor Byrne, and five players drove in runs, as the Red Devils beat 6th-seed Rutgers Prep 6-0 in the Somerset County Tournament Championship Game.

Watch the final out, with the final call from Mike Pavlichko, as heard live Monday night on Central Jersey Sports Radio:

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

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.

Click the logo above to learn more about baseball training and more at Zoned Sports Academy in Bridgewater!

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.

St. Joseph, Ridge, Rutgers Prep continue to lead Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten, while North and East Brunswick debut

The top three teams remain the same in the Week 8 Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten, but two new teams made the the Top Ten this week.

North Brunswick debuted and jumped all the way to fourth, on the strength of a big run as the 6th-seed in the GMC Tournament. They’re in Saturday’s title game after outlasting East Brunswick – the 7th-seed, which ousted 5-seed Old Bridge – by a 1-0 score in 12 innings Saturday in the semifinals.

Pingry dropped a spot this week after the addition of the Raiders and Bears, with No. 9 Old Bridge dropping out, along with South River, which had a 0-4 week. But the Big Blue are the first tournament champion in the area, after they won the Prep A Tournament Sunday with a 5-3 victory over Hun.

Below are the full Week 8 rankings:

Time for another “Breakfast with Harry,” SCT finals edition!

With tonight’s Somerset County Tournament baseball final set for TD Bank Park in Bridgewater – top-seed and defending champion Ridge taking on 6th-seed Rutgers Prep at 7 on Central Jersey Sports Radio – we decided it was time to call upon legendary local scribe Harry Frezza to talk some baseball!

Yup, it’s another “Breakfast with Harry” from the Golden Corner Diner in Bound Brook. Harry talks with Mike Pavlichko about great SCT finals he’s seen, some of Ridge’s history in the tournament, predictions and thoughts on tonight’s matchup, and more!

Click below to listen to the latest edition of “Breakfast with Harry”:

Ridge, Rutgers Prep to square off tonight for Somerset County Tournament title

Top-seed Ridge and 6th-seed Rutgers Prep will play Monday night at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater for the first Somerset County Tournament baseball title in three years.

The entire high school baseball season was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year’s event was not held due to the brevity of the season.

Ridge is looking for its seventh county title and first since 2011, while Rutgers Prep is gunning for its second; the Argonauts won their first in 2017.

Click the logo above to learn more about baseball training and more at Zoned Sports Academy in Bridgewater!

Monday night’s game can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio, beginning with pregame at 6:45 pm. First pitch is set for 7:00 with Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas calling all the action. Click here to listen live and for free.

Scroll through this story for links to coverage of both teams this season, the finals at-a-glance, how they got here, team record in the finals, and other notes and stats:

SOMERSET COUNTY TOURNAMENT FINALS AT-A-GLANCE:

Teams:
(1) Ridge (19-2, 13-2 Skyland Conference Delaware Division) CLICK FOR PREVIEW
(6) Rutgers Prep (18-3, 11-1 Skyland Conference Raritan Division) CLICK FOR PREVIEW

Date and Time: Monday, May 23 at 7 pm
Location: TD Bank Park, Bridgewater
Listen on: Central Jersey Sports Radio (click here)
Announcers: Mike Pavlichko, Chris Tsakonas

Starting Pitchers:
Ridge: Connor Byrne (8-1, 1.53 ERA)
Rutgers Prep: Zach Fronio (3-0, 1.08 ERA)

Head Coaches:
Ridge: Tom Blackwell, 161-134 (17th season)
Rutgers Prep: Larry Santowasso, 311-250 (26th season)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Ridge:
First and Second Round bye
Quarterfinals: def. (9) Gill St. Bernard’s 13-3
Semifinals: def. (4) Bridgewater-Raritan 3-1

Rutgers Prep:
First Round bye
Second Round: def. (11) Bernards 5-3
Quarterfinals: def. (3) Montgomery 8-3
Semifinals: def. (2) Somerville 6-3

Streaks:

Ridge has won six straight, including five regular season games, and the SCT semifinal win over Bridgewater-Raritan, which was five games ago now, thanks to two weeks in between the semis and title game. The Red Devils won 12 straight, their longest streak of the season, from April 5-30.

Rutgers Prep has won three straight since losing 3-1 to Montclair-Kimberley in the Prep B Tournament finals last Monday. Their longest winning streak of the season was ten straight, between a 3-2 loss to Voorhees on April 20, and the M.K.A. defeat.

Neither team has lost back-to-back games all year.

PREVIOUS TEAM COVERAGE:

Read and listen to more about Ridge:

Read and listen to more about Rutgers Prep:

FINALS HISTORY:

Ridge (6-8): The Red Devils have been to the finals twice since their last title in 2011, when they beat Hillsborough 4-3 in eight innings. They lost in the 2014 finals to the Raiders 4-3 in nine innings, and lost in 2019 to Immaculata, 6-5 in 12 innings, matching the longest game in SCT finals history. Technically, this is a back-to-back SCT finals appearance for the Red Devils, since there was no tournament in 2020 or 2021. It’s also three straight finals Ridge has been two that have gone extra innings.

1976: Ridge 4, Watchung Hills 3 (10)
1979: Hillsborough 2, Ridge 0
1980: Ridge 7, Franklin 1
1984: Ridge 2, Immaculata 0
1985: Ridge 5, Immaculata 0
1987: Somerville 2, Ridge 1
1988: Bridgewater-Raritan West 3, Ridge 1
1989: Ridge 5, Bridgewater-Raritan West 4
1995: Somerville 7, Ridge 6
2000: Immaculata 2, Ridge 0
2002: Immaculata 10, Ridge 0
2011: Ridge 4, Hillsborough 3 (8)
2014: Hillsborough 4, Ridge 3 (9)
2019: Immaculata 6, Ridge 5 (12)

Rutgers Prep (1-0): The Argonauts’ only trip to the finals came in 2017, when they beat top-seed and defending champion Montgomery 7-2. They were the 10-seed that year, and won a huge game over 2nd-seeded Watchung Hills in the quarterfinals. In the title game, starting pitcher Sam Beck went the distance, allowing just five hits.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY BEHIND ALL SEVEN TITLES WON BY RIDGE AND RUTGERS PREP!

Long Games, Short Game…

In the last ten Somerset County Tournaments, four of them have gone to extra innings, including the most recent final, in 2019, when Immaculata beat Ridge 6-5 in 11 innings.

Before 2019, the 2014 title game saw Hillsborough beat Ridge 4-3 in nine, the Raiders beat Bridgewater-Raritan 4-3 in 12 innings in the 2012 title game, and Ridge beat Hillsborough the year prior 4-3 in eight innings.

That also means all three finals Ridge coach Tom Blackwell has been a part of have gone to extra innings.

Since 2010, there’s only been one mercy-rule-shortened final, and that came in 2010 when Montgomery stunned Immaculata with a five-run first-inning and an eight-run fourth en route to a 13-3 victory. There have been three ten-run rule wins in the SCT finals all-time. In addition to the 2010 final, Ridge lost 10-0 to Immaculata in 2002, and Watchung Hills beat Bridgewater-Raritan West in 1982 by a 15-0 score.

Head-to-Head:

Ridge and Rutgers Prep were supposed to meet in the regular season, but Mother Nature had other plans. Last Friday’s game was cancelled as warmups were wrapping up, with heavy thunderstorms passing through.

So now weather, COVID, and scheduling issues – like being in different divisions in the Skyland Conference – have prevented these teams from meeting since 2015. In the last three meetings, the Red Devils have won the last two (7-5 in 2015, 4-3 in 2014) and the Argonauts have won once (3-2 in 2012).

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

Click the logo above to learn more about baseball training and more at Zoned Sports Academy in Bridgewater!

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.

Highly-respected Bennett talks umpiring, a shortage, and the need for more to join the profession

If there’s a county baseball tournament title game on the schedule, chances are Warren Bennett will be on the field in blue, and behind the plate, vocally belting out the ball and strike calls.

He’ll be there for the Somerset County Tournament championship game Monday night between Ridge and Rutgers Prep at TD Bank Park. And he’ll calling balls and strikes for the GMC Tournament Championship game between St. Joseph-Metuchen and North Brunswick this coming Saturday as well.

And even when he wasn’t supposed to be working, just taking in the GMC Tournament semifinals, he was out on the field explaining to both coaches why there was a long delay: the heat had gotten to one of the umpires, and an alternate had to go and get his gear on to work the plate.

Click the logo above to learn more about how to be an umpire and join the NSJFU.

Bennett got involved as a baseball official when he was in high school, a way to make a few extra bucks. Now, his job is as vital as ever, for a variety of reasons. Fewer are going into the profession, and it’s created a shortage that’s at dangerous levels, sometimes forcing sub-varsity games to be postponed or cancelled due to a lack of officials.

Bennett is the president of the Mickey Sedlak Chapter of the New Jersey State Federation of Umpires, which includes baseball and softball officials mainly for Middlesex County. But, Bennett says the umpires in the group are so veteran and so well-respected, they’re often called upon to officiate games outside the area, even all the way up in Hudson County.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Warren Bennett talk about his experience as an umpire, the officials’ shortage, and how to get involved in being an umpire at the high school level or beyond: