Tag: Tom Blackwell

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.

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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.

Ridge is rolling as Red Devils head into SCT finals

Often times in sports, winning has a lot to do with momentum. A good team looks so-so throughout the year, then gets hot at the right time, goes on a run, and wins a title of some kind.

That’s not the case with the Ridge baseball team. They’ve been red-hot all year long, coming into Monday night’s Somerset County Tournament Championship Game (7 pm, on CJSR) with a 19-2 mark, winners of six straight, and owners of a 12-game winning streak that took up just about all of April.

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The Somerset County Tournament itself hasn’t really allowed for teams to get postseason momentum. The semifinals were two weeks ago already, and Ridge has played four games since then. In fact, they should have played five, but their regular season matchup against Rutgers Prep – yes, the same Argonauts they’ll face in the finals Monday night – was rained out.

So, two teams who had anticipated they would see each other – no matter how cautiously guarded they might have planned to play that game – will go in cold, and yet red hot at the same time.

Ridge will throw Connor Byrne, a junior with an 8-1 record and a 1.69 ERA in Monday night’s title game, as the Red Devils look for their first title since 2011.

They’ve lost twice since then – in 2014 to Hillsborough and 2019 to Immaculata – and are 6-8 all-time in the Somerset County Tournament finals (this will be the Red Devils’ 15th appearance) but have only won once since 1989. They won the crown that year, as well as in 1985 and 1984, 1980 and 1976.

The SCT began play in 1973.

Click below to hear CJSR’s Mike Pavlichko talk with Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell:

Ridge rallies in nightcap semifinal to beat Bridgewater-Raritan 3-1, claiming 2nd straight berth in SCT Finals

So what if they’re three years apart?

The Ridge Red Devils are back to a second straight Somerset County Tournament final, after the top-seed held off fourth-seed Bridgewater-Raritan 3-1 in the nightcap of a semifinal doubleheader at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater, heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Ridge made the last SCT played – in 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortened season cancelled the event the next two years – and will get a chance to play for the title again in two weeks.

Ridge will be playing for its seventh SCT title, having last won it back in 2011. They’re 6-8 all-time in the finals.

Staked out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single in the second by Julian Kielb, starter Connor Byrne – who’d thrown more pitches than any player on the Ridge staff this year, and by a large margin – looked in mid-season form, striking out six in the first three innings, including the first four batters he faced to start the game.

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He wobbled a bit in the fourth, walking three and loading the bases, but he saved himself with a pickoff attempt before getting into a bit of trouble that he got out of.

In the sixth, though, Bridgewater-Raritan evened the score. Matthew Fattore doubled with two hours, Frankie Verano got hit by a pitch, and JR Rosado’s single scored pinch-runner Miles Misyan from second.

But in the bottom of the inning, the Red Devils pulled ahead – without the aid of a single hit.

Leadoff man Brian Leitz got plunked by Panther starter Jason Cozzi, who induced a pop up from Brendan Callanan, before he walked Mike Olivo, and was pulled from the game by coach Max Newill.

Joe Spirra came in from left field to pitch, and Matt Aber hit a ball to short, which could have been a DP, but he threw the ball over the head of the second baseman Cozzi, who moved there after coming off the mound, and Leitz scored. After Kielb grounded to third and George Busnach was hit by a pitch, Luke Somelofske hit a grounder to third that Michael Fattore fielded, but his throw pulled his brother Matthew off the bag at first, allowing the second run to score.

Shortstop Brendan Callanan started the seventh to close it out, and pitched an uneventful seventh to seal the deal.

Click below for postgame reaction down on the field from Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko:

Ridge starter Connor Bynre, who got the win
Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell

The hits keep coming for top seed Ridge, heading into SCT semis

Just like the other three teams who’ll be playing in the Somerset County Tournament semifinals Monday night, none have played an SCT game at TD Bank Park. And that’s about to change.

And while Tom Blackwell’s squad usually has some kind of comfort level, with experience going deep in the county tournament and usually playing a regular season game there, none of his players have ever done that before.

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So it’ll be something new in one respect, but in a way, not so much. They got plenty of tournament experience last year, despite there not being an SCT due to the condensed season.

READ MORE: Zoned Sports Academy – training baseball and softball for 20 years!

Last year’s team won the North 2 Group 4 championship, beating Franklin in the final before falling to North 1 champ Montclair in the Group 4 semis, a win away from an appearance in the state title game.

Nonetheless, top-seeded Ridge (14-2) has played extremely well all year, with their only two losses to Hunterdon Central. They play four-seed Bridgewater-Raritan (9-8) at in the second game of the semifinal doubleheader Monday night at 7:00. The Red Devils topped the Panthers 10-2 on April 18, in a game that had to be continued due to rain and lightning.

Click below for a preview of the Ridge-Bridgewater game with Red Devils’ head coach Tom Blackwell:

Big test for two teams with one loss between them: No. 1 Ridge, No. 10 Pingry

Solid pitching, good hitting. Two teams very similar in nature who are a combined 20-1 will square off in Basking Ridge Friday afternoon, as No. 1 Ridge entertains No. 10 Pingry in a Skyland Conference crossover game.

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Pingry is 9-0 and has given up just four earned runs all year. Half of them came in Thursday’s 6-5 win over Delaware Valley, an error-prone game uncharacteristic of the Big Blue.

In fact, after allowing a single run to Bound Brook in a 14-1 Opening Day road win, Pingry pitching went the next 40 innings without giving up a run.

The next time a runner crossed the plate on them after Opening Day was this past Wednesday, in a 25-1 road win at Belvidere.

Ridge on the other hand is 11-1, and has won ten straight since a 7-6 loss to a very good Hunterdon Central team back on April fourth. They’ve done it with solid pitching as well, and great balance at the plate, with four starters hitting over .350.

They’ve won games by the ten-run rule, but also have won tight ones, like a 2-1 victory against West Morris, a 3-1 decision over North Hunterdon, and – in their most recent game, Thursday – a 5-2 victory over Hillsborough.

You can her Friday afternoon’s game on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with live coverage beginning at 3:45, and first pitch set for 4 pm. Mike Pavlichko will call all the play-by-play. Click here to listen live, and for free.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with both head coaches about their seasons, and Friday’s matchup:

Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell
Pingry head coach Anthony Feltre