SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — After a week-long skid, Scotch Plains-Fanwood is back on track.
The Raiders snapped a five-game losing streak Wednesday with a dramatic win over Bridgewater-Raritan, and continued that momentum into Thursday against the best team in Union County. Scotch Plains-Fanwood scored seven runs in the first four innings and held on by the skin of its teeth, 7-6, against Watchung Division-leading Cranford.
“It’s big in the county but more so it’s big for where we are as a team right now,” Raiders head coach Joe Higgins told TAPinto SPF. “We’re going to try to build off these last two days.”
Danny Wilkinson struck out 11 batters in 4 2/3 innings to earn the win for the Raiders, which was secured by Charles Widder’s two-out save. Widder, the winning pitcher Wednesday, stranded the tying run on second in the seventh to give the Raiders their second conference victory of the season and fourth overall.
At the plate, Patrick Cuccurullo went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored to lead the Raiders’ offensive charge, which saw six different hitters record at least one hit and run. Willy Gale and Matt Delgado each had three hits and Jonathan Ramos scored twice to help contribute to the Raiders nine-hit day. Delgado, Ramos, Wilkinson, and Patrick Dembiec also drove in a run apiece.
“Delgado has been swinging the bat very well and Gale has been great,” Higgins said of the offensive standouts. “Willy seems to hit the ball hard or get on base on infield hits all the time.”
Though things seemed pretty comfortable for Scotch Plains at one point in the fifth inning with a 7-0 lead and the Raiders’ ace dealing, Cranford is never one to go down easily, and the Cougars sure made things interesting in the seventh.
Murphy blasted a solo homer over the left field wall, and Jack Jarosz singled home Aidan Plick, who tripled right after Murphy’s shot, to make it 7-6 Cranford with two out. Plick then stole second to move the tying run into scoring position with two out, but Widder buckled down to induce a game-ending 5-3 groundout, limiting the feisty Cougars to just those two seventh inning runs.
While it ended rocky, the afternoon couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Raiders.
Ramos doubled and Michael Dieu singled before both scored in the first inning to provide SPF with a 2-0 lead against Cranford starter Jeremy Ruka (3 2/3 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, BB, 2 K). Ramos then scored Delgado, who singled, with a sacrifice fly in the second.
The hits kept on coming, as Cuccurullo and Tyler Stines each singled and scored in the third to stretch the lead to 5-0. Gale then ledoff the fourth with a single, and next batter Ramos was hit by a pitch to set the table again. Both Gale and Ramos would be walked in as the Raiders extended the lead to 7-0.
Though Raiders threatened to end this contest in a mercy rule during that fourth inning, Cranford got back in it with a four-run top of the fifth.
Jimmy Shriner, Marcus Johnson, and Jake DiClerico — the 1-2-3 hitters in the Cougars’ lineup — each had singles and scored a run off Wilkinson in the frame, and Tyler Szchech also worked his way around the bases after getting hit by a pitch. Two of the runs came home on passed balls.
Wilkinson did not make it through the fifth, as he was taken out after throwing his 104th pitch — a strikeout of Michael Murphy. Higgins summoned Nolan O’Connor out of the bullpen, who pitched out of the jam by striking out a pair of batters to hold keep the Raiders’ lead in tact, 7-4.
“[Wilkinson] could have thrown another batter or two but it was the most pitches he’s thrown this year and I wanted to get him out,” Higgins explained.