UNION, NJ -- Considering the circumstances at approximately 12:41 p.m. on April 27, this has been the most improbable of runs for Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
It was in that exact minute three and a half weeks ago when the No. 6-seeded Raiders were down to their final strike, about to suffer a crushing 1-0 loss to No. 11 Oratory in the first round of the Union County Tournament (UCT). But the Raiders didn’t break, miraculously rallied to win that game, and took off on a run of upsets through the tournament.
And now the rest is history — history that’s been ten years in the making.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood finished a storybook run through the UCT Wednesday night, defeating No.4 Arthur L. Johnson, 4-0, at Kean University to claim its first county title since 2009 and third overall.
“These guys earned every bit of it,” said Raiders head coach Joe Higgins, who has won his first County title in his fifth year at the helm. “They competed down to the last strike. Johnny Ramos, I remember that first game of the tournament, getting that hit [down to his final strike]. It’s a funny game like that. You never know when you’re gonna get back here like this, so you really got to appreciate this. It’s been 10 years since we won the last one, so these guys really need to enjoy this, because you never know.”
What the Raiders do know is that they are on top of the county, and received a full team effort to get there.
Patrick Cuccurullo got the start, and was brilliant on the mound, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win against a strong-hitting Johnson team. Cuccurullo struck out five and scattered six hits on two walks. Michael Urbano earned the saved by inducing a pop out with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to secure the title.
Cuccurullo was tremendous and made the big pitches all night; perhaps none bigger than an inning-inducing double play to end the fifth. His defense also came up huge, helping the Raiders strand a total of 12 baserunners all night.
“I knew we weren’t giving up any runs,” Cuccurullo said. “I have the best defense in the state behind behind me. It just felt good.”
Dean Kirian was 2-for-3 with a run scored and RBI to lead the Raiders’ offense, which collected seven total hits. Kirian, Josh Canavan, and Michael Dieu each had run scoring hits, while Angelo DiNizo joined Kirian with two hits and a run scored.
Dieu’s RBI hit came in the top of the first and gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead that they wouldn’t relent. And after playing in a tournament marked by tight contests, that hit gave the Raiders all the confidence in the world.
“In games like this, it’s all about momentum and energy, and I think that’s what more importantly my hit did,” Dieu said. “It did give us a run, but it put us on the front foot for the rest of the game.”
Insurance came easily for the Raiders, who added two in the fifth and one in the seventh.
DiNizo roped a triple to left center to open up the fifth, and scored on a single by Canavan. Then after stealing second, Canavan came home on a base hit by Kirian. Willy Gale would later score an unearned run in the seventh.
The early run support was more than enough for Cuccurullo to hold. In a UCT run marked by the dominance of Danny Wilkinson — who was unavailable Wednesday due to the pitch count rules — Cuccurullo was the man to finish the job for the Raiders. His
His mid-80s fastball and solid off-speed pitches stymied a Johnson lineup known for its perennially strong bats.
“The fact that Coach Higgins and Coach Luccarelli had the confidence in me to start such a big game like this just pumped me up a bit more,” Cuccurullo said. “Knowing that I had about 25 other guys behind me moved me on. And the fans in the fan section … it was just awesome.”
All Photos by Matt Kipp
Scotch Plains-Fanwood finally has its redemption after ten years of coming up just short in the county. It was four season ago that the Raiders made it all the way to the final, only to lose to Gov. Livingston by a run and strand the bases loaded to end the game.
Wilkinson and Tyler Stines were the only Raiders to suit up for that game in 2016. Both were freshmen that year, and that 2019 class — the nucleus of this year’s team — has developed into a special group that is now the first to bring a UCT crown back to Westfield Road in ten years.
“We left the bases loaded that, and after something like that, you think, ‘Geez, how long is it gonna be?’,” Higgins said. “These guys deserve it. From playing in all these tight games, they’ve just gotten really comfortable playing in big spots. They’ve just gotten a lot better as the season went on.”
To view the video of the final out, click here.
JV Wins County Championship
While the varsity got the job done against Johnson, the Raiders JV team won their County tournament championship game, 8-3, against Governor Livingston in Berkeley Heights.
Alex Smith gets the win giving up 1 earned run in 4 innings. Matt Drubulis pitched 3 innings for the save giving up 1 run. Shawn Martin went 3-4 with a double and triple.