CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham High baseball team already has accomplished something that hasn't been done in recent memory. The Cougars have extended their season into the month of June.
"We have to go back into the record books to see when the last time that was," Chatham catcher Chris Delsandro said.
Chatham earned a June 2 date to play for the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state championship when it won its sectional semifinal, 8-1 over Middletown South on Tuesday at Chatham High.
Top-seeded Chatham (18-6) will play host to No. 3 Cranford (19-7), 4 p.m. Friday to decide the section title.
The Cougars pushed across four runs in the first inning without hitting the ball out of the infield, got a solo home run from Chris Delsandro in the third, and a big two-run double from freshman Andrew Bergman in the fifth to back the pitching of junior left-hander Matt Stamford.
"We executed our game plan," Chatham coach Todd Leathers said. "We heard their starter had a tendency to be wild. I thought our bench did an unbelievable job today. I couldn't be more proud of the team concept. The intensity was there from pitch one."
After Stamford (7-0) pitched a 1-2-3 first, the Cougars got their ace pitcher four runs to work with in the bottom of the inning. Sean Lee led off with a walk before Middletown South starter Joe Sprake hit Jimmy Cunningham with a pitch. Delsandro then drew a walk to load the bases. With one out, Sam Browning was hit by a pitch to force home Lee with the first run. Bergman followed with an RBI walk that knocked Sprake from the game.
The bench played a big role in that," Delsandro said. "The pitcher got kind of rattled and the boys in the dugout made him feel like he was the only man in the world out there."
Tyler Brock then produced the lone hit of the inning for Chatham, a slow roller to short that he beat out for a base hit. The throw to first was wild, allowing a second run to score on the play for a 4-0 lead.
The playing conditions were difficult for both teams because of the wet field, but Stamford managed to pitch five strong innings despite a soggy mound. He allowed four hits, one run, struck out five and walked two.
"As soon as I stepped on the mound, I had no feeling in my cleats because of the mud," Stamford said. "I was slipping around. It feels really good to win. I couldn't have done it without the offense putting up a huge first inning, getting their guy out of there. I was comfortable with the lead and able to compete."
Cunningham came in from shortstop to relieve Stamford, pitching the final two innings. The senior right-hander came in throwing smoke, striking out all three batters he faced in the sixth. He allowed two hits in the seventh, but struck out two more in closing out the win for Chatham.
"I was throwing mostly fastballs," Cunningham said. "They couldn't touch it, so I just kept with it. I threw a couple curveballs in there, but the fastball was the main pitch.
"It's what we've been working for all year. Hopefully, it's not just sectionals. It feels good. Last Chatham sports team to be playing, it's pretty cool."
Delsandro led off the third by pulling a home run over the left-field fence to give the Cougars a 5-1 advantage.
"Before the at-bat coach (Leathers) told me to sit on a breaking ball and take it over the left-field fence," Delsandro said. "I was just doing what coach asked me to do."
Freshman Bergman came through with two big RBI for Chatham in the fifth when Chatham scored three runs to make it 8-1. Delsandro led off and was hit by a pitch. Matt Devlin followed with a single to center. After a double steal put runners on second and third, Bergman lined a double down the line in right to score both runners. Bergman later scored when Lee was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
"He's going to have a great four years here and hopefully he can help us win this year," Delsandro said of Bergman.
Tyler Brock's infield single led to an RBI and two runs scored in the first for Chatham
Chatham senior Jimmy Cunningham secures final out vs. Middletown South on Tuesday