CHATHAM, NJ - The validation for Chatham baseball came before the game even started.
In what had to be the largest crowd to see a Chatham baseball game this century paid tribute to the Cougars' 2017 season by showing up to see the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state tournament final on Friday at Chatham High School.
Cranford won the sectional championship, 5-3, but the team and second-year head coach Todd Leathers put Chatham baseball on the map.
"We kind of proved that baseball is here to stay," Leathers said. "The sum or your parts sometimes is greater than one individual or one thing. This was a team from top to bottom. From the guy who had the most at-bats, to the guy who had the least amount of at-bats, we had effort and intensity every single day.
"The future is going to be bright. It's a program. That team over there (Cranford) is a program team and that's what we're going to be. Chatham baseball is not going to be a flash in the pan. We expect to be here a lot."
Chatham starter Jimmy Cunningham gave up a run in the first inning, but he made a great play to escape a bases-loaded situation, grabbing a ball batted up the middle with his bare hand and throwing home for the start of a 1-2-3 double play.
An error and three hits in the third helped Cranford (20-7) take a 5-0 lead. But Chatham (18-7) quickly made it a game in the bottom of the third. The bottom of the order got it started. After Connor Winans lined out, No. 8 hitter Clay Delsandro singled to left and No. 9 batter Jack Lamar singled to center. Sean Lee beat out an infield single to drive in the first run and Matt Devlin hit an opposite-field, two-out, two-run single, slicing the deficit to 5-3.
"To go down to a team 5-0, who has been to six straight (sectional championships), it would be easy to fold," Leathers said. "We answered back with a three-spot. We had numerous chances where we were one swing away. As a coach, that's all you can ask for and we did it, we were one swing away."
Devlin, who had two hits in the game, came on to pitch in the fourth and the left-hander threw four scoreless innings. He struck out six and allowed two hits.
"We'll be back, but hats off to the seniors and everyone on this team," junior Peter DeMaria, who was out with an injury, said. "The crowd was unreal. It really got us psyched. It's awesome to see the community come to something like this. For the first time in a long time Chatham is here. I always see my friends in the class, guys like Mac (Bredahl) and (Ryan) Ness and all those guys out there playing for championships. It's nice to see them in the crowd cheering you on, playing for a championship in your sport. So it's special.
"This one is definitely not going to sit well.This team's whole season was about grinding and hard work. That attitude will definitely come back next year. This definitely won't leave us."