CRANFORD - Third-seeded Cranford's North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 tournament first round matchup with 14th-seeded Iselin Kennedy was slated to start at 4 p.m. By 4:30, the visitor's dugout was still empty.
Due to botched bussing arrangements by Iselin Kennedy, the first pitch of Monday's game wasn't thrown until 5:12 by senior right-hander Jeremy Ruka. Despite the delay, Ruka pitched a no-hitter and struck out seven while walking two and hitting one batter to lead Cranford to a 7-0 victory over Iselin Kennedy.
"We threw a little in the outfield but then the coaches told us to shut it down," said Ruka on his game preparation. "I took a half an hour break then threw again but I was also thinking from a standpoint that they have to go through the same thing too. I just though to myself that I'm going to handle it better than them."
The only stressful inning Ruka faced was in the second when he allowed two walks but he was bailed-out by the strong arm of right fielder Jimmy Shriner. With runners on first and second and one out, seventh-place batter Adalberto Sanchez flew one out to right field. Shriner made the catch and threw a one bouncer to third to thwart the tag-up attempt and end the inning.
"That's the game," said Ruka of Shriner's throw. "I honestly think that turned the game. They had some momentum, they were getting loud, and Jimmy Shriner just shut that right down. I knew when they were tagging that he'd throw them out. I've played with him long enough to always have faith in him in right."
Though the delay didn't bother Ruka, the Cougars' offense started off sluggish. Cranford has been notorious for scoring in the first inning this season, but didn't get on the board until the fourth when catcher Joe Meola hit a two-run home run to deep left field.
"We came out sluggish, but I know we're always ready," said Meola. "Usually we jump on in the first couple of innings, so when we didn't, I wasn't doubtful, and I knew we would be ok. I had faith all the way. No doubt."
Jake DiClerico had led off the fourth with a double down the left field line before Meola went deep. Cranford would add five more runs in the inning, including a two-run homer to left by Shriner. Not initially called a home run, the umpires convened near the mound and ruled that the ball hit the flag pole in left beyond the fence and bounced back into play, not the top of the fence as initially ruled.
Cranford advances to take on sixth-seeded Somerville in the quarterfinal round set for Thursday. Somerville is the reigning Group 3 Champions, but Meola believes his team at its best can defeat any program New Jersey has to offer.
"I don't think that we're scared of any team in the state of New Jersey," said Meola. "I think that when we come out here, I don't think that anyone can beat us when we're on. We're not scared at all, especially when you come to Cranford."
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