TOMS RIVER, NJ — Despite a strong outing from Gordon Graceffo, the Cranford baseball team could not muster up enough run support, falling in eight innings to Allentown, 5-1, in the NJSIAA Group 3 final at Toms River High School South on Saturday.
The junior right-hander allowed only two hits through seven innings and set down 18 of the previous 20 batters before allowing a leadoff home run to Allentown’s catcher Chris Reeder in the eighth inning that landed beyond the left-field fence to break a scoreless tie. Feeding off the adrenaline from the Reeder blast, Allentown used three more hits from its next four batters to add two runs and take a 3-0 lead, ending Graceffo’s day.
Vincent Genova came on in relief with one out and used two strikeouts to get out of the inning, but not before Allentown scored two more times to stretch the lead to 5-0 heading into the bottom of the frame.
In the last of the eighth, Armstrong laced a one-out single and scored two batters later on a Matthew Perrino single. With one out and the bases loaded, Cranford brought the tying run to the plate twice but failed to score.
“I thought he did a great job,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said of his starter. “He had control of his pitches, he was able to battle. He gave us a chance to win. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get runs across.”
Graceffo finished the afternoon throwing 7 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits, five earned runs and striking out three Allentown batters.
The Cougars had their chances to put runs on the board early in the game, but failed to drive a third inning run in with a runner on third and one out.
Senior Tom Armstrong led off the fourth with a double off the right-center field wall that Allentown’s Austin Ferrier overran. But the potential rally was thwarted when Reeder picked him off from behind the plate.
In the fifth, the Cougars again had a man in scoring position after pinch-runner James Woznick stole second, but Bryan Oblachinski and Ryan Bakie were both set down to end the inning.
Cranford stranded five men in scoring position over the last four innings.
“There’s no quit in this program,” said McCaffery. “It’s a credit to the community and a credit to these players and the hard work starts on Monday.”