SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Three weeks ago, Elizabeth cut Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s Union County Tournament run unexpectedly short with a quarterfinal upset.
Baseball is a funny game though, and the Raiders got the last laugh by ending Elizabeth’s season Monday.
In an 18-hit offensive clinic that exorcised any demons from that UCT nightmare on the same field, No. 4 seed Scotch Plains-Fanwood five-inning mercy ruled No. 13 Elizabeth, 16-5, in the North 2, Group 4 sectional tournament first round. The Raiders advance to host No. 5 Union in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
Sam Schetelich went 2-for-3 with a double, five RBI and two runs scored to lead the Raiders’ explosive offensive charge. Both Tyler Stines and Dean Kirian went 3-for-3 while driving in two runners, and Michael Dieu (2-for-3) also plated a pair.
Every hitter in the Raiders’ lineup had at least one hit, RBI, and run scored. The team has scored at a rate of 9.5 runs in its last six games.
Junior lefthander Patrick Cuccurullo recovered from a shaky beginning and went the distance — though that was just five innings due to the mercy rule — needing 88 pitches to do so. Cuccurullo allowed two earned runs (five total) on nine hits and walked one, while striking out three. After being tagged for three runs in the opening frame, Cuccurullo settled down very well and allowed just one earned over his final four.
“Hitting was contagious today,” varsity coach Joe Higgins told TAPintoSPF. “We got down early and started a little sloppy, but the guys really bounced back. Tyler Stines has been having some great at-bats lately. His approach has been excellent. Patrick Downey had another clutch 2-strike 2-out hit, and Sam Schetelich had another great day."
"Cuccurullo hung in there and battled to settle down. It was a great team win,” Coach Higgins added.
Though Scotch Plains-Fanwood found itself trailing, 4-0, after an inning and a half, the eam pulled a complete 180 in the bottom half of the second. The Raiders put up eight runs and batted around to claim the lead for good during the game-altering frame. All runs were charged to Elizabeth starter Josh Ciano, the same starting pitcher who beat the Raiders in the May 5 UCT quarterfinal.
Having reached Elizabeth’s vulnerable bullpen, the Raiders scored three more runs in the third and put the icing on the cake with a five-run fourth.
Given the way things started, though, Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s 11-run rout seems even more impressive. In fact, at one point early on, it looked as though Elizabeth might be the team's winning by a mercy rule score.
Taking advantage of a slow-starting Raiders defense while playing aggressively and putting the ball in play — and hard — Elizabeth christened the game with three runs in the top of the first and added another in the second.
Israel Santana and Darlin Lora each knocked in a run for Elizabeth, which had a collective nine hits. Jorge Correa went 2-for-2 with two runs scored, and Ciano, Santana, and Andre Tirso were 2-for-3 with a run scored.
The Minutemen added a run in the top of the fourth, cutting Scotch Plains’ lead to 11-5 before the Raiders answered with five in the bottom half.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal, Scotch Plains-Fanwood will face Union, another Union County Conference Watchung Division counterpart, for the second time in a week. It’s very likely that the Raiders will oppose Union ace Mike Velez, a fireballing righty whom they saw in last Thursday’s 4-3 loss. The Raiders will almost certainly have Jake Friedman on the mound.
However, before seeing Union, the Raiders will get a tuneup in a regular season game against St. Joseph (Metuchen) on Tuesday — weather permitting — in Metuchen.