UNION, NJ – It was a game the No. 4-seeded Westfield boys’ varsity baseball team never trailed, but that doesn’t mean their 6-3 win over No. 2-seeded Cranford came easy as they held off several rally attempts as the Blue Devils claimed their 15th Union County Tournament title on Friday evening at Kean University’s ’63 Jim Hynes Baseball Stadium.

Matthew Manning put the Blue Devils on the board early with a two-out RBI single in the second inning, which was matched by Cranford in the bottom half of the inning. Earlier in the inning, Westfield’s center fielder Steve Barden was forced from the game after injuring his shoulder while losing his footing on the turf field prompting senior Arthur Xiao to enter the game.  

After a scoreless third inning, it was Xiao who delivered the go-ahead single in the 4th inning on the first pitch he saw of the at-bat.

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“Coming into this game I was just ready to support the team, but when Stevey went down, I got subbed in and was prepared to pick up our team,” explained Xiao, who had two hits on the evening. “Once I hit it, I saw it going up the middle and knew I did my job. I was looking first pitch fastball and got it. All year long I’ve been swinging at the first pitch I liked.”

Westfield added two more runs on Alex Pansini’s double to build a 4-1 lead, one that they would not relinquish.

The Cougars, however, would add runs in back-to-back innings to inch closer to tying the game before running themselves out of the fifth inning.

Westfield starting pitcher Connor Scanlon, who gave up three runs over five innings of worked, picked off James Shriner at second base in a controversial play which appeared to show runner interference.

Nonetheless, the Blue Devils escaped the jam and senior Matt LaCorte added two valuable insurance runs in the top of the sixth on a two-out RBI double to increase Westfield’s lead to 6-3.

From there, junior southpaw Cory Hiltz shut the Cougars down for two solid innings of work to pick up the save. Hiltz limited Cranford to only one infield hit in a dominant effort.

“I rely a lot on my off speed pitchers to keep hitters off balance,” said Hiltz. “I threw mostly curve balls regardless of whether I was ahead of or behind [the count].”

“This is definitely a season milestone for us,” he added as Westfield prepares for the upcoming state tournament. “It boosts our confidence so much.”

Westfield coach Bob Brewster expressed how proud he was with his team’s performance, especially over the last 10 games.  

“One of the things our kids know how to do is not give up and play hard,” Brewster said. “We lost four games in a row at one point and since then we’ve won nine of the last 10. Last week we’ve started hitting the ball really well. [Xiao] came in and got two hits for us. He hasn’t played all that much this year, [but this is something] he will never forget. To me that’s great to see as a coach.”

Westfield will take on Basking Ridge in a road game on Monday, May 15, at 4 p.m. as they set their eyes on winning the upcoming state tournament.