BASKING RIDGE, NJ — In a game that packed about a thousand unique storylines into a taut two-plus hours of spellbinding baseball, Westfield completed an unlikely run through its section to win its second straight Section 2, Group 4 championship with a 4-2 victory over Ridge on Saturday.
With the victory, Westfield — for the first time all season — has a .500 record at 11-11. But after beating heavyweights Union, Bayonne, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Ridge — all of them except Union a higher-seeded team — in the tournament, eighth-seeded Westfield claimed another piece of hardware for 37-year head coach Bob Brewster, who may have done the best job of his storied career with this team after the Blue Devils began the campaign 0-4 and were knocked out of the Union County Tournament in the first round.
Leadoff hitter Matt McIntyre, one of few holdovers from the 2018 sectional championship team, went 4-for-4 with a double and two runs scored for Westfield; left fielder Sean Flynn went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI; and senior left-hander Mike Catanzaro pitched a four-hit complete game for the victory.
The Blue Devils broke a 1-1 tie with two runs in the top of the fifth inning. McIntyre started the rally with a one-out single and stole second base. He scored on Flynn's two-out double to deep left field, and Flynn scored on an infield throwing error one batter later for a 3-1ead.
Ridge (18-10-1) came back with a run in the bottom of the sixth, but when that frame ended, Westfield raced off the field with all the momentum heading into the seventh inning. After Ridge batters Lukas Goodman and Chris Parker started the home sixth with consecutive walks, the only two allowed all game by Catanzaro, Brandon Bell advanced them to third and second with a sacrifice bunt. Bobby Parisi followed with a double to deep right-center that scored one run, but Parker was held at third because he was cautious off second base thinking Parisi's flyball might be caught.
With runners on second and third base, Brewster elected to intentionally walk cleanup batter Greg Bozzo to face freshman No. 5 batter Jayden Hylton with the bases loaded.
“Some people might say I'm crazy to load the bases and bring up their leading hitter right there,” Brewster said of Hylton, whose batting average is above .400, “but I'll take my chances pitching to a freshman every time in that spot.”
Hylton--no ordinary freshman hitter, to be sure — worked the count to 3-2, fouled off a couple of pitches, and then hit a sharp ground ball right at third baseman Vic Coustan, who was playing on the edge of the infield grass. Coustan picked the grounder off the grass, fired to second and Christian Pansini relayed the throw on to first baseman Dan Kohler to complete an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play that invigorated Westfield as the Blue Devils charged off the field, while taking the wind out of Ridge's sails.
If the scenario seemed awfully familiar to Westfield fans, it's because just three days earlier, in the semifinal round, Westfield had a 3-1 lead over Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the sixth inning when SPF loaded the bases with nobody out. Westfield escaped that jam without a run scoring.
In the top of the seventh, McIntyre sparked Westfield one more time. He lined a one-out double just inside the right-field line and then induced a pickoff throw from Ridge's strong-armed catcher Greg Bozzo. Bozzo's throw got away from the infielder covering second, and the other infielder backing him up then threw the ball past the third baseman when McIntyre — Westfield's fastest runner — lit out for third. McIntyre came around to score on the error to give Westfield a 4-2 lead.
“It's a trick that we had talked about pulling off before the game," McIntyre said of the pickoff play. “We hoped to get them to bite on it, and they did.”
“Matt McIntyre is like a one-man rally,” Brewster said. “He always finds a way to get on base and then to make things happen. He beat Union with a three-run homer, and he's got great speed.”
McIntyre was called out at the plate in a controversial play in the first inning. After his single deflected off Ridge starting pitcher Jack Love to lead off the game, Andrew Caminiti followed with a double to right-center field. Hylton, the right fielder, make a perfect relay throw from deep in the outfield, and Ridge second baseman Chris Parker likewise threw a strike to home plate. Parker's relay arrived in catcher Greg Bozzo's mitt at the same time that McIntyre collided with the catcher, who was blocking home plate. McIntyre was called out on the play, despite Brewster's contention that Bozzo was blocking the plate before he had the ball.
“I was trying to get around him,” McIntyre said, “but, really, that play doesn't matter as much now because we won the game.”
Catanzaro's final pitching line reads: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, which continues a string of standout mound performances by him and fellow senior Mike Carlone, a right-hander, throughout the tournament. Catanzaro did much of his best work with a sweeping curve ball that he was able to keep on the corners of the strike zone, or that he was able to induce Ridge to swing at when it was out of the zone.
“Catanzaro is still mad at me that I kept him on JV all last year when he was a junior so that he would get enough innings to pitch,” Brewster said. "When he's on he can make batters look silly. Today when he saw us warming up two pitchers late in the game, he was emphatic, 'I'm finishing this game.'”
He did, and Westfield finished a sectional title run that must stand as one of the most unlikely in Brewster's distinguished tenure.
“Was this expected? Not at all,” Brewster said. “We won four state tournament games by scores of 4-2, 3-2, 3-1 and 4-2. But we have two solid pitchers, and that can get you through a state tournament.”