SCOTCH PLAINS – Like the team it will play host to Tuesday in a North 2 Group IV semifinal, Scotch Plains-Fanwood has lived just below the surface of real notice this season.
But while sixth-seed Ridge has at least won a division title, the Raiders have nothing to show for a 21-6 record. That will change if the SP-F can beat Skyland Raritan champ Ridge, then beat either Edison or Millburn in the sectional final.
No. 2-seed Scotch Plains-Fanwood eliminated No. 10 Watchung Hills 4-0 Thursday afternoon as senior lefty and NJIT-commit Chris Gibbons (6-=2) pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout. He struck out seven and walked three. Watchung Hills is 14-13.
The Raiders scored three runs in the second and one more in the fifth on Alex Eckert’s two-out RBI single to ease any anxieity Gibbons might feel. He missed parts of last season with an injury while his team fnihsed 11-12. This season they have been beaten by Summit in the Union County Tournament quarterfinals and finished third behind Union County Conference Watchung Division co-champions Cranford and Governor Livingston . SP-F first-year coach Joe Higgins said the have kept the team very motivated.
“They have kept their hunger up,” said Higgins, a longtime assistant for Tom Baylock before Baylock stepped down after last season.
Baylock led the Raiders to six conference titles (2003-04, 2007-10) and two Union County Tournament (2004 and 2009), but the Raiders have been many years without a sectional title, last making a sectional final in 2010.
Gibbons praised the work of senior catcher J.T. Beirne. Gibbons llikes to throw his curveball in any countl, likes to thrown it just about anywhere in fact, and Beirne is always in front of the ball.
“He’s like a wall back there,” said Gibbons. “I confident to throw the curveball and know he’s back to there. It’s a huge factor.’
Gibbons missed some of the season last year with injurie, but has been very good since opening day when he went five innings to beat Westfield. He carried a no hitter until there was two outs in the fifth when Matt Wilk reached on an infield single. He boucned back to get Mastrobattista on a pop to shortstop. Watchung Hills’ fot a leadoff infield single from Nick Mink to start the sixth, but Gibbons got Kevin Cagnetta to ground into a force and retired the dangerous Anthony Rocchietti on a fly out to center and struck out Dan Bongiorno.
SP-F took the lead against lefty Brian Reiss in the second. Kevin Maxwell reached on an error and Gibbons singled before Beirne grounded back to Reiss. But Chris Isolda, Peter Yarem and Zack Lipshitz followed with RBI singles to give the Raiders a 3-0 lead. In the sixth, Peter Yarem doubled with two outs. Higgins replaced him with pinch runner Garret Zito and Eickert followed with a two-out single.
The lead felt very big for Gibbons.
“My stuff has been as good as it has been all year,”Gibbons said.
Staff Writer Harry Frezza: firstname.lastname@example.org