Westfield Baseball
Sometimes, it takes more than just quality pitching, good defense and timely hitting for a baseball program to reach its first ever state championship game. For the Westfield Blue Devils, it also required an unbelievable knack for never feeling like they were out of the game.
No matter what the deficit was or how late it might have been in the game, Westfield always believed that it was going to find a way to triumph. It was this never-say-die attitude that fueled the Blue Devils’ most successful state tournament run ever.
Words like “unbelievable,” “ incredible” and  “magical” were uttered from players and coaches during a six-game stretch that saw Westfield score the deciding runs in its final at-bat in five straight state tournament wins before finally being defeated its first state title game.
Even in defeat, Westfield managed two impressive comebacks before one of its most successful seasons--which resulted in a fine 25-5 record--came to a conclusion.
Westfield has captured the most county championships of any school in Union County with 12, many of which with Bob Brewster, one of the winningest coaches in state history in his 29th season, at the helm. However, during the state tournament, Westfield would not replicate its success of the county level.
Before this year, the Blue Devils had only captured North 2, Group 4 on the field once, back in 1988. The program’s only other sectional title came in 1949. Westfield’s march to a first state championship game included an unprecedented string of seventh and eighth inning heroics.
Here’s a look at a state tournament run Westfield and its fans will always remember:

May 23 – North 2, Group 4 first round game at Westfield:
Westfield 5, Franklin 4
Game-winning hit: Matt Varakian
Westfield earned the 2nd-seed for the North 2, Group 4 playoffs and opened with a first round game against 15th-seed Franklin, which had a record of just 8-12.
In a game that many thought Westfield might win by the 10-run mercy rule, the Blue Devils had to rally in the bottom of the final frame to advance. Franklin, sparked by a fine pitching performance from its starter, snapped a 3-3 tie by scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh on a home run.
With two runners on, No. 5 batter Matt Varakian became the first post-season hero for Westfield. The righty-swinging power hitter smacked a double that drove in the tying and winning runs, avoiding what would have been a huge first round upset, in addition to gaining their 20th victory.

May 27 – North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal at Westfield:
Westfield 5, Phillipsburg 4
Game-winning hit: Tim Younger
Four days after their first dramatic comeback, the Blue Devils found themselves in the same predicament against an 11-11 Phillipsburg squad.
Once again, the Blue Devils trailed 4-3 going into the bottom of the seventh. This time, it was against junior left hander Anthony Ciavarella, who looked very sharp for the 10th-seeded Stateliners and had Westfield down to its final out.
James Barry, the No. 9 batter, was just looking to get on and keep the inning and Westfield’s season alive. Instead, he blasted a homerun over the left field wall, tying the game at 4.
“I just wanted to pick a good pitch and put the ball in play,” said Barry, who went 2-for-3 with two RBI. “I knew every pitch he was throwing. The second pitch was a good one and I had a good approach on it.”
With the Westfield bench still buzzing from Barry tying the game, leadoff batter Tim Younger stepped up to the plate and blasted a nearly identical homerun over the left field wall, winning the game 5-4.
“It was so frustrating being 0-for-3 against him,” said Younger. “Coach (Brewster) said to get focused and also said to me that I would get up with a runner on and get a hit to win the game.”
“This is what you live for as a kid and dream about,” Barry said.

May 31 – North 2, Group 4 semifinal at Westfield:
Westfield 3, Hunterdon Central 2
Game-winning hit: Dan Kerr
Westfield senior right hander Matt Rivera pitched well for six innings, allowing just one earned run on seven hits. He got 10 batters to ground out for a total of 11 outs when you include Westfield’s inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the first.
“My fastball was my best pitch until I was able to get my curveball over in the later innings,” Rivera said. “I got the ball down low and was able to get them to hit it on the ground.”
Westfield relief pitcher Mike Mondon, picked off the runner at first base when Hunterdon Central had runners on the corners with two outs in the top of the seventh, which was all the momentum Westfield needed going into the bottom of the inning trailing 2-1.
This time, the Blue Devils had the top of the order ready to go. Like in the game against Phillipsburg, Younger was previously 0-for-3 with a ground out, a line out and a fly out. Also like against Phillipsburg, Younger came through big-time in the clutch. He led off the inning with a single to left, finding the hole between third and short.
With runners on first and second and nobody out, Westfield  had its top two hitters up next: No. 3 batter A.J. Murray and cleanup hitter Dan Kerr – one of the most powerful 3-4 senior combinations in the state.
Murray, who will continue on scholarship at Georgia Tech and was drafted this year by the Houston Astros, singled hard past the third baseman to score Younger and tie the game at 2. Kerr finished the job by smoking a single to bring in the game-winning run.
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Kerr, who was 2-for-2, with two intentional walks and two. “I was just looking for something over the plate, something to put in play.”


June 3 – North 2, Group 4 final at Perth Amboy:
Westfield 9, Perth Amboy 7
Game-winning fielder’s choice: James Barry
Brewster used three right handed pitchers in this one, with senior Justin White starting and going 5 and 2/3 innings.
In the top of the seventh, O’Rourke led off with a sharp single up the middle followed by a single by senior catcher A.J. Murray and a walk by senior first baseman Dan Kerr to load the bases with nobody out.
Barry, who was moved up from ninth to fifth in the order, then hit a ground ball to short. The shortstop threw home, but made the catcher jump to bring it in, with O’Rourke sliding underneath the catcher’s tag and scoring to put Westfield back ahead for good. Westfield put three more runs across to make the final 9-5.
Another celebration ensued, this time for capturing its first sectional championship since 1988.
“Our motto is ‘Win and Survive’,” Brewster said. “We don’t care what it looks like. We’ve played four state games and so far we’ve outscored the opposition by a grand total of five runs.”

June 7 – Group 4 semifinal at Kean University in Union:
Westfield 8, Morris Knolls 5 (8 inn.)
Game-winning hit: Will Riggs
There’s an unwritten rule in sports that says never let the other team’s best players beat you. With one out and the Group 4 semifinal tied in the top of the eighth, Morris Knolls head Coach decided to intentionally walk Barry to load the bases. Murray and Kerr were already on second and third.
That brought up Riggs, who was previously 0-for-4 on the day with two groundouts and two strikeouts. Morris Knolls dared Riggs to end their season. Riggs was ready this time and made them pay.
On the first pitch he saw, Riggs drilled a fastball into right field for an opposite field, two-run single that gave Westfield the lead for good. A shutout bottom of the eighth inning by Mondon sealed another dramatic, come-from-behind state tournament victory as the North 2 champion Blue Devils downed the North 1 champ Golden Eagles 8-5 in the Group 4 semifinal. For the first time in the history of the program, Westfield advanced to a state championship game.
“You go up there thinking that there’s no option to fail,” Riggs said.
“With Riggs it was all guts,” Brewster said.

June 11 – Group 4 final at Toms River South in Toms River
Manalapan 29, Westfield 14
Although the scoreboard read Manalapan 29, Westfield 14 at the completion of the Group 4 state championship game at Toms River South’s Ken Frank Stadium, the Blue Devils had produced a victory of their own by the way they refused to quit.
Westfield trailed 11-0 going into the bottom of the second, but it felt like 51-0 the way Manalapan was hitting the ball. Brewster could only say “wow,” as the Braves produced 11 of their 32 hits in the first two frames.
The Blue Devils scored their first two runs in the bottom of the second and then No. 9 batter Jonathan Gribbin blasted a grand slam over the left field fence in the bottom of the third to pull Westfield to within 11-6 heading into the fourth.
Manalapan answered with five runs in the top of the fourth to take a 16-6 lead.
Westfield, still down 16-6, needed a run in the bottom of the fifth to avoid a loss by the 10-run mercy rule. With the bases loaded and two outs, the Blue Devils – down to their final out – received a clutch, two-run single by O’Rourke to pull Westfield to within 16-8 and extend the game until at least the sixth. At that moment, an NJSIAA official had to put the trophies, which he was preparing to hand out to Manalapan, away.
Westfield wasn’t done.
With O’Rourke’s hit knocking out their starter, the reliever tossed a wild pitch that allowed Murray to make it to first base on a strikeout. Then Kerr, who struck out his first three times up, came through with a clutch, two-run single to right to make it 16-10. Barry followed by drilling a three-run homer over the right-center field fence - smacking the ball off the brick field house - to pull the Blue Devils all the way to within 16-13. Riggs then got hit with a pitch, with the tying run on deck.
After trailing 11-0 and then 16-6 with one out to go before losing in five innings, Westfield rallied all the way back to put a major scare into Manalapan.
“We kept battling back,” said O’Rourke, who was 1-for-3, with two walks, two RBI and a run. “Down 11-0 we knew we had to chip away. At 16-13, we were thinking it was a new game and we had the momentum.
“To be on the first Westfield team to play in a state championship game and make it here is something I will always be proud of.”
 
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