Governor Livingston, Jonathan Dayton are both state champs

Governor Livingston High School’s baseball team won the Union County Tournament title and the Group 2 state championship for the first time in the same season in 2024. The Highlanders also tied a school record for wins in a season with 28, finishing 28-5.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Union County baseball asserted itself big-time in 2024.

There were the top two seeds making it to the Union County Tournament championship game and a wild seventh inning that ensued before the trophy was handed out.

Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School captured the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division championship for the first time since 2010, while Union Catholic High School took home the Mountain Division crown and Roselle Park High School took the Valley Division title.

Then, when it came time for state tournament play, several Union County schools proved quite difficult to eliminate.

One of them, county champ Governor Livingston High School, didn’t lose at all. Behind the pitching and hitting of junior Matty Diskin, who is committed to playing in college at Division 1 Stetson University, and the additional hitting of the College of William & Mary-bound senior Matthew Kosuda and sophomore standout leadoff batter and solid shortstop Zach Geertsma, the Highlanders captured Central Jersey, Group 2 for the first time since 2017 and then Group 2 for the first time since 2015.

Governor Livingston won Group 2 for the fourth time, the other years being 1999 at East Brunswick Tech, 2011 at Toms River North and 2015 at Toms River South.

Governor Livingston was also the first Union County team to win a state championship since the Highlanders did so in 2015.
Governor Livingston won the UCT and Group 2 for the first time in the same year.

“This team could do a little of everything,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof said. “They’re pretty good.”

Governor Livingston won their first three UCT crowns in 2016, 2018 and 2021. Roof has now guided Governor Livingston to all four of its UCT titles and its last three Group 2 crowns. Bill Howard, who Roof played for at Governor Livingston before graduating in 1992, guided Governor Livingston to its first state crown in 1999, with Roof an assistant coach that season.

Governor Livingston finished 28-5 overall, tying the school record for wins in a season set by the 2015 Group 2 state champs who went 28-6. The Highlanders went 8-4 in the Watchung Division, which was good enough for being tied for second with Summit High School.

Governor Livingston’s only losses were four in the Watchung Division and one to parochial school power Delbarton School, 3-2.
Union County’s other sectional state champion was Jonathan Dayton High School. The Bulldogs overcame a 2-7 start to produce a seventh straight winning season at 17-12 and capture North 2, Group 1 for the third time under head coach Mike Abbate and for the first time since 2014. The other year was 2013.

Jonathan Dayton was sparked by seniors Brandyn Bernknopf, Anthony Bianchi, Kieran Conway, Peter Ramirez and Jon Rodrigues.

“I’m really proud of the seniors,” Abbate said. “All five could have quit or stopped leading when we were 2-7, but they didn’t.”

Next year’s top senior will be four-year varsity starter Frank Dasti, who this season reached 100 career hits. Dasti led Jonathan Dayton with 38 hits and a robust .475 batting average.

Dasti had 22 hits his freshman year as the Bulldogs reached the UCT final in 2022 for the first time since 2005. Dasti banged out 43 hits last year as a sophomore and will enter his senior season next year with a total of 103.

“Frank Dasti is the toughest-and hardest-working kid around which is why he stands out each day whether he is pitching, hitting, fielding or running the bases,” Abbate said.

Jonathan Dayton won seven of its last eight games and nine of its final 11. The Bulldogs won North 2, Group 1 as the sixth seed, winning at fifth-seeded David Brearley High School, 4-0, in the final.

All four Union County Group 1 schools reached the North 2, Group 1 quarterfinals, all playing on the road. Jonathan Dayton, David Brearley and New Providence High School advanced and then Jonathan Dayton and David Brearley moved on to the final.

Jonathan Dayton finished fourth in the Mountain Division at 7-5. Elizabeth High School–Frank J. Cicarell Academy was second at 9-3 and David Brearley third at 8-4. Elizabeth finished 16-9 overall and David Brearley 17-9.

Union Catholic went 16-9 overall and won the Mountain Division at 10-2. The Vikings of Scotch Plains were sparked by the play of senior Nick Pelligrino and sophomores Gregory Viloria and Michael Pelligrino.

Nick Pelligrino led in hits with 24, while Villoria and Michael Pelligrino were right behind with 23 each.

Roselle Park won the Valley Division at 7-0 and finished 13-10 overall. The Panthers did not play Linden on the road in division play, going 1-0 against the Tigers. Roselle Park swept Rahway, Hillside and Plainfield high schools.

After losing at North Arlington High School, 9-2, on Friday, April 5, in its first road game, the Panthers bounced back to defeat the Bergen County school, 2-1, at home in a first-round North 2, Group 1 encounter on Thursday, May 23.

Roselle Park was lifted at the plate by senior Edwin Rodriguez and sophomores Michael Bromirski and Jose Candelaria. Bromirski led with 33 hits, Candelaria banged out 32 and Rodriguez 25. Senior Johnny Amato had 23 hits and also scored 23 runs. Candelaria led the Panthers with 27 runs.

A seventh inning to remember for sure

Westfield High School, the top seed, and Governor Livingston, the second seed, reached the UCT final at Kean University on Monday, May 13. Governor Livingston scored an unearned run in the second inning and then added two insurance runs in the third to extend its lead to 3-0.

The game remained 3-0 until the top of the seventh. Westfield starter Tomas Cestero was still in control, as the senior right-hander retired the first two batters he faced on fly balls to the outfield.

Then Governor Livingston chipped away, base hit after base hit, to produce seven more insurance runs to take a 10-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh.

The high-fives, smiles and overall feelings of grandeur were at an all-time high in the Governor Livingston dugout, as they took the field needing only three more outs to secure its first county crown in three years.

Westfield, not seeking to roll over and die at all, quickly loaded the bases with nobody out against Governor Livingston junior RH Diskin, who took a four-hit shutout into the bottom of the seventh. Westfield began with the first walk Diskin issued, followed by a baseball hit and a bunt single.

The Blue Devils, seeking to win the UCT for the first time since 2017, actually got the game to 10-4 with nobody out and then to 10-5 with just one out.

Westfield dramatically pulled to within 10-8 with two outs, runners on first and second, and a pinch-hitter at the plate. Governor Livingston righty relief pitcher Anthony DeNora ended the game by striking out the Westfield batter and the Highlanders held on in every sense of the word to win the title.

Fifteen of the game’s 18 runs were scored in the seventh inning. Governor Livingston scored seven times after two outs and nobody on in the top of the seventh, followed by Westfield scoring all eight of its runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Diskin, also the winning pitcher in the Group 2 final by tossing a three-hit shutout to beat Pascack Valley High School, 3-0, at Veterans Park in Hamilton on Saturday, June 8, was the winning pitcher in the UCT final for Governor Livingston, despite giving up seven earned runs, all in the bottom of the seventh.

Photo by JR Parachini