UNION – When the Governor Livingston team bus arrived at KeanUniversity’s Jim Hynes ’63 Baseball Stadium approximately an hour before Saturday’s county tournament game was to begin, one player was not on it.
That was junior Mike Falk, who arrived just 20 minutes before the game started after taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for the first time.
Although Falk got to the field some 40 minutes after his Highlander teammates stepped on the diamond, he was just as prepared when it came time to produce.
In the bottom of the second with runners on first and second and nobody out and the game still scoreless, Falk lined a 2-0 pitch from Dayton starter Chase Kimmel the other way down the right field line that brought home Ian Lynch and Pat Mahoney with the game’s first runs.
His opposite-field two-run triple turned out to be the game-winning hit, helping lead top-seeded GL to a convincing 6-1 win over fifth-seeded Dayton in the first of Saturday’s two semifinals of the 61st annual baseball Union County Tournament.
The semifinals were held at Kean for the first time and at someplace other than Elizabeth for the first time since 2005 when they were last contested at Rahway.
GL, which still has yet to win the event, reached the final for the fourth time and for the first time since 2011. The Highlanders won their 11th straight to improve to 16-1.
Third-seeded Westfield defeated second-seeded and defending champion Cranford 4-1 in Saturday’s second semifinal. It’s the fourth time in four tries that Westfield has defeated Cranford in the semifinals since 2006. The Blue Devils are in the championship game for the third straight year and for the sixth time in the past seven.
The championship game between GL and Westfield is scheduled for next Saturday, May 10, at Kean at 1 p.m., following the junior varsity title contest that has a scheduled first-pitch time of 10:30 a.m.
GL and Frohman blanked Westfield 1-0 at home on April 9 in the first of their two Union County Conference-Watchung Division games. The teams are scheduled to play their second league game against each other Tuesday in Westfield.
Westfield defeated Cranford 5-4 at home this past Tuesday in the first of their two Watchung Division meetings.
GL outlasted Westfield 14-11 in the 2011 UCT semifinals at Elizabeth’s Williams Field, with senior Mike Cranston winning the game with a walk-off home run over the left field fence.
While GL has zero county titles, Westfield has the most with 13. The Blue Devils will be appearing in the final for the seventh time since 2006, with a record of 2-4 in their last six championship game appearances.
Westfield is now 11-3 and winners of eight straight, while Cranford fell to 10-5. The Cougars are 3-2 in their last five games, both losses to Westfield.
Dayton, in the semifinals for the second time in the last three years and seeking to get to the final for the first time since 2005, had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 13-2.
“It was the timing of his fastball that I focused on and he threw a pitch right over the middle of the plate and I went with it,” said Falk, who was 1-for-3, with two RBI and the game’s only triple.
GL’s first baseman also just missed socking a solo home run with one out in the fourth when he flied out to deep left.
Falk was the only GL player that took the SAT Saturday.
“It was not easy concentrating (on the exam),” Falk said. “I was really just thinking about this game.”
The Highlanders added another run in the second – courtesy of a wild pitch – to give junior left-hander Ethan Frohman a commanding 3-0 lead just two innings in.
That was like giving Greg Maddox a 1-0 or 2-0 lead in his prime.
Frohman went on to toss a six-hitter in a 97-pitch performance that saw him strike out four and walk two. He allowed only his second run as a starting pitcher this season and his initial one since his first game when GL defeated Elizabeth 16-1at home back on April 3.
While he was tough enough to prevent Dayton from getting big hits with runners on base and scoring more Frohman readily proclaimed that he did not throw his best outing of the season.
“I felt good, threw a lot of strikes and was able to throw my curve for strikes,” Frohman said. “I was trying to get my curve over for strikes. I did battle a little throughout.”
Frohman was tested in the fourth inning after allowing just one baserunner in the first three – and that was on a four-pitch walk to the second batter he faced, Mike DePalma.
After a opposite field single to left by Joey Iuliano broke up Frohman’s no-hitter, cleanup batter Ben Steel smashed a curveball to left that took one bounce and went over the fence for a grounds-rule double.
“That was a big point,” Frohman said. “He crushed that curveball.”
With runners on second and third and one out and the tying run at the plate, Frohman beared down and retired the next two batters on pop ups to first base and shortstop.
“Ethan didn’t have his best,” Roof said. “He’s been fighting through injuries such as a hip flexor and calf. He kept Dayton off balance.”
Frohman improved to 6-0 this season and 5-0 as a starter. He has given up only three runs in seven mound appearances, two as a starter and one in relief.
GL is 7-0 in the games he’s pitched.
Frohman ended the game by picking off a Dayton runner leading too far away from first base. In relief on his way to earning the mound victory in Friday’s 10-3 come-from-behind quarterfinal home win over eighth-seeded Elizabeth, Frohman picked off a batter at the beginning of his one and two-thirds innings stint.
“He’s a special kid and a special player,” Roof said.
Dayton’s approach against Frohman was to swing at the first pitch, with the Bulldogs fouling many of those back toward the first base side.
“We wanted to be aggressive, but I thought we swung at too many balls and at some bad pitches,” Dayton head coach Mike Abbate said. “I didn’t think we made him (Frohman) work. Our kids will learn and come back strong from this.”
Dayton became only the second team to score a run off Frohman in a game he started this year when designated hitter Drew Farbstein produced an RBI-single to left with two outs in the sixth. Scoring on the play was DePalma, who led off the frame with a full-count walk.
Kimmel’s best inning was the first as it was his only 1-2-3 frame, which included strikeouts swinging of GL leadoff batter John Tedesco and No. 3 batter Ryan Jennings.
In a six-inning, complete-game effort that saw the junior righty give up three more runs to GL in the fourth – there was a throwing error in the frame – Kimmel (4-1) yielded six runs on eight hits, while striking out five, walking three and hitting a batter. He tossed 121 pitches, including 28 in the second and 30 in the fourth, which were the innings that GL scored in.
“Chase fell behind with too many of his pitches,” Abbate said. “He didn’t throw enough first-pitch strikes.
“I thought he battled for not having his best fastball.”
After Kimmel retired the first two GL batters he faced in the fourth on a ground out to short and a fly ball to left, he walked Frohman on a full count. He then gave up back-to-back singles to the final two GL batters in the order, including Nick Sarno – an opposite field hit to right – and to Steve Duda – an RBI-single to left.
Tedesco, like Falk, then went the other way to produce an opposite field two-run bloop single to right that scored Sarno and Duda to make it 6-0.
Four of GL’s eight hits were to the opposite field – blasts to right produced by right-handed batters Falk, Jennings, Sarno and Tedesco.
“With two strikes we were shortening up and able to go the other way,” Roof said. “That’s what successful teams like Cranford and Westfield are able to do. That’s a good sign.”
GL left fielder and No. 5 batter Pat Mahoney was 2-for-3, with a single, a double and a run. He was the game’s only player with more than one hit.
The Highlanders previously reached the UCT final in 1996, losing to two-time defending champion Westfield; in 2007, falling to Cranford; and in 2011, losing to defending champion Cranford.
GL, believed to be selected as the UCT’s top seed for the first time, enters an upcoming week of five scheduled games with the best overall record in UnionCounty.
The Highlanders presently lead the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division at 5-1.
61ST ANNUALBASEBALLUNIONCOUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEMIFINALS AT KEANUNIVERSITY
5-DAYTON (13-2) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 – 1 6 1
1-GOV. LIVINGSTON (16-1) 0 3 0 3 0 0 x – 6 8 0
Governor Livingston junior left-hander Ethan Frohman (6-0)
7 innings complete: 97 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-13. 2-7. 3-17. 4-23. 5-10. 6-18. 7-9. Total: 97.
Strikes: 64. Balls: 33.
Perfect inning: The second.
Runs: 1. Earned: 1. Hits: 6. Strikeouts 4 (3 swinging). Walks: 2.
Dayton junior right-hander Chase Kimmel (4-0)
6 innings complete: 122 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-15. 2-28. 3-15. 4-30. 5-11. 6-22. Total: 121.
Strikes: 79. Balls: 42. 3-ball batters: 9.
Perfect inning: The first.
Runs 6. Earned: 5. Hits 8. Strikeouts 5 (all swinging). Walks: 3.
Hit batters: 1.
SINGLES: Dayton – Joey Iuliano, Matt Ranieri, Mike Iuliano, Drew Farbstein, Ryan Fitzpatrick. GL – Pat Mahoney, Ryan Jennings, Nick Sarno, Steve Duda, John Tedesco, Ethan Frohman.
DOUBLES: Dayton – Ben Steel. GL – Pat Mahoney.
TRIPLES: Dayton – None. GL – Mike Falk.
HOME RUNS: Dayton – None. GL – None.
61ST ANNUAL BASEBALL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Gov. Livingston. 2-Cranford. 3-Westfield. 4-Scotch Plains.
5-Dayton. 6-Union. 7-Union Catholic. 8-Elizabeth.
9-Summit. 10-New Providence. 11-Roselle Park. 12-Johnson.
13-Oratory Prep. 14-Plainfield 15-Rahway. 16-Roselle Catholic.
Wednesday, April 23
Linden 11, Roselle Catholic 5 – at Roselle Catholic
Friday, April 25
Oratory Prep 7, Scotch Plains 5 – at Scotch Plains
Saturday, April 26
Elizabeth 6, Summit 2 – at Elizabeth
Gov. Livingston 11, Linden 3 – at Gov. Livingston
Union Catholic 4, New Providence 1 – at Union Catholic
Cranford 14, Rahway 1 – at Cranford
Roselle Park 6, Union 3 – at Union
Monday, April 28
Dayton 7, Johnson 5 – at Dayton
Westfield 10, Plainfield 0 – at Westfield
Friday, May 2
Dayton 10, Oratory Prep 0 – at Dayton
Gov. Livingston 10, Elizabeth 3 – at GL
Westfield 4, Roselle Park 2 – at Westfield
Cranford 5, Union Catholic 4 (9 inn.) – at Cranford
Saturday, May 3
At Kean University
Gov. Livingston 6, Dayton 1
Westfield 4, Cranford 1
Saturday, May 10
At Kean University
JV: 10:30 a.m.
Varsity: 3-Westfield vs. 1-Gov. Livingston, 1 p.m.