Baseball statistics are sometimes important, necessary and even nice.
But it takes a lot more for a northern New Jersey high school squad to qualify for a bus ride south to Toms River to play in a state championship game.
Here, Governor Livingston’s Chris Roof – at the helm of the Highlanders since 2004 – explains: “This year it’s taken the longest time to put the right pieces together. Our 2011 team (GL’s last state championship squad) had more talent.
“This team has really jelled. Our seniors have meshed nicely with our younger kids.
“The biggest thing is that we have 22 kids on the team and every one of them works very hard. They come to work every day. They have a lunch pail type of attitude.
“We work hard on the little things in practice and they pay off during the games.”
Central Jersey, Group 2 champion GL, with a record of 27-6 that includes the program record for wins in a season, defeated defending Group 2 state champion and South Jersey, Group 2 champ Buena 3-0 in Wednesday’s semifinal at Eastern. The Highlanders also defeated the defending champion – West Essex, by the score of 8-2 at Toms River North – when they last captured the Group 2 state championship in 2011.
North 2 champion Bernards reached the Group 2 final for the second straight season after downing North 1 champ Lakeland 5-4 in Wednesday’s semifinal at Weehawken. It was lefty-batting Luke Bowerbank who ended the game when – leading off the bottom of the seventh – the Mountaineers’ leadoff batter drilled a 1-1 changeup the opposite way over the left-center field fence for a solo home run that turned out to be the game-winning hit.
GL has won two state championships, capturing Group 2 in 1999 and 2011. The Highlanders are 2-1 in Group finals, including a loss in the 2006 Group 2 state championship game.
Bernards is still seeking to claim its first state championship and came close last year before falling to Buena 4-1 in the 2014 Group 2 final.
This Saturday at 11 a.m. at Toms River South High School in Toms River it will be Bernards (22-6) vs. GL (27-6) in the 2015 Group 2 final.
Including a 25-6 mark last year, Bernards – guided by head coach Jeff Falzarano since 2004 – is 47-12 the past two seasons.
GL finished 21-6 last year, so the Highlanders are 48-12 since the beginning of the 2014 season.
Roof remembers playing Bernards twice since his tenure at GL.
Bernardsville vs. Berkeley Heights to see who will be baseball’s best.
Let’s get right to it.
Baseball is a numbers game, right?
Well what would the numbers read if this situation plays out Saturday around 1:15 p.m. on a diamond in Toms River: GL leads 2-1, bottom of the seventh, two outs, man on third and Bernards leadoff batter Luke Bowerbank steps up to the plate.
GL senior right hander Dan Belfer has tossed a four-hitter so far, but Bowerbank has two of the hits, including a hard-hit single and a line-drive double that plated his team’s only run up to this point.
Does Belfer go after the Rutgers-bound Bowerbank again? Or does Bowerbank – the winning run mind you – draw an intentional walk and GL goes after the next batter, with the Highlanders not wanting to be beaten by the program’s all-time leader in base hits?
Let’s hope we see something like that really materialize. It would make for great drama on a Saturday afternoon in early June, with a state championship on the line.
GL, 10-1 since losing to Cranford in the Union County Tournament championship game, will not be able to use Lehigh-bound senior lefty Ethan Frohman on the mound since the standout pitcher tossed seven innings Wednesday – in a three-hit shutout of Buena that included 11 strikeouts and two walks – and there are only two days in between games for GL. High school rules state that pitchers need three days rest after throwing that many innings before they can pitch again.
However, Frohman – a four-year varsity starter with a 10-2 record this season that includes 101 strikeouts – is also a threat with his bat in GL’s lineup, having produced 23 hits, 25 RBI and scored 22 runs.
Backing up Belfer (5-1, 2.63 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 45.1 innings) on the mound will be sophomore Nick Cocchia (4-0, 3.91 ERA, 40 Ks in 34 innings) and junior Brian Cranston (3-1, 3.04 ERA, 11 Ks in 23 innings).
Bernards will have its top three pitchers available, including Sacred Heart-bound senior left hander Kyle Oliver – perhaps going to get the start – lefty Bowerbank and right hander Danny McDonald. Oliver slugged a two-run homer in the fifth to give Bernards back the lead at 4-3 and pitched just one inning – a scoreless seventh – to earn the mound victory in the Lakeland game.
Other standouts for the Mountaineers include junior catcher Jake Cawley and junior left fielder Devin Rivera.
The 5-6 lefty batting and throwing Bowerbank, with a program record 119 hits in four varsity seasons, plays center field when he’s not pitching. Oliver plays first base when not on the mound and bats cleanup in the Bernards lineup.
Belfer has really come through big time on the mound for GL after being injured last year. He’s also batting .387, with an on-base percentage of .493. He has 24 hits, 12 RBI and 14 runs.
“Dan has been outstanding,” Roof said. “He has three quality wins over Scotch Plains, Ridge – which reached a section final – and over Cranford (which also reached another section final, its fourth in a row).”
Three non-seniors who have contributed mightily include freshman shortstop Dan Serretti (.350, .430 obp, 28 hits, 19 RBI, 19 runs), Cocchia (.350, .409 obp, 21 hits, 12 RBI, 8 runs) and Cranston (.381 obp, 8 hits, 9 RBI, 4 runs).
Senior catcher Rob Dilly – who does not bat, but owns an impressive .984 fielding percentage – draws high praise from Roof.
“He’s a tremendous defensive catcher and even a better leader,” Roof said.
Backup senior shortstop Ryan Zucker, who solidified center field, has produced a .349 batting average, an on-base of .416 and has 30 hits, 18 RBI and 26 runs.
“Ryan is one of the top kids that gets it,” Roof said. “He will do anything for his team.”
Freshman Will Jennings and junior Josh Katz have had their moments as well. Katz has 20 stolen bases as a courtesy runner. “He’s a real threat on the bases,” Roof said.
GL’s big sticks – seniors Ian Lynch, Mike Falk and John Tedesco – all had a hand in the Highlander win over Buena. Tedesco produced a sacrifice fly RBI for a 2-0 lead and then Falk drove in Lynch with an RBI-double to make the final score 3-0.
Lynch, GL’s slugging third baseman who will continue at Montclair State and who has produced just over 100 hits in only three varsity seasons, is batting .422, with a .608 on-base, 35 hits, 27 RBI and 30 runs.
Falk, GL’s first baseman, is batting .378, with a .452 on-base, 37 hits, 36 RBI and 33 runs.
Tedesco, who plays second base, is batting .302, with a .400 on-base, 29 hits, 26 RBI and 24 runs.
SIMILIARTIES FOR GOVERNOR LIVINGSTON
CONCERNING ITS 2011 AND 2015 RUNS:
When GL last captured the Group 2 state championship in 2011, the Highlanders lost to Cranford in the UCT final at Kean and then later that night lost a game to Dayton at Snyder Park in Berkeley Heights.
GL then won its final nine games to finish 26-6 and set a program record for wins in a season.
The final victory was over the defending Group 2 state champion – West Essex – in the Group 2 final at Toms River North.
This year so far, GL has gone 10-1 since losing to Cranford in the UCT final at Kean. The Highlanders won seven straight and then lost to Newark Academy, which is also playing in a state championship game Saturday in Toms River – the Non-Public, B final at 2 p.m. at Toms River North.
Also like four years ago, GL has defeated the defending Group 2 state champion – Buena – this time in the semifinals. GL again will be playing one of the teams that were in the previous year’s final – which is Bernards.
And GL will have a senior right hander on the mound – Belfer – as it had four years ago when senior righty Mike Cranston beat West Essex.
NOTES: This will be Roof’s first attempt at gaining his 246th victory at GL and his 300th lifetime. A 1992 GL graduate who went on to star at Montclair State, Roof was also an assistant coach at GL in 1999 under the coach he played for – Bill Howard – when the Highlanders won their first state championship, downing Gateway 4-2 in the Group 2 final at East Brunswick Tech.
Roof has never had a losing season in his 15 years as a head coach, including 14 winning seasons and one .500 campaign.
GL lost to Hanover Park 8-0 in the 2006 Group 2 final at Toms River South and then defeated defending champion West Essex 8-2 in the 2011 Group 2 final at Toms River North.
GL is 4-0 in group semifinal games, outscoring the opposition by an impressive 41-7 margin that includes two shutouts.
Last year, senior lefty Brendan Ball pitched for Bernards in the final against Buena. The 6-3, 190-pounder is now playing collegiately at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
ONE WIN SHY OF 300:
CHRIS ROOF’S HEAD COACHING RECORD:
AT MILLBURN (3 seasons)
2002: (21-11) – N2, G3 champs; G3 semifinalists
2003: (18-12) – N2, G3 finalists
TOTAL: 54-34 (.614)
AT GOVERNOR LIVINGSTON (12 seasons)
2006: (24-8) – CJ, G2 champs; G2 finalists
2009: (20-7) – CJ, G2 finalists
2010: (23-8) – CJ, G2 finalists
2011: (26-6) – CJ, G2 champs; G2 state champs
2015 so far: (27-6) – CJ, G2 champs; G2 finalist
TOTAL: 245-101 (.708)
TOTAL AT BOTH SCHOOLS: 299-135 (.689)