TOMS RIVER – You can say that everything is okay in Berkeley Heights today, June 6.
That’s because the high school’s baseball team won a state championship, beating the opposition by the score of 10-4.
Continuing another roll after falling in the Union County Tournament championship game exactly four Saturdays ago, Governor Livingston scored immediately, first and never looked back.
Saturday’s convincing 10-4 triumph over Bernards in the NJSIAA’s Group 2 state championship game at Toms River South High School’s Ken Frank Baseball Stadium was the capping of one of the greatest seasons in program history.
Not only did the Highlanders finish 28-6 and set the program record for wins in a season, but head coach Chris Roof also reached 300 lifetime wins, including his 246th in 12 seasons at GL.
The Highlanders won 11 of their final 12 games and finished with a four-game winning streak.
The 2011 team – GL’s previous state championship squad – also set the program record for wins in a season at 26. The Highlanders finished 26-6 that season, closed with a nine-game winning streak and went 9-1 after losing in the county final.
“The 2011 team was more talented and played well as a team, but this group really played as a team,” Roof said. “The 14 seniors on this team really meshed well with our underclassmen.”
GL BASEBALL 3-1 IN STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES:
2015, Group 2: Gov. Livingston 10, Bernards 4 – at Toms River South
2011, Group 2: Gov. Livingston 8, West Essex 2 – at Toms River North
2006, Group 2: Hanover Park 8, Gov. Livingston 0 – at Toms River South
1999, Group 2: Gov. Livingston 4, Gateway 2 – at East Brunswick Tech
You want GL’s hitting stars from Saturday? Well, seven Highlanders hit safely, with senior first baseman Mike Falk leading the way with a two-run double in the first and a home run in the third. He was 2-for-3, with four RBI. He also walked with the bases loaded – as did teammate Ian Lynch right before him – and was robbed of a single on a great pick by the Bernards third baseman and scoop by the first sacker.
“They left a couple of fastballs over the plate, so I wanted to be aggressive,” Falk said. “We wanted this so bad. We weren’t going to quit.”
You want GL pitching standouts? Starter Dan Belfer pitched into the sixth to earn his sixth mound victory, while lefty reliever Nicky Cocchia closed things out by not allowing a run in his 1 and 2/3 innings stint, earning a save.
Belfer escaped a bases loaded jam in the first and then settled down, striking out seven, walking three and hitting a batter; in addition to giving up four runs on seven hits in 5 and 1/3 innings.
Belfer, who finished with a pitch count of 90, retired the side in order in the second and did not allow a hit in the second, third and fourth innings.
“I had success with my changeup and at other times my curveball,” Belfer said. “I had good velocity on my fastball.
“The first inning was crucial, putting up a zero. After that it was smooth sailing. In the sixth I was running on fumes and the coaches made the right move by bringing Nicky in, who really pitched well.”
GL scored its first three runs against starter Kyle Oliver, a lefty who will continue playing in college at Sacred Heart. After scoring four runs off righty reliever Danny McDonald in the fourth, the Highlanders scored their final three runs off lefty relief pitcher Luke Bowerbank with two outs in the sixth.
“We worked hard the last two days, hitting against two lefties,” Roof said. “They were college arms we brought in. Knowing that two of their three pitchers were lefties, we needed live at-bats.”
The game turned in a big way in the first inning. Bernards loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the first against Belfer before he retired the next batter on a strikeout – his first – swinging.
GL then loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first and managed to score twice on Falk’s double, with another runner getting thrown out at the plate on the smash.
GL freshman leadoff batter Dan Serretti set the tone for the inning by coming back from being down 0-2 in the count against Oliver to reaching first base on an infield single.
“Dan is a freshman, but has played beyond a freshman,” Roof said. “Belfer wants to be hyped up and that’s a good thing and we will miss that.
“Falk is amazing. He was battling with a calf injury and missed practiced the last couple of days with a little virus. He’s going to play at Union County College, but he can play at a lot of places.”
Bowerbank smashed a single to lead off the game and a two-run homer in the fifth for his team’s first two runs. The Rutgers-bound senior also smoked a line drive to center field in the sixth that was caught by GL’s Ryan Zucker. The sacrifice fly blast produced another RBI for Bowerbank – who finished with three – and it drove in the final run for Bernards, who finished 22-7.
Bernards is now 0-2 in state championship games, including last year’s 4-1 loss to Buena in the 2014 Group 2 final.
On consecutive at-bats in the bottom of the sixth for GL, Belfer and John Tedesco produced RBI-singles and then Zucker lined an RBI-double down the left field line.
Falk and Zucker were GL’s players with two hits, while GL had seven different players bang out singles.
Bernards had five different players hit singles, while Bowerbank and Oliver were the only two with two hits.
NOTES: Roof was 54-34 (.614) in three seasons at Millburn (2001-2003) and is now 246-101 (.709) in 12 seasons at GL (2004-2015) for a total of 300-135 (.690).
NJSIAA GROUP 2 FINAL AT TOMS RIVER SOUTH
Bernards (22-7) 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 – 4 8 1
GL (28-6) 2 0 1 4 0 3 x – 10 10 0
WINNING PITCHER: Dan Belfer (6-1).
LOSING PITCHER: Kyle Oliver (5-2).
SINGLES: Bernards (5) – Luke Bowerbank, Jake Cawley, Carter Klein, Matt Taylor, Kyle Oliver. GL (7) – Dan Serretti, Brian Cranston, Nicky Cocchia, Ethan Frohman, Ryan Zucker, Dan Belfer, John Tedesco.
DOUBLES: Bernards (2) – Kyle Oliver, Danny McDonald. GL (2) – Mike Falk, Ryan Zucker.
TRIPLES: Bernards – None. GL – None.
HOME RUNS: Bernards (1) – Luke Bowerbank. GL (1) – Mike Falk.