One of the most consistent public school baseball programs in the state has fresh faces at many positions after graduating 15 seniors of which six are now playing on the collegiate level.
Defending Group 2 state champion Governor Livingston will not use that as an excuse.
The Highlanders expect to still be among the best teams in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division, Union County and now North 2, Group 3.
GL is coming off a program record for wins in a season with 28 as it concluded 28-6 a year ago.
The Highlanders are seeking a 12th straight season above .500. GL has won at least 20 games six of the past seven seasons.
“We have a lot of juniors (8), but are inexperienced at several positions,” head coach Chris Roof said. “I like our pitching, I like our defense and I believe we have a future Division 1 player behind the plate.”
That player Roof speaks of – one of GL’s newcomers – is junior catcher Dan Baroff.
“He’s a lefty batter and he can really throw,” Roof said. “He’s also very high academically. I can see him playing in the Ivy League or Patriot League.”
GL’s new infield consists of sophomore DJ Gonnelli at first, senior Brendan Lake at second, senior Brian Cranston at third and junior Vin Doren at shortstop.
Returning sophomore shortstop Dan Serretti, who this past November gave a verbal commitment to continue playing in college at St. John’s, is out for the season after having surgery on his elbow in January.
“It’s a huge loss, but we have a player in Vin Doren who would be the starting shortstop at a lot of other schools,” Roof said. “We’re very happy with him.”
The outfield features senior Josh Katz in left, junior Nick Cocchia in center and sophomore Will Jennings in right.
At designated hitter will be junior Jace Tweeten and freshman switch-hitter Drew Compton, who will also see time on the mound and at third base.
Roof lists his top four pitchers as junior right hander Cole Schneider, Cranston, Cocchia – a lefty – and junior righty Sean Savage.
Other hurlers in relief include senior right hander Matt Bruno, junior right hander John Colendenski, Compton, Doren and Jennings.
Backing up at third and another right handed pitcher is Liam Hulbert.
Backing up at first is junior Thomas Barbera and at catcher is sophomore Sam Pile. Senior Lucas Vitollo, a first-year player like Hulbert, Barbera and Pile, will see action in the outfield.
The 19-player breakdown is five seniors, eight juniors, five sophomores and one freshman.
NOTES: Roof’s coaching staff remains the same, including Matt Rego, Bryan Young, Dan Mondelli and Ralph Yezza.
Roof reports that there are 16 former GL players presently playing in college, nine of them on the Division 1 level.
“That’s part of the program, getting the kids to play at the next level,” Roof said.
GL is also one of only 19 schools – out of 662 in New Jersey – to have won three or more state championships on the field. Group finals began in 1971.
“That’s something to be very proud of,” Roof said.
Four of the other 19 are fellow Union County schools Cranford (5), Union (3), Linden (3) and Elizabeth (3).
The coaches with the most wins include Dennis McCaffery at Cranford, Tony Picaro at Linden and Ray Korn at Elizabeth with three each. Roof and Gordon LeMatty at Union have each won two.
GL is 3-1 in group finals – all in Group 2. The Highlanders won in 1999, 2011 and 2015 and lost in 2006. Roof was a part of all four, three as a head coach.
Now in his 13th season at the helm of the Highlanders and in his 16th season as a head coach, Roof is proud of his past, excited about his present and very much looking forward to the future at his high school alma mater.
“We should have a lot of experience going into next year,” said the 1992 GL graduate.
When GL defeated Bernards 10-4 in last June’s Group 2 state championship game at Toms River South, it was Roof’s 300th coaching victory.
Roof’s 12-season record at GL is 246-101 (.709) and his three-season (2001-2003) record at Millburn was 54-34 (.614). His overall record going into the 2016 season is 300-135 (.690). Whitey Ford’s winning percentage is .690 (236-106).
“Most coaches would be very satisfied to have won 300 games and two state championships in 15 years,” Roof said. “I could have stopped right there, but I want to keep going.”
GL opens at home Friday, April 1 vs. Union at 3:45 p.m. in UCC-Watchung Division play. GL was 3-0 vs. Union last year, including a UCT win at home.
GL and Cranford shared the Watchung Division championship last year, both 8-2 in division play and splitting against each other.
Cranford also defeated GL 3-1 in the UCT final at Kean. GL is still seeking its first UCT crown after four appearances in the final, including the last two.
Cranford reached the North 2, Group 3 final last year after winning the section three years in a row (2012-2014) and four times since 2010.
With GL now in North 2, Group 3, there’s the possibility that Union County arch rivals Cranford and GL could face each other four times this season.
GL 2016 SCHEDULE:
April 1 Union, 3:45 p.m.
Highlander Classic at GL
New Providence vs. Madison, 11 a.m.
Kinnelon vs. GL, 2 p.m.
April 4 at Scotch Plains, 4 p.m.
April 5 Elizabeth, 4 p.m.
April 7 at Westfield, 4 p.m.
Highlander Classic at GL
Consolation, 2 p.m.
Final, 4 p.m.
April 12 at Dayton, 4 p.m.
April 13 Cranford, 4 p.m.
April 14 at Union Catholic, 4 p.m.
Autism Awareness at North Brunswick
J.P. Stevens vs. GL, 10 a.m.
April 18 at Union, 4 p.m.
April 19 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m.
April 22 New Providence, 4 p.m.
April 25 vs. Madison at Drew, 4 p.m.
April 29 Rahway, 4 p.m.
May 3 at Elizabeth, 4 p.m.
May 5 Westfield, 4 p.m.
May 10 at Cranford, 4 p.m.
Snyder Ave. Park Field, BH
Rahway vs. GL, 4 p.m.
May 12 Linden, 4 p.m.
May 13 Johnson, 4 p.m.
May 14 at Wallkill Valley, 11 a.m.
May 17 at Watchung Hills, 4 p.m.
May 19 Parsippany, 4 p.m.
May 20 at Mountain Lakes, 4 p.m.
Seeding meeting: April 18
Prelims: April 21
First round: April 23
Quarterfinals: April 27
Semifinals: April 30 at Kean
Final: May 7, TBA
STATES (N2, G3 for GL) DATES:
First round: May 23
Quarterfinals: May 27
Semifinals: May 31
Final: June 3
Group semis: June 7
Group finals: June 11
2015 WATCHUNG DIVISION
1-Gov. Livingston (8-2) – co-champs
Cranford (8-2) – co-champs
3-Scotch Plains (7-3)
2016 WATCHUNG DIVISION
ALIGNMENT (THE SAME):