BERKELEY HEIGHTS – You wait all winter long for the season to begin.
Then you count the days before pre-season baseball practice and – sometimes – frigid scrimmages come to an end.
Just to get to Opening Day.
Then you get an initial forecast of rain. Then the sun comes out and the temperature rises to where wearing a jacket is not required.
Then you start to play, anxious to get off to a good start.
You get five-and-a-half innings in.
Then the clouds erase the sun. Then lightning strikes, followed by the standard 30-minute safety delay.
Then it gets darker. Then it begins to rain and then there’s more lightning and thunder.
After about 20 minutes a decision by the umpiring crew decides that a game tied 3-3 right at the start of the bottom of the sixth will be suspended.
No closure on the hill in Berkeley Heights on this Opening Day, 2016.
No joy in Mudville today.
Host Governor Livingston came back from two two-run deficits to tie the game at 3-3 with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Then the Highlanders held visiting Union to no runs in the top of the sixth.
Friday’s season-opening Union County Conference-Watchung Division game – not considered a tie – will most likely be resumed at a later date, continuing with the beginning of the bottom of the sixth.
GL head coach Chris Roof wants the game to be continued on the field it began on. What host head coach wouldn’t a game started on his field then finished on his field?
Union is scheduled to host GL on Monday, April 18 at 4 p.m.
As for Friday’s game, it appeared that Union might be on its way to a victory before GL chipped away, tied the game, and gained some late momentum.
Union scored single runs in the second, third and fifth innings, while GL scored its first run in the third and last two in the fifth.
For the Farmers, who were 0-3 vs. eventual Group 2 state champion GL last year, junior third baseman Jamie Olivo slugged two doubles, senior lefty pitcher Matt Meola produced an opposite field RBI-double to left in between getting intentionally walked twice and senior left fielder Kyle Boyd was 2-for-3, with two hard-hit singles to left, a walk and a run.
“Kyle can swing the bat,” Union third-year head coach Angel Navarrete said of his No. 3 batter in the lineup.
On the mound, Meola allowed three earned runs on six hits in five complete innings. He struck out nine and walked only one. The final seven batters he retired were all on strikeouts including striking out the side in the fourth (in order) and fifth innings.
“Matt battled and gave a strong effort,” Navarrete said. “We’re going to expect him to throw a lot of strikes.”
On the final pitch of the day, GL reliever Sean Savage, a junior right hander, got Boyd to fly out to somewhat deep right with a runner on second and two outs as Union sought to take the lead back. Boyd jumped on Savage’s first pitch and got under it.
“Sean was great,” Roof, in his 13th season at the helm of the Highlanders, said. “He’s one of our top guys.”
Union took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Chris Petrucelli drove in Quincy Bryant with a ground out to third. Bryant led off the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second by Chris Ortiz and then brought home by Petrucelli.
GL junior right hander Cole Schneider, making his first varsity start, got out of a bases-loaded jam without giving up a run in the first inning, but was later taken out in the third with two outs after throwing nearly 70 pitches.
He gave up two earned runs on three hits in two and two-third innings, striking out three, walking five (one of them intentional) and hitting one batter.
“Cole had some tough luck with the strike zone,” Roof said. “It was good for him to get the butterflies out of the way and get his first varsity start in.”
Union increased its lead to 2-0 in the third when, with designated hitter Justin Hernandez on third and two outs, Meola came through with his clutch hit. Hernandez led off the inning with a walk. Union’s first two runs came as the result of a leadoff walk.
GL got on the board for the first time this season in the bottom of the third. DJ Gonnelli led off with a double to the gap that rolled to the fence, splitting the center and right fielders. He then moved to third when Meola struck out Vin Doren, but Doren reached first base on a wild pitch for the third strike.
GL leadoff batter Jace Sweeten, his team’s designated hitter, followed with an opposite field RBI-single to left, scoring Gonnelli. With runners on second and third and two down, Meola got out of further trouble by striking out the next GL batter looking.
Savage retired the first four batters he faced, including striking out the side on 12 pitches in the fourth. Union got him for one run in the fifth when, with the bases loaded and one out, Bryant produced a sacrifice fly to right that brought home Boyd, who began the frame with his second single on the day. Savage did a good job of holding Union to just one run after the Farmers loaded the bases – with their No. 3, 4 and 5 batters – with nobody out.
GL came right back to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, the lefty-batting Tweeten got things going by reaching on an infield single when he beat the throw to first base from shortstop. After his hustling out of the box, Tweeten then moved to third on a passed ball.
Following a walk to Brian Cranston, lefty-batting Will Jennings lined a shot down the right field line that brought home Tweeten to make the score 3-2.
Dan Baroff then hit a ground ball to second that plated Cranston with the tying run. Baroff was also safe at first after an errant throw, which was the game’s only error.
With runners on first and third and two outs and GL looking to take its first lead, Meola struck out the final batter of the inning looking.
“I was happy that we scored, but there was a lot of inexperience that showed,” Roof said. “This will continue to be a learning process for us.”
“I think our guys did a good job today,” Navarette said.
Olivo was 2-for-3 with his two doubles for Union.
Union almost completed a 4-6-3 double play in the second inning, settling for a 4-6 fielder’s choice.
Tweeten was 2-for-3, with his two singles, an RBI and a run for GL.
GL executed a 4-6-3 double play in the third.
NOTES: Cranford began last year – also on April 1, no fooling – with a home game against Elizabeth that was not completed and tied at the moment of suspension, similar to Friday’s Union-GL game.
The game was finished at Elizabeth prior to the teams playing their Watchung Division game at Elizabeth the same day, April 18 to be exact.
Cranford won the continued game 9-8 and then also defeated Elizabeth 11-6 in the full game at Williams Field that followed that day.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
Union (0-0) 0 1 1 0 1 0 – 3 5 0
Gov. Livingston (0-0) 0 0 1 0 2 – 3 6 1
Union starter Matt Meola, senior LH
5 innings complete (76 pitches):
3 runs (all earned), 6 hits,
9 strikeouts, 1 walk.
Struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings.
The last seven batters he retired were on strikeouts.
Pitch count: 1-6. 2-13. 3-19. 4-17. 5-21. Total: 76.
GL starter Cole Schneider, junior RH
2 and 2/3 innings (68 pitches):
2 runs (both earned), 3 hits,
3 strikeouts, 5 walks (1 intentional), 1 hit batter.
Pitch count: 1-20. 2-21. 3-27. Total: 68.
GL reliever Sean Savage, junior RH
3 and 1/3 innings (42 pitches):
1 run, 2 hits,
3 strikeouts, 1 walk (intentional), 1 hit batter.
Struck out the side in the fourth inning.
Pitch count: 3-4. 4-12. 5-16. 6-10. Total: 42.
Union – Kyle Boyd (2).
GL – Josh Katz, Nick Cocchia (bunt),
Jace Tweeten (2, one an infield hit).
Union – Jamie Olivo (2), Matt Meola.
GL – DJ Gonnelli, Will Jennings.
Union – None.
GL – None.
Union – None.
GL – None.
UNION FARMERS 2016:
4-Richard Jones, RF
21-Justin Hernandez, DH
7-Kyle Boyd, LF
17-Jamie Olivo, 3B
55-Matt Meola, P
31-Steven Dembeck, 1B
42-Quincy Bryant, SS
5-Chris Ortiz, CF
2-Chris Petrucelli, 2B
Courtesy runner: 23-Shamar Sims
Not batting: 3-Jerry Gamone, C
GL HIGHLANDERS 2016
17-Jace Tweeten, DH
12-Brian Cranston, 3B
26-Will Jennings, RF
42-Dan Baroff, C
3-Josh Katz, LF
20-Brendan Lake, 2B
27-Nick Cocchia, CF
32-DJ Gonnelli, 1B
21-Vin Doren, SS
Courtesy runner: Lucas Vitollo
Not batting: 18-Cole Schneider, P
Dan Serretti, SS – out with injury
Drew Compton, DH
Sean Savage, P
Matt Bruno, P
John Colendenski, P
Liam Hulbert, 3B
Thomas Barbera, 1B
Sam Pile, C