UNION – It was nine years ago when on a Sunday night in Linden the Governor Livingston baseball team had a bad seventh inning and went home without the trophy.
It was five years ago when the Highlanders got 10-run ruled by the same team it lost to nine years ago in the title game played right here at Kean.
And it was just two years ago and then again last year that GL lost close title games and fell short once again in an attempt to win the county championship for the first time.
All that is forgotten now after GL’s baseball program produced one of its best days ever Sunday.
On the 20th anniversary of the Highlanders reaching their first UCT championship game, not only did the varsity capture its first county championship – it got scary again, with GL throwing out the tying run at the plate for the second out in the bottom of the seventh – but right before it did so the junior varsity garnered its first county crown.
It was a special sweep for the Highlanders Sunday at Jim Hynes Stadium in Union, with the third-seeded varsity team holding on for a thrilling 3-2 win over top-seeded Scotch Plains in the 63rd annual UCT championship game. Before that, GL’s second-seeded junior varsity team won its UCT championship game over top-seeded and three-time defending champion Westfield 10-0 in five innings.
Junior right hander Vin Doren went the distance for GL in the varsity game, winning his fourth start of the season and improving to 3-0.
Sophomore left hander Ryan Monroy pitched a five-inning shutout to lead the JV Highlanders for head coach Sam Politan. GL scored eight runs in the top of the first and two more in the second.
For the varsity it turned out that the sixth time was the charm and the fifth time for head coach Chris Roof, who was 0-4 in the UCT final before Sunday and who was also on head coach Bill Howard’s staff when GL reached its first final in 1996.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Roof, a 1992 GL graduate, said. “We fought through adversity and had a heck of a weekend here. We weren’t intimidated by either Westfield or Scotch Plains after losing to them before.”
It was quite a feat that GL pulled off to gain its first county crown after falling five previous times in the final.
Here’s a closer look:
In back-to-back days, GL took out the second seed – Westfield on Saturday – first after losing to the Blue Devils 6-0 and 13-0 in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play. GL then took out the top seed – Scotch Plains on Sunday – after losing to the Raiders 17-7 and 3-1 in UCC-Watchung action.
So after being previously 0-4 vs. Westfield and Scotch Plains and losing those division games by a combined total of 39-8, GL outscored the two 7-5 over the weekend to go 2-0 against them en route to a first-ever UCT championship.
And what might be the most amazing statistics are that GL was out-hit in both games this weekend – Westfield by an 11-9 margin and Scotch Plains by a whopping 10-3 count – and the Highlanders did not produce one single extra-base hit in either game, yet they still managed to come out on top.
You can point to pitching. On Saturday vs. Westfield it was junior lefty Nick Cocchia for six innings, junior righty Cole Schneider for one and Brian Cranston, a senior right hander, for two.
On Sunday it was junior right hander Vin Doren for all seven. Doren gave up two runs while scattering 10 hits. He struck out five, including two in the seventh inning that included the game’s final batter, walked only one, hit a batter and threw one wild pitch.
Doren was in control for the entire 98-pitch complete game, mixing his pitches well enough to get crucial outs at times when Scotch Plains had opportunities to produce big innings.
“I had trouble with my secondary pitch at the start, but found my curve late,” said Doren, who attended St. Peter’s Prep his freshman year. “I also found my changeup, which was huge, late in the game.”
That was the pitch he used to strike out the game’s final batter right after a 9-3-2 relay from right fielder Nick Cocchia to first baseman DJ Gonnella to catcher Dan Baroff cut down what would have been the tying run at the plate for the second out in the bottom of the seventh.
“I was very focused and had a lot of confidence,” Doren said. “(Pitching) Coach (Matt) Rago, he made a lot of big calls.”
Rago, a 2008 GL graduate and former Highlander standout, saw Doren master three pitches that worked in his favor.
“He did a great job, throwing his curve and change at any point in time, with both pitches coming off a fastball he had command of,” Rago said. “He established his off speed pitch early in the count and in the last two innings got out of jams while not being afraid to pitch to contact.”
Doren retired four of the first five batters he faced and was not scored upon until one out in the fourth when George Leichtling drove in Tyler O’Brien with an RBI-double just inside the line to left field.
GL took a 1-0 lead in the third when Matt Bruno scored on a wild pitch with two outs.
GL leadoff batter Josh Katz gave the Highlanders the lead for good with an RBI-single up the middle in the fifth, making the score 2-1. GL produced that run, which was unearned, after its first two batters were retired.
Katz had two hits in each weekend victory, including the game-winning hit in both.
GL plated a very important insurance run in the sixth when Dan Baroff led off by reaching on an infield error. After a steal of second base, Nick Cocchia did his job by moving the runner to third with a ground out to second.
GL’s next batter reached on another infield error, with the runner from third scoring to make it 3-1 Highlanders.
Doren allowed a hit by O’Brien in the sixth, but got out of further trouble by retiring the inning’s last two batters on a pop up to first and a 6-4 fielder’s choice grounder at second.
Scotch Plains had first and second and nobody out in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single to left by pinch hitter Anthony DiNizo and a bunt single toward third by Jake Canavan. For the second straight game DiNizo came off the bench to produce a big hit and was 2-for-2 on the weekend, including Saturday’s game-winning hit.
Doren then struck out the next batter looking before giving up an opposite field infield single to Colin McAlindin, which loaded the bases.
After surviving a run-scoring, opposite field hit to short right by Peter Yarem that drove in just one run, with the second runner tagged out at home, Doren struck out the game’s final batter and then the GL celebration followed.
“He manned up,” Roof said of Doren’s performance. “He just competed. He has to get his curveball over.
“He wasn’t afraid of this stage, which is why I went with him. The key was him getting his off speed pitch over. Once he did that I knew we were in good shape.”
“We battled,” Higgins said. “This was fun the last two days. GL deserves it. Coach Roof and his staff, I admire them.”
Higgins, conversely, used four pitchers, including starter Vincent Conte, a senior righty, into the fourth, junior right hander Marc Occhipinti into the fifth, junior lefty Tim Geissel into the seventh and then freshman left hander Dan Wilkinson for the final out, which saw him strike out the only batter he faced looking on a fine off speed pitch.
“Our four pitchers did a nice job and deserved better,” Higgins said. “Conte walked two guys in a row (in the fourth). Occhipinti has good control and we knew we could get Geissel in even though he pitched yesterday.”
It was one of the four Scotch Plains errors that led to GL’s second run after there were two outs and nobody on in the top of the fifth.
“We had just tied it and that error did change the momentum, definitely,” Higgins said. “It definitely gave them a lift.”
NOTES: GL assistant coach Dan Mondelli, a 1982 GL graduate, was also an assistant coach on Ray Korn’s staff at Elizabeth when the Minutemen captured the 1989 and 1991 UCT titles. Mondelli was an assistant coach at Elizabeth from 1986-2001 before head coaching stints at Linden and Holmdel and another assistant coach position at Old Bridge. Mondelli guided the 2003 Linden team to the UCT final where the Tigers lost to Cranford.
63rd ANNUAL BASEBALL UCT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
3-Gov. Livingston (16-7) 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 – 3 03 0
1-Scotch Plains (14-9) 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 – 2 10 4
WINNING PITCHER: Vin Doren, junior RH
LOSING PITCHER: Marc Occhipinti, junior RH (in relief)
GAME-WINNING HIT: Leadoff batter Josh Katz came through in the clutch again, producing GL’s winning hit for the second consecutive game. This time Katz snapped a 1-1 tie by delivering a single up the middle to center field that scored Brian Cranston from second with two outs in the top of the fifth, giving GL the lead for the second time and for good at 2-1.
DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE GAME: With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Scotch Plains is trailing 3-1 and looking to produce a comeback victory to gain its fifth UCT title and first since 2009. GL starter Vin Doren challenged Scotch Plains No. 3 batter Peter Yarem and got him to hit the ball the other way. A fly ball to right field dunked in ahead of GL right fielder Nick Cocchia, who scooped up the ball on one bounce and threw it to first baseman DJ Gonnella. Although one run scored to make it 3-2, Gonnella threw home to get the runner trying to score from second, which he did, with catcher Dan Baroff applying the tag a moment before home plate umpire Rich Badillo called Jake Canavan “out” at the plate. “That was the play of the game,” GL head coach Chris Roof said. “If Scotch Plains scores there and ties the game, who knows what would have happened.” “It was kind of a tough read the fly ball, but I send Canavan about every time,” Scotch Plains head coach Joe Higgins said. “If you would have told me in the beginning of the season that we would be in that spot – win or lose – in the bottom of the seventh of the (UCT) championship game I would have gladly taken it.” Doren retired the next batter on strikes to clinch GL’s first-ever UCT championship.
Gov. Livingston – Josh Katz (2), Jace Tweeten (bunt).
Scotch Plains – Colin McAlindin (2), Tyler O’Brien (2), George Leichtling, Jake Canavan (bunt), Anthony DiNizo, Peter Yarem.
Gov. Livingston – None.
Scotch Plains – George Leichtling, Peter Warren.
Gov. Livingston – None.
Scotch Plains – None.
Gov. Livingston – None.
Scotch Plains – None.
SUNDAY’S UCT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
3-GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS:
3-Josh Katz, senior center fielder
26-Will Jennings, sophomore second baseman
2-Drew Compton, freshman third baseman
10-Dan Baroff, junior catcher
30-Nick Cocchia, junior right fielder
13-Tyler McCulloch, sophomore left fielder
23-Matt Bruno, senior first baseman
12-Brian Cranston, senior shortstop
25-Jace Tweeten, junior designated hitter
21-Vin Doren, junior pitcher (did not bat)
1-SCOTCH PLAINS RAIDERS:
20-Peter Warren, junior shortstop
18-Colin McAlindin, junior right fielder
25-Peter Yarem, junior catcher
6-Matt Fox, junior first baseman
5-Tyler O’Brien, senior designated hitter
15-George Leichtling, senior center fielder
7-George Mueller, junior third baseman
34-Sam Schetelich, sophomore second baseman
9-Jake Canavan, junior left fielder
24-Vince Conti, senior pitcher (did not bat)
63rd ANNUAL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Scotch Plains. 2-Westfeld. 3-Gov. Livingston. 4-Cranford.
5-Union. 6-Elizabeth. 7-Johnson. 8-New Providence. 9-Union Catholic.
10-Summit. 11-Plainfield. 12-Dayton. 13-Oratory Prep. 14-Roselle Catholic.
15-Roselle Park. 16-Brearley. 17-Rahway. 18-Linden.
Thursday, April 21
Linden 13, Roselle Park 1
Brearley 17, Rahway 16
Saturday, April 23
Scotch Plains 6, Brearley 2
Union Catholic 5, New Providence 1
Cranford 8, Oratory Prep 3
Dayton 9, Union 7
Westfield 14, Linden 1
Summit 10, Johnson 8
Elizabeth 7, Plainfield 2
Gov. Livingston 11, Roselle Catholic 1
Wednesday, April 27
Scotch Plains 4, Union Catholic 2
Westfield 11, Summit 1
Gov. Livingston 10, Elizabeth 5
Cranford 11, Dayton 7
Saturday, May 14
At Kean University
Scotch Plains 8, Cranford 5
Gov. Livingston 4, Westfield 3 (9 inn.)
Sunday, May 15
At Kean University
Gov. Livingston 3, Scotch Plains 2