Right now defending Union County Tournament champion and state-ranked Governor Livingston has the offense, the defense and the pitching that is necessary to not only win, but also reach playing in Toms River that first Saturday in June.
Among the top Group 2 baseball programs in the entire state this decade – the Highlanders captured the Group 2 state championship in 2011 and 2015 – GL has almost as many returning players and college-bound kids as the Chicago Cubs.
But does the Berkeley Heights squad have the mental toughness that it takes to overcome an umpire’s call that goes against it or a 3-0 deficit late in a tournament elimination game?
“That’s what we (the GL coaches) are looking for right now,” said GL head coach Chris Roof, now in his 14th season at the helm of the Highlanders. “Being hailed as good on paper is one thing, but will we have the mental toughness needed to succeed?
“That’s what we’re seeking now from our kids, that mental toughness to handle adversity.”
Did I mention mental toughness?
“If we don’t have mental toughness we won’t win anything,” Roof continued.
The Highlanders had it last year during a 21-10 season. It was quite evident on Mother’s Day weekend at Kean University when GL defeated second-seeded Westfield in Saturday’s semifinals and then top-seeded Scotch Plains in Sunday’s re-scheduled final to capture the program’s first UCT championship.
“The kids grew up last year,” Roof said. “Now we will be the hunted.
“We’re definitely up for the challenge.”
At catcher are senior Dan Baroff and junior Sam Pile.
At first base is junior DJ Gonnelli, senior Thomas Barbera and senior Conor Fletcher. At second is senior Vinny Doren, senior Sean Savage and junior Sean Quinn. At third are sophomore Drew Compton and junior Liam Hulburt and returning at shortstop after missing his sophomore year with an injury is Dan Serretti.
In left are junior Tyler McCulloch and senior Jace Tweeten, in center are senior Nick Cocchia and sophomore transfer (from Johnson) Stephen Reid and in right are junior Will Jennings and junior Jack Pedini.
The pitching staff includes senior RH Cole Schneider, junior LH Ryan Monroy, senior RH Jon Colendenski, Gonnelli, Doren, Savage, Compton, Hulburt, Cocchia and Pedini.
Roof’s top four arms: Cocchia, Doren, Schneider, Savage.
Returning starters – not including on the mound – are Baroff behind the plate, Gonnelli at first, Doren from shortstop to second, Compton at third, Serretti back at shortstop, McCulloch in left, Cocchia in center and Jennings in right.
College-bound kids include Baroff (Franklin & Marshall), Doren (Franklin & Marshall), Savage (Clark University), Compton (Georgia Tech), Serretti (St. John’s), McCulloch (Iona), Cocchia (Montclair State) and Jennings (Iona).
Reid, who moved from Garwood to Mountainside, is a Division 1 recruit who attends the Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains.
“Offering scholarships so that players can commit early, I don’t like it, but I get it,” Roof said.
Mountainside residents include Compton, Hulburt, Cocchia, Reid, Jennings, Schneider, Colendenski.
“We have good pitching and our defense is good,” Roof said. “We went to Myrtle Beach for the first time and played four games and had two home scrimmages.
“We feel that we’re one of the best teams in the state, but we’re really preaching to the kids how important mental toughness will be.”
After spending last year in North 2, Group 3 – the third-seeded Highlanders lost at second-seeded Somerville 2-1 in the semifinals – GL is back in Central Jersey, Group 2 for 2017.
“The really good Cranford and Westfield teams had all the talent and were well-coached, but they also had that fight in them and that helped make them successful,” Roof said. “That’s what I want our kids to also have, that kind of mental toughness.
“I feel our chemistry and camaraderie is one of the best.”
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
DIVISION CHAMPIONS (2010-2016)
2016 UCC CHAMPIONS
2015 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Gov. Livingston, Cranford
Mountain: Dayton, Johnson, Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park
2014 UCC CHAMPIONS
2013 UCC CHAMPIONS
2012 UCC CHAMPIONS
Valley: New Providence
2011 UCC CHAMPIONS
Mountain: Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park
2010 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Scotch Plains.