BERKELEY HEIGHTS – Unless a pitcher has incredible movement on his fastball, a second pitch is often needed to be effective against a quality opponent.
For Governor Livingston’s Nicky Cocchia that pitch was his curveball.
The senior left hander was able to get that pitch by Westfield batters on his way to falling just one out shy of tossing a complete game.
Cocchia scattered eight hits over 6 and 2/3 innings – striking out five and walking none – in leading host GL to a convincing 6-2 win over Westfield in Monday’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division baseball clash.
“After I threw my first one (curveball) I had a feeling it was going to be my best pitch,” said Cocchia, who threw 93 pitches total before senior relief pitcher Sean Savage retired the game’s final batter on just one pitch.
“My curve definitely had a lot of movement,” Cocchia continued. “I really didn’t feel any fatigue and could have gone all the way, but Sean did a nice job of getting the last out.”
“Nicky had a fantastic game,” GL head coach Chris Roof said. “He came up big in a big game with a good curveball and a fastball that he ran in to right handed and left handed batters. He also kept his two-seam away from righties.”
“He was around the plate and kept us off balance,” Westfield head coach Bob Brewster said. “When a pitcher is successful with a first-pitch curve, he can do an awful lot.
“We saw him in the county tournament semifinals last year and that was the first lefty we faced in 20 games. This year we’ve already faced two lefties in our first three games.
“We had a lot of good swings, I really liked the way we swung the bat against him. We hit the ball hard on several occasions, including a double play ball. We’ll just have to keep battling.”
Six different players produced eight hits for Westfield, which fell to 1-2 overall and also 1-2 in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division.
Seven different players produced GL’s nine hits, with the Highlanders improving to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the Watchung. GL shared the Watchung crown with Cranford in 2015, while Westfield won the title in 2016.
Westfield swept GL in Watchung Division play last year before GL defeated the Blue Devils in the UCT semifinals en route to capturing its first Union County Tournament championship.
After Westfield starter Cory Hiltz survived bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second by retiring consecutive batters on a foul out to third and his first strikeout, GL came back in the third to score the game’s first runs.
With one out and Danny Serretti on first after he led off with a single to center for the first of his two hits, sophomore designated hitter Stephen Reid stepped up to the plate. He hit the ball hard off Hiltz in the second inning, which resulted in an inning-ending fielder’s choice grounder to third.
This time, also swinging on the first pitch delivered his way, he smacked a changeup well beyond the left field fence to provide the Highlanders with the lead for good at 2-0.
It was the first varsity home run for the Johnson of Clark transfer.
“Their pitcher was pretty consistent, so I was looking for a fastball or changeup,” Reid said. “As soon as I swung I knew it was gone.
“Our first two games were blowouts, so it was nice to get a big home run and have it stand up for the team.”
“He’s got power, no doubt,” Roof said. “He can hit the ball so high, so majestic and with backspin.”
GL broke the game open in the fifth with four runs to take a 6-0 lead, with the first three batters – Tyler McCulloch, Cocchia and DJ Gonnelli -banging out singles. Gonnelli’s hit drove in the inning’s first run.
After the second run came home as the result of a throwing error, Drew Compton produced an RBI-groundout and then Serretti belted a ball to the center field fence on a bounce for an RBI-triple.
Victor Cruz blasted a Cocchia 0-1 fastball leading off the sixth for a solo home run over the left field fence to put Westfield on the scoreboard. It was the 65th pitch Cocchia tossed that Cruz tagged.
Westfield senior Arthur Xiao produced a two-out RBI-single to left-center in the seventh that resulted in Roof going to Savage for the game’s final out.
“I think Nicky ran out of gas a bit,” Roof said. “I have the utmost confidence in Savage there.”
GL hit the ball hard and to all fields. The Highlanders have outscored their first three foes – all home wins – by a 29-4 count.
“I like our lineup,” Roof said.
Roof also credited third-year pitching coach Matt Rego, a former GL standout himself and a 2008 GL graduate, for getting the staff ready right out of the gate.
“Matt continues to do an outstanding job with our pitchers,” Roof said.
Brewster, in his 35th season at the helm of the Blue Devils, had this to say about the performance of Hiltz, a junior lefty: “he threw the ball well, but got a little tired and missed spots.
“When you fall behind and don’t have your breaking ball that puts you at a disadvantage.”
Westfield committed two errors, with one costing them a run. GL was flawless in the field, including an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play turned to close the third.
“GL plays great defensively and that’s a big plus,” Brewster said.
Roof’s Highlanders finished 5-5 in the Watchung Division a year ago with a much-less experienced squad.
“There are some good teams in our league; from top to bottom it’s usually a dogfight,” Roof said.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
Westfield (1-2, 1-2) 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 – 2 8 2
Gov. Livingston (3-0, 1-0) 0 0 2 0 4 0 x – 6 9 0
GL senior LH Nicky Cocchia (1-0)
6 and 2/3 innings
2 runs (both earned), 8 hits, 5 strikeouts (4 swing, 1 look), 0 base on balls
93 pitches: 1-13. 2-19. 3-11. 4-11. 5-9. 6-13. 7-17.
1-2-3 innings: first and fifth.
SECOND GL PITCHER:
Senior RH Sean Savage
1/3 inning, last out of seventh: 1 pitch – FC 5-3.
Westfield junior LH Cory Hiltz (0-2)
6 runs (5 earned), 9 hits, 2 strikeouts (1 swing, 1 look), 4 base on balls,
1 hit batter
86 pitches: 1-12. 2-20. 3-15. 4-15. 5-24.
SECOND WESTFIELD PITCHER:
Junior RH Michael Knapp
1 inning, the sixth: 12 pitches
0 runs, 0 hits, 1 strikeout (looking), 0 base on balls
(1) 1-2-3 inning
Westfield – Jake Lerie, Alex Pansini, Victor Cruz, Jake Vall-Llobera,
Matt LaCorte, Arthur Xiao.
GL – Dan Baroff, Danny Serretti, Will Jennings, Tyler McCulloch (infield),
Nick Cocchia, DJ Gonnelli.
Westfield – Matt LaCorte.
GL – Tyler McCulloch.
Westfield – None.
GL – Danny Serretti.
Westfield – Victor Cruz.
GL – Stephen Reid.
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS:
6-Alex Pansini, senior, second baseman
21-Victor Cruz, senior, third baseman
23-Chris Wagner, junior, first baseman
22-Owen Kessler, senior, designated hitter
10-Cory Hiltz, junior, LH pitcher (did not bat)
3-Michael Knapp, junior, RH pitcher (did not bat)
20-Jake Vall-Llobera, junior, catcher
9-Jake Lerie, junior, left fielder
11-Matt LaCorte, senior, shortstop
7-Arthur Xiao, senior, right fielder
1-Steve Barden, junior center fielder
GOVERNOR LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS:
26-Will Jennings, junior, right fielder
34-Drew Compton, sophomore, third baseman
13-Danny Serretti, junior, shortstop
12-Dan Baroff, senior, catcher
16-Stephen Reid, sophomore, designated hitter
15-Jack Pedini, junior, center fielder (did not bat)
10-Tyler McCulloch, junior, left fielder
27-Nicky Cocchia, senior, LH pitcher
3-Sean Savage, senior, RH pitcher (did not bat)
32-DJ Gonnelli, junior, first baseman
21-Vinny Doren, senior, second baseman