One week after getting upset in the quarterfinal round of the Union County Tournament and then the next day falling for the first time in league play, the Governor Livingston baseball team rebounded to do something it never did before.
The Highlanders captured the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division title outright for the first time.
Sparked by another outstanding start from senior left hander Nick Cocchia, GL defeated Westfield 3-1 at Westfield Tuesday to sweep the season series.
The Highlanders improved to 7-1 in the division, while Westfield fell to 5-3. Each team has two division games remaining. GL also defeated Westfield 6-2 at home on April 10.
The other four teams in the division – Scotch Plains, Cranford, Elizabeth and Union – all have at least four league losses.
The only other time GL won the Watchung Division was when it shared the crown with Cranford in 2015.
After losing consecutive games at home last week following a 15-0 start that saw it ranked No. 1 in the state in three different polls, GL snapped its two-game losing streak to improve to 16-2 overall.
Westfield, which on Saturday will face Cranford in the 64th annual Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University, had a seven-game winning streak end and fell to 11-8.
“It was a good win and I think our kids responded well,” GL head coach Chris Roof said. “It was a tough two days, back-to-back, for us last week.
“We gave the kids off Friday, Saturday and Sunday so they could clear their minds and re-charge. We probably had our best practice of the year on Monday.”
Westfield won the Watchung Division championship outright in 2014 and 2016.
“I think winning the division is the toughest thing,” Westfield head coach Bob Brewster said. “When you take into account the teams you have to beat and when the games are played, it’s not an easy thing to navigate.”
GL was led once again on the mound by senior left hander Nick Cocchia (5-1) who is now a perfect 5-0 in his five starts. Cocchia went 5 and 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits while striking out six, walking four and hitting one batter.
“Nick will start Monday at Pequannock, but he if can’t go that day then he will pitch at home Tuesday vs. Johnson,” Roof said. “Then we will line him up for our first state tournament game on May 22.”
GL will be the top seed in Central Jersey, Group 2. The Highlanders, who last year were situated in North 2, Group 3, captured CJ, G2 for the third time in 2015.
Senior right hander Sean Savage took the mound for GL when Roof lifted Cocchia after the lefty threw 106 pitches. Savage, again, pitched well in relief, picking up his third save. He pitched the final 1 and 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on one hit and hitting one batter.
Jace Tweeten, Will Jennings and Jake Pedini scored GL’s runs.
Cocchia’s only loss was in relief in last week’s 5-4 division setback at home to Elizabeth.
“We’ve now won the division and next we’ll be going for the states,” Roof said. “We’re now going to try to win as many games as we can and stay sharp and get ready for the state tournament.”
Although GL will not repeat as UCT champions for the first time, there is still a lot of meaningful baseball yet to be played before the 2017 season comes to a halt.
“I’m okay (with not winning the UCT again),” Roof said. “We were ranked No. 22 nationally. Were we really? No.
“But I think it’s huge for our program, for a school with just 1,000 kids, to be recognized like that.
“It is what it is. This is high school baseball and there are no certainties.”
As for CJ, G2, Roof is aware of teams such as South Plainfield – the Tigers won the title two years ago and reached the final again last year – and Monmouth being among the top schools.
“South Plainfield is really good and Monmouth is sitting at (No.) 4,” Roof said. “Johnson is sitting 8-9. Right now we’re just worried about who No. 16 will be.”
GL REMAINING REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:
May 10 at Union, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division game
May 11 at Linden, 4 p.m.
May 12 New Providence, 4 p.m.
May 15 at Pequannock, 4 p.m.
May 16 Johnson, 4 p.m.
May 18 Cranford, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division game
May 20 Wallkill Valley, 7 p.m. – at Snyder Field, Berkeley Heights
May 23 at Watchung Hills, 4 p.m.
States schedule – CJ, G2 for GL:
Monday, May 22 – First round
Thursday, May 25 – Quarterfinals
Tuesday, May 30 – Semifinals
Friday, June 2 – Finals
Tuesday, June 6 – Group semifinals
Saturday, June 10 – Group finals in Toms River