BERKELEY HEIGHTS – Dan Baroff produced the biggest hit of his life.
In came Jennings, in came Pedini and then in came Serretti with the game-winning run.
“This was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Chris Roof said.
That happens to cover 408 games for Roof as the head baseball coach at Governor Livingston and 496 total including 88 before that at Millburn.
Down to their final out and closing strikes, with their 2017 season on the brink, the Highlanders found a way to keep playing thanks to their standout senior catcher.
The lefty-batting Baroff earlier against South Plainfield left hander Billy Keane hit into a 1-6-4-3 double play for GL’s first two outs in the first after it scored two runs to take its first lead. He then grounded out to first in the third.
With the game and the season on the line, Baroff was not going to be denied in the bottom of the seventh.
With the bases loaded, two outs and GL down by two runs, Baroff this time hit the ball well enough against Keane to where it landed where fielders weren’t. He drove a shot to the left-center gap that brought home Will Jennings, Jack Pedini with the tying run and then after a not-so-clean relay Dan Serretti with the winning run.
Baroff came through with a walk-off, three-run double to conclude GL’s final home game of 2017.
On 6-2 (June 2), GL had itself a highly-dramatic, come-from-behind, 6-5 triumph.
Just like that, GL won Central Jersey, Group 2 for the fourth time overall Friday and for the second time in three years.
Roof, at the helm of the Highlanders since 2004, will never forget his 293rd win at GL and his 347th overall.
“This was definitely the most exciting win I’ve ever been a part of at GL,” said Roof, a 1992 GL graduate who starred for Bill Howard before excelling collegiately at Montclair State.
Roof has now led GL to four sectional titles – all in CJ, G2 – with the first three coming in 2006, 2011 and 2015. He is 4-2 in the CJ, G2 final at GL and before that was 1-1 in the North 2, Group 3 final at Millburn.
Top-seeded GL had 8-9-1 up in the bottom of the seventh, with lefty-swinging Will Jennings leading off. Jennings produced a single to center.
Pedini entered as a pinch hitter and on the first pitch he saw singled to left. Leadoff batter Tyler McCulloch bunted the runners over.
South Plainfield head coach Anthony Guida then decided to intentionally walk Dan Serretti, which loaded the bases.
Intentionally walking the potential winning run is not the usual strategy. You don’t see it often where the winning run is so easily put on base.
However, Keane then got Stephen Reid to pop up in the infield for the second out, with all three runners having to stay put. Reid was previously 3-for-3 against Keane, including an RBI-single to left in the first which gave GL its first lead of 2-1 just three batters in.
That left the matchup Guida wanted, the lefty Keane pitching to the lefty bat Baroff.
Determined not to make the last out of the season and also focused to produce in the clutch, Baroff sent GL to the Group 2 semifinals for the fourth time since 2006.
Nicky Cocchia drove in a run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth to pull GL to within 5-3.
GL’s final four runs were scored with two outs.
In the top of the sixth, second-seeded South Plainfield scored its final two runs to extend its lead to 5-2. They did not come without controversy.
The umpires ruled that a fly ball was not caught, much to the contrary of GL’s side, as the Tigers went on to produce their final two runs later in the inning.
GL relief pitcher Sean Savage earned the mound victory. Vin Doren started for the Highlanders and gave up three runs on six hits through the first three innings. Four of those hits were singles to left and one of the other ones a two-run homer over the left field fence by Dylan O’Connor.
South Plainfield took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a two-out, opposite field RBI-single to left hit by Keane.
GL quickly answered, with its first three batters reaching base in the bottom of the first. McCulloch reached on an errant throw to first by Keane and was then driven home by a triple smashed by Serretti. His blast went over the head of the center field and reached the bottom of the center field fence.
Reid followed with the first of his three hits to put GL briefly in front.
South Plainfield then answered with a three-hit, third inning. Mike Stanczak singled to left with one out on an 0-2 count. Then on a 1-2 count, O’Connor slugged his round-tripper off Doren to put the Tigers back out in front 3-2.
GL won its fifth straight and 11th game in its last 12 to improve to 26-3. The Highlanders are two wins away from tying the program record for wins in a season of 28, set by the 2015 Group 2 state championship team at 28-6.
GL’s 2011 Group 2 state championship team concluded at 26-6.
South Plainfield’s season came to a close at 19-11.
GL will next face South Jersey, Group 2 champion Manasquan in Tuesday’s 4 p.m. Group 2 semifinal at Rowan University. North 2 champion Whippany Park will face North 1 champ Pascack Hills in Tuesday’s other Group 2 semifinal.
The final is June 10 in Toms River.
“It’s all gravy now,” Roof said, referring to his team’s group semifinal and then possible June 10 final in Toms River.
GL is 3-0 in Group 2 semifinals under Roof. The Highlanders also captured this year’s Watchung Division championship outright for the first time, producing an 8-2 league record.
CRANFORD DEFENDS NORTH 2, GROUP 3; DAYTON FALLS IN N2, G1
Cranford repeated as North 2, Group 3 champions, while Dayton fell in the North 2, Group 1 championship game.
Cranford, the third seed, won at top-seeded Chatham 5-3 in Friday’s final.
Cranford will next face North 1 champ Pascack Valley in Tuesday’s Group 3 semifinal at William Paterson University.
The Cougars (20-7) have produced another 20-win season and have now won eight in a row since falling to Westfield in the Union County Tournament championship game at Kean.
Cranford has now won N2, G3 six of the first eight seasons this decade. Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery now has a 10-3 record in the N2, G3 final. He has now guided the Cougars to 11 sectional championships in his 19 seasons at the helm, including 10 in N2, G3 and one in CJ, G2. McCaffery has led Cranford to a sectional championship game 14 of his 19 seasons at the helm, the exceptions being 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
McCaffery’s record of 396-120 (.767) now includes a state tournament mark of 58-15.
Dayton, the top seed, fell at home to 7th-seeded Glen Ridge 11-0 in Friday’s N2, G1 final at Springfield’s Ruby Field.
Glen Ridge (12-13) proved that you don’t have to be a high seed and that you can win a sectional championship with a losing record.
Dayton concluded a fine season at 18-6, including second place in the Union County Conference’s Valley Division at 8-2.
Glen Ridge lost to Bloomfield Tech in last year’s final, while Dayton won the section in 2013 and 2014.
UNION COUNTY BASEBALL IN JUNE 6 GROUP SEMIFINALS
Cranford vs. Pascack Valley, 4 p.m. – at William Paterson University
Highland vs. Allentown, 4 p.m. – at Rowan University
Gov. Livingston vs. Manasquan, 4 p.m. – at Rowan University
Whippany Park vs. Pascack Hills, 4 p.m. – at Belleville