BERKELEY HEIGHTS – Home run derby continued for the Governor Livingston Highlanders at the cozy confines of their baseball field Tuesday afternoon.
This time the historic power display came against one of the best teams GL will face this year.
The Highlanders slugged a team-high six round-trippers, with North Carolina-bound senior shortstop Danny Serretti blasting a season- and career-high three in Tuesday’s 11-1, five-inning triumph over division rival Westfield.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” GL head coach Chris Roof said.
GL has now hit 39 home runs in 19 games, which Roof said is definitely the most during his 15-season tenure as head coach.
“We just want good swings on the ball,” Roof said. “If that happens here there’s a good chance the ball’s going out. Other teams can hit home runs here, too.”
GL improved to 16-2-1 overall and is now in first place in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division at 6-2-1. GL won the Watchung Division outright for the first time last year.
The Highlanders have now won 13 straight and are 14-0-1 in their last 15. Their only losses have come at Scotch Plains 6-5 on April 5 and 8-7 at Westfield on April 10. The tie was 4-4 in 10 innings against Cranford in their April 12 home-opener.
Westfield had a two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 13-7 overall and 5-4 in the Watchung Division.
If GL and Westfield win their Union County Tournament semifinal games at Kean Saturday, then the squads will face off again in Sunday’s final at Kean, which would be a battle of the last two champions.
GL won its first UCT championship in 2016, while Westfield won its record 15th in 2017. Westfield defeated GL 5-3 in the 2014 UCT final at Kean.
There’s no doubt that GL has the best hitting lineup of any team in Union County, averaging more than 10 runs a game. The Highlanders have scored double-digit runs in their last nine contests – all victories.
Tuesday’s home-run assault included Serretti’s three for a season total of nine, Drew Compton hitting his ninth, Stephen Reid blasting his team-leadnig 11th and extending his school-record consecutive games home run streak to eight and No. 9 batter Chris Bruno socking his first.
Here’s the individual breakdown of GL’s 39 home runs so far:
Stephen Reid 11, Drew Compton 9, Danny Serretti 9, DJ Gonnelli 2, Jack Pedini 2, Andy Serretti 2, Will Jennings 2, Tyler McCulloch 1, Chris Bruno 1.
At GL, straightaway center field is measured at 350 feet. Roof is not quite sure what the exact dimensions are down left field and down right.
“Last year I thought our offense was really good,” Serretti said. “Right now we’re all feeding off each other and having fun.”
“I thought our offense was better last year,” Reid said. “Right now we’re just getting our pitches and putting good swings on them. Our No. 9 guy hit a home run today.”
“We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do, which is scoring runs and winning games,” Compton said.
If there’s a better Top 3 of the batting order in the state, wow! Serretti, a switch hitter, leads off, with lefty-swinging Compton second and the right handed bat of designated hitter Reid third. Compton and Reid, both juniors, are – at the moment – ticketed to Georgia Tech.
Against Westfield Tuesday, Serretti went 3-for-4, with two solo home runs from the left side over the right field fence and a two-run shot from the right side over the center field fence. Serretti drove in four runs and scored three times. Westfield starter Tyler Hoffman – who did not pitch bad at all – got Serretti to pop up to second in the first.
Compton was 3-for-3, with two singles, a solo home run and he was also hit by a pitch to reach base safely all four times up. Compton drove in one run and scored four times.
Reid was 4-for-4, with two singles, a double and a two-run home run. Reid drove in three runs and scored once.
“There’s a friendly competition we have here where we push for each other,” Serretti said.
Reid hit a home run on the first pitch he saw this year, a three-run shot at Elizabeth’s Williams Field back on March 31 for the game-winning hit in an 8-1 GL Watchung Division victory over the Minutemen.
His consecutive games home run streak began on April 24 when he hit a two-run shot in GL’s 10-1 Watchung Division home win against Union.
Reid has connected on eight two-run homers, two three-run blasts and one solo shot. The only thing he hasn’t done so far this year is hit a grand slam. I doubt any pitcher will throw him something close to the plate if he comes up with the bases full.
Reid has not only hit home runs in his last eight games, but now also in 10 of his last 11.
His lone solo home run came in GL’s 8-1 win at Delbarton on April 18. At that time the Green Wave had a state-ranking of No. 2.
“The Delbarton game I was mentally locked in,” Reid said. “That’s when the home runs started. Before that I had just the one.”
The home run he hit against Delbarton was his second of the season. Reid continues to be locked in.
For Westfield, a good news-cautious news scenario would be the Blue Devils winning their UCT semifinal, but then having to face GL again for the trophy.
“We would have to try to keep the ball in the park,” Westfield head coach Bob Brewster said. “They play to their field and do a good job. Our field is bigger where some of those hits wouldn’t be out.”
Roof praised the pitching of starter John Grill, who improved to 3-0, and reliever Ethan Saia, in addition to Bruno and GL’s other catcher, senior Sam Pile.
Grill, a junior lefty, went four complete, yielding only one run on three hits.
“Grill also went four innings his other two appearances,” Roof said. “He did a good job of getting out of a couple of jams.”
“Saia pitched well in the fifth. Bruno had two good swings for hits and did a great job of blocking the plate. Pile has also done a good job for us behind the plate.
“The kids are really focused on pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning and game-by-game.”
On Saturday for the UCT semifinals at Kean less than a week away the schedule is still not confirmed according to both coaches.
“We’ve heard that we are the 3:30 game, but how can they schedule the games to be at 1 and 3:30, that’s simply not enough time in between games,” Brewster said.
Games times may be 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (the second game would never start at 3:30 if that is the case), with the lower side of the bracket going first – 7-Elizabeth vs. 3-GL.
In the past, the top side of the bracket was usually the first semifinal played. If that is not the case Saturday, then it will be 4-Union vs. 1-Westfield in the nightcap.
There is still no starting time for Sunday’s final yet.
This is the first year that the semifinals and final are scheduled to be played on back-to-back days. It happened this way two years ago because of several rainouts.
“I don’t like the fact that the final will be played without the best pitchers going, because most likely they will be used the day before,” Brewster said.
When asked how he would set up his pitching for this weekend, here’s what Brewster offered on the record: “It will be all hands on deck Saturday. We have a game at home against Summit Thursday where we will use some and then get the rest in order.”
Here’s how Roof answered the question on the record: “We’re still deciding between three guys.”
Serretti missed his entire sophomore season due to injury and had to watch from the sidelines as GL won the UCT for the first time in 2016. Last year the Highlanders were the top seed, 15-0, ranked No. 1 in the state and averaging nine runs a game when they were defeated at home in the quarterfinals by ninth-seeded Johnson 9-5 and denied the possibility of repeating.
“That was tough,” Serretti said. “We’re going to do everything we can to come out on top this time.”
GL knew it was going to hit the ball this year. What the Highlanders had to do was put together a pitching staff that returned only 14 percent of last year’s innings.
“Losing to Johnson last year was a huge let down,” GL pitching coach Matt Rego said. “We were on a roll, but Johnson came in and took advantage of us not being able to throw off-speed pitches for strikes. That sort of grounded us.”
“I’m really proud of our pitching staff and a lot of the guys have really stepped up,” Serretti said.
Gonnelli threw only five innings last year. So far in his starts this year he is 4-0, including a UCT win at home over Johnson in Saturday’s quarterfinals, preventing the Crusaders from pulling off an upset for the second straight season.
“Our pitchers did the right things in the off season from day one,” Rego said. “DJ only pitched five innings last year, but his work ethic and command have been superb.
“We’re getting quality innings from everyone on our staff. They’re getting ahead, getting breaking balls over for strikes and really working their butts off.”
The cat-and-mouse aspect of high school baseball increases when games are played on consecutive days, especially when a trophy is involved.
Who do we pitch the first game to get to the second and if we get to the second, who do we pitch that game?
“It’s not easy,” Rego said. “We can’t look past Elizabeth.”
GL swept the Minutemen in Watchung Division play, winning 8-1 at Elizabeth March 31 and 18-1 at home against them May 3.
“DJ is throwing with a lot of confidence and could go either day,” Rego said. “We have confidence in all of our pitchers and will have all of them ready to go.”
UPDATED UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
WATCHUNG DIVISION STANDINGS
AFTER TUESDAY’S RESULTS
1-Gov. Livingston (6-2-1)
2-Scotch Plains (6-3)
Scotch Plains, Westfield, Union and Elizabeth have one game remaining.
Gov. Livingston and Cranford have one game left and will also have to continue their 4-4, 10-inning deadlock that took place at GL on April 12.
TUESDAY, MAY 8 SCOREBOARD:
Gov. Livingston 11, Westfield 1 (5 innings) – at GL
Elizabeth 8, Scotch Plains 6 – at Scotch Plains
Cranford 4, Union 3 – at Union
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
BASEBALL AT GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGH SCHOOL
Westfield (13-7, 5-4) 0 0 0 1 0 – 1 4 2
Gov. Livingston (16-2-1, 6-2-1) 1 0 3 3 4 – 11 16 1
GL STARTING PITCHER:
John Grill, junior LH (3-0):
4 innings complete, 80 pitches:
1 run (earned) on 3 hits,
3 strikeouts (1 swinging, 2 looking), 3 walks
Pitched a 1-2-3 in the first.
GL RELIEF PITCHER:
Ethan Saia, junior RH
1 inning complete, 14 pitches:
0 runs on 1 hit, 0 strikeouts and 0 walks
WESTFIELD STARTING PITCHER:
Tyler Hoffman, senior RH (2-2):
4 innings complete, 88 pitches:
7 runs on 12 hits,
1 strikeout (swinging), 0 walks, 1 hit batter
WESTFIELD RELIEF PITCHER:
Dylan Jackson, senior LH
2/3 of an inning, 23 pitches:
4 runs on 4 hits and 0 strikeouts, 1 walk
WESTFIELD HITS (4):
2-Jake Vall-Llobera, single to center
4-Jake Lerie, single to center
4-Jake Vall-Llobera, opposite field single to left
5-Jake Lerie, opposite field double to right – out at 3B on 9-6-5 relay
GOV. LIVINGSTON HITS (16):
1-Drew Compton, solo home run over CF fence
1-Stephen Reid, double down LF line
2-Will Jennings, single to center
2-Ryan Davey, opposite field single to right side of infield,
ball hit baserunner, who is ruled out (4 unassisted)
3-Danny Serretti, solo home run over RF fence
3-Drew Compton, single to right
3-Stephen Reid, two-run home run over fence in L-C
3-DJ Gonnelli, infield single, beats 5-3 throw
3-Will Jennings, opposite field single to left
4-Chris Bruno, solo home run over LF fence
4-Danny Serretti, solo home run over RF fence
(Bruno and Serretti go back-to-back)
4-Stephen Reid, single to left
5-Chris Bruno, RBI-double to left
5-Danny Serretti, two-run homer over CF fence
Serretti hit his first 2 home runs from the left side
and his third from the right.
5-Drew Compton, single to center
5-Stephen Reid, opposite field RBI-single to right ends the game
GL’s other RBI came on a 4-3 ground out DJ Gonnelli
produced for the third and final Highlander run in the fourth.
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (13-7, 5-4):
6-Matt McIntyre, junior left fielder
5-Andrew Caminiti, junior shortstop
9-Jake Lerie, senior right fielder
23-Chris Wagner, senior first baseman
21-Jake Vall-Llobera, senior catcher
2-Matt Manning, senior third baseman
3-Mike Knapp, senior second baseman
20-Matt Barmakian, senior designated hitter
1-Steve Barden, senior center fielder
16-Tyler Hoffman, senior RH pitcher (did not bat)
11-Dylan Jackson, senior LH pitcher (did not bat)
Head coach: Bob Brewster, 36th season
GL HIGHLANDERS (16-2-1, 6-2-1):
13-Danny Serretti, senior shortstop
34-Drew Compton, junior third baseman
16-Stephen Reid, junior designated hitter
32-DJ Gonnelli, senior first baseman
10-Tyler McCulloch, senior left fielder
26-Will Jennings, senior right fielder
15-Jack Pedini, senior center fielder
12-Ryan Davey, junior second baseman
5-Chris Bruno, junior catcher
21-John Grill, junior LH pitcher (did not bat)
8-Ethan Saia, junior RH pitcher (did not bat)
Head coach: Chris Roof, 15th season