GL baseball team that won 2011 Group 2 state championship had plenty of talent, character

PHOTOS BY JR PARACHINI – Members of GL’s 2011 Group 2 state championship team gather at the 4th annual Governor Livingston Baseball Alumni Dinner held Nov. 21 at Mt Carmel Hall in Berkeley Heights.
Keith Skinner, who was the junior catcher, and senior pitcher Mike Cranston flank the 2011 Group 2 state championship trophy.

BERKELEY HEIGHTS – At Wednesday night’s 4th annual Governor Livingston Alumni Baseball Dinner those in attendance learned that the 2011 Highlanders were a loose bunch and at times had a penchant for – we’ll keep it clean here – being a bit wacky off the field.
However, between the white lines, the Highlanders proved to be a very worthy adversary. They took every game seriously and had the talent to come out on top in every one.
During that magical 26-6 campaign GL played for the championships of its own season-opening Highlander Classic, the Union County Tournament, the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs and the overall Group 2 title. The Highlanders came out on top in three of the four and set a program record for wins in a season.
Twelve players went on to compete in college, many of them on the Division 1 level, and two even made it professionally. Juniors on that team that reached the pros were pitcher Joey Graziano (free agent Tampa Bay Rays: 2016) and catcher Keith Skinner (drafted by the New York Yankees: 2016, 2017, 2018).
Skinner, who starred at the University of North Florida, played in the Yankees’ minor league system the past three years.
Hurt this past year, Skinner made 2018 his final baseball season.
“I had a problem with two joints in my thumb and it was about a month-and-a-half recovery,” Skinner said, pointing to his left glove hand. “At that point I realized that baseball might not be the career for me.”
Skinner, who graduated North Florida with an undergraduate degree of criminal justice as his major and history as his minor, has his sights set on a military career next.
“I’m hoping to ship out for the Navy for OCS (Officer Candidate School) in the spring,” said Skinner, 24, who will turn 25 on April 14. “It’s something I was always interested in.”
As many as 16 of GL’s players from its 2011 Group 2 state championship team made it to Mt Carmel Hall Wednesday night to celebrate the program’s first state title won in Toms River and the first guided by present head coach Chris Roof.
On the morning of Saturday, June 11, GL defeated defending champion West Essex 8-2 in the 2011 Group 2 final held at Toms River North’s Ryan Field.
“When we won it was surreal,” Skinner recalled.
GL was defeated in the CJ, G2 final at home the previous two years, both times falling two wins shy of getting back to Toms River for the first time since 2006.
“It didn’t sink in for a few weeks,” Skinner continued. “Since we were little kids we dreamed of being state champs and then, oh my, we were.”
GL hosted Middlesex in the CJ, G2 final, not wanting to lose that game at home for the third straight season.
“We knew that we had potential,” Skinner said. “There was a little pressure on us against Middlesex. I remember that day in school I couldn’t think about anything else.”
After immediately falling behind by four runs, GL won 15-5 in five innings. That demon was exorcised.
Then the Highlanders followed it up with another decisive victory over a West Deptford team that Roof said Wednesday night: “nobody thought we would hit their left hander.”
GL won that game at Monmouth University 12-3.
Back to Toms River for the first time in five years. The 2006 game did not go GL’s way, with Hanover Park prevailing at Toms River South.
“On the bus ride to Monmouth we were a little quiet and very intense,” Skinner said. “We hit and did what we did.”
The bus ride to Toms River was slightly different.
“Not a word was said until we got to the field,” Skinner said. “I was a junior and I remember wanting this really bad for the seniors.
“We loosened up and just went out and did our thing to win the game.”
Senior right hander Mike Cranston hurled a complete game to finish the season 8-1 and his career 22-4. The 22 wins is still a program record.
“Pretty much every kind of pitch I threw was working at some point,” said Cranston.
“I remember he was very consistent with all of his pitches,” Skinner said.
GL broke open a 2-2 game late to pull away. There were also some fine defensive plays GL made earlier to prevent West Essex from gaining an advantage.
The Highlanders closed with a nine-game winning streak after the day they lost twice, including the UCT final at Kean to defending champion Cranford and a fundraiser game at night at Snyder Park in Berkeley Heights to Dayton.
“Not winning the county tournament wasn’t fun at all,” Cranston said. “My brother (Brian) won one (in 2016) and my sister (Alyssa) was on two teams that won (girls basketball in 2012 and 2013). “Beating West Essex to win the state championship made up for it.”
Graziano won the West Deptford game. Earlier in the year he blanked Scotch Plains 1-0 on a three-hitter at Scotch Plains. Freshman Ryan Jennings, in his first varsity game, delivered the game-winning hit.
“It’s never easy to win any of these games,” Roof said. “This team was a resilient bunch.”
NOTES: GL sports photographer John Haddad put together a video that had everyone in attendance mesmerized. It included pictures of GL teams from the past and highlighted games of the past two seasons, including the Dan Baroff hit to win the 2017 CJ, G2 state championship.

3-Ryan Place, 2B/DH
6-Keith Skinner, C
7-Joe Graziano, P-RF
9-Billy Worswick, CF-P
10-Matt Arrigoni, OF-P
11-Kevin Sforza, 3B
12-Billy Sforza, OF
13-Will Smith, OF
15-Mike Cranston, P-3B
16-John Jennings, SS
20-Justin Ennis, OF-3B
21-Tyler Martis, 2B
25-Joe DiSarno, 1B
26-Aaron Smith, P-DH
31-Jon Schmedal, P-1B
33-Garrett Hain, C
45-Ryan Jennings, LF
1-Logan Turner, OF
5-Luke Mirabelli, OF
Head coach: Chris Roof
Assistants: Huber, Yezza,
M.J. Dugan, Terhune, Hanratty,
Mahon, Yasinski, Lesnewich, M. Dugan
Managers: Danielle Morgan, Kaitlyn Harrison,
Eric Whyte, Katie Hoffman, Ariana Cioffi,
McKenna Kutsop, Christian Satella, Doug Maslo
Bat boy: Conor Jennings