CRANFORD – There are moments in a baseball season where certain situations lend themselves to becoming the ultimate challenge.
Cranford relief pitcher Kevin Donovan was put in such a spot against visiting Gov. Livingston. The Highlanders had runners on first and second with one out in the top of the sixth after coming back from two six-run deficits to pull to within three.
Next up was senior third baseman Drew Compton, already 3-for-3 on the day with two hard-hit singles up the middle, followed by a home run well over the center field fence.
Donovan threw his first pitch to Compton over the plate and the Georgia Tech-bound Compton fouled it back. After ball one, Compton just missed an opposite field three-run homer over the left field fence by only a few feet.
After surviving that pitch, Donovan was a bit more careful, although he was ahead 1-2. His next three pitches were balls, with Compton reaching first to load the bases.
Now, with no margin for error, Donovan had to bear down and get the next GL batter. This time it was not senior Stephen Reid, also ticketed to Georgia Tech. Reid, six pitches after Compton’s solo home run in the fifth, was hit on the thumb with an inside fastball thrown by Cranford starter Jake Van Dam.
In a seven-pitch at-bat this time, Donovan was able to strike out GL’s Anthony Graziano swinging for the second out. Two pitches later he retired Andy Serretti on a deep fly ball to left.
Donovan then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to nail down the save and preserve Cranford’s 7-4 triumph in Tuesday’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division clash at Memorial Field.
Cranford bounced back from its first loss of the season Friday to improve to 6-1 overall and take the lead in the Watchung Division at 5-0.
GL, which came to Cranford with a 7-0 record and was averaging 9.5 runs, fell to 7-1 overall and is now in second place in the Watchung Division at 4-1.
GL won the Watchung Divison outright the past two seasons. Cranford last won a share of the division title (with GL) in 2015 and last won the division outright in 2013.
The teams are scheduled to play their Watchung Division game at GL on May 14, the day after the Highlanders are scheduled to host Delbarton.
With the win, Cranford gets the inside track on earning the top seed for the Union County Tournament, which will be seeded next Monday night in Scotch Plains. GL is also the defending UCT champ, winning the crown last year for the second time in three years.
Donovan did not allow a run or hit in his 1 and 2/3 innings stint.
“Kevin gave us a shot by coming in and getting guys out,” Cranford head coach Dennis McCaffery said.
Donovan retired five of the six batters he faced, including the last five after the walk to Compton.
GL head coach Chris Roof will await the results of the x-rays taken to determine Reid’s status. Reid immediately left the field after he was hit to seek medical treatment.
GL starting pitcher Ryan Davey turned an ankle on home plate while attempting to cover when GL catcher Chris Bruno threw down to first base to complete Davey’s first and only strikeout.
Davey rebounded to complete the first inning, but did so after walking a batter and then giving up a bases-clearing triple to center hit by Cranford junior Aidan Plick and an RBI-single to left hit by Cranford junior Joe Meola.
“Ryan has a real bad sprained ankle,” Roof said. “He will most likely be out 3-4 weeks. We might be able to – in a stretch – get him back in two.
“It’s tough. He’s one of our top two pitchers. We’re going to have to have some guys step up now. Those things you can’t control.”
Cranford has scored in the first inning in all seven of its games. The Cougars have produced exactly half of their run production – 19 of 38 runs – in the first frame.
Plick’s hit, the game-winner, put Cranford – which never trailed – in front for good.
“Our team did a great job of getting guys on,” Plick said.
Davey quickly had Plick in an 0-2 hole, followed by two foul balls before ball one. After one more foul ball, Plick put the next pitch in play – over Reid’s head in center.
“He threw me a fastball and I knew I got all of it,” Plick said.
Davey’s first pitch of the game hit Cranford leadoff batter James Shriner. Marcus Johnson not only sacrificed Shriner to second, but on his bunt attempt he also reached first on an error.
Jake DiClerico moved Shriner and Johnson over with a sacrifice bunt before Davey’s strikeout where he was injured. Davey retired designated hitter Mike Meola on a fly ball to left to end the first.
Cranford scored all four of its runs in the first – all unearned – after two outs. Five of Cranford’s seven runs were unearned.
DiClerico slugged a two-run homer over the left field fence in the second to put Cranford ahead 6-0. Johnson reached before him on an opposite field single to left.
“The count was 1-1 and I hit an off speed pitch, middle in,” said DiClerico of his first-ever home run.
This is DiClerico’s second year on varsity.
“It felt amazing,” DiClerico said. “When I was rounding first I still didn’t know until I saw the umpire. I couldn’t believe it.”
Compton went 3-for-3, with two singles, a stolen base, a solo home run, one RBI and a walk – he reached base all four times up.
Plick was 2-for-3, with a triple, a run, three RBI and an infield single.
Van Dam pitched well and into the sixth to earn his second win. He gave up four runs on nine hits, while striking out one, walking two and hitting one batter.
“Jake battled a very tough lineup,” McCaffery said. “He did so by competing and working ahead.”
GL senior lefty John Grill pitched five complete innings in relief and gave up just two earned runs on four hits, while striking out seven and walking only one.
“This was not a clean game for us, we really didn’t play well,” Roof said. “John did pitch well for us though.”
“We were undefeated and then we lost our last game to New Providence,” DiClerico said. “That just showed us that we had to go back and continue to work. We can’t take anyone lightly.
“To be able to bounce back and beat a really good team like GL is a pretty good feeling.”
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
Gov. Livingston (7-1, 4-1) 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 – 4 9 1
Cranford (6-1, 5-0) 4 2 0 1 0 0 x – 7 6 1
GL left 9 runners on base.
Cranford left 4 runners on base.
GL STARTING PITCHER
Ryan Davey, senior, RH (1-1)
1 inning complete, 23 pitches
Pitch count: 1-23. Total: 23.
4 runs (all unearned), 2 hits
1 strikeout (swinging), 1 walk (3-0 count), 1 hit batter (first pitch)
GL RELIEF PITCHER
John Grill, senior, LH
5 innings complete, 78 pitches
Pitch count: 2-19. 3-11. 4-12. 5-18. 6-18. Total: 78.
3 runs (one unearned), 4 hits
7 strikeouts (6 swinging, 1 looking), 1 walk (3-2 count)
Grill pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the third.
CRANFORD STARTING PITCHER
Jake Van Dam, senior, RH (2-0)
5 and 1/3 innings, 92 pitches
Pitch count: 1-11. 2-15. 3-9. 4-22. 5-21. 6-14. Total: 92.
4 runs, 9 hits
1 strikeout (swinging), 2 walks (3-0 and 3-1 counts), 1 hit batter (1-2 count)
CRANFORD RELIEF PITCHER
Kevin Donovan, senior, RH, save
1 and 2/3 innings, 28 pitches
Pitch count: 6-15. 7-13. Total: 29.
0 runs, 0 hits
1 strikeout (swinging), 1 walk (3-2 count)
Donovan pitched a 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Drew Compton 2
Ethan Saia, Nick Leonardis, Michael DelSordo.
Joe Meola, Marcus Johnson, Tyler Szczech.
Chris Bruno, Andy Serretti, Ethan Saia.
HITS IN ORDER:
Drew Compton – single to center in first
Ethan Saia – single to left in second
Drew Compton – single to center in third
Chris Bruno – standup double left-center in fourth
Nick Leonardis – RBI-single to center in fourth
Drew Compton – solo home run well over CF fence in fifth
Andy Serretti – opposite field double to left-center, one bounce
over the fence in the fifth
Ethan Saia – double to left-center reaching fence on second bounce
to lead off the sixth
Michael DelSordo – RBI-infield hit to shortstop in sixth
(GL’s third run was driven in by John Grill on a ground out to second in the fifth.)
Aidan Plick – standup 3-run triple over the CF’s head in the first
Joe Meola – RBI-single to left in first
Marcus Johnson – opposite field single to left in second
Jake DiClerico – 2-run homer run over left field fence in second
Tyler Szczech – bunt single toward third base in second
Aidan Plick – infield hit, beating throw from shortstop, in fifth
GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS:
13-Sean McCulloch, junior, left field
34-Drew Compton, senior, third base
16-Stephen Reid, senior, center field
7-Anthony Graziano, senior, pinch hitter
4-Andy Serretti, senior, first base
21-John Grill, senior, right field-pitcher
5-Chris Bruno, senior, catcher
8-Ethan Saia, senior, designated hitter
20-Ryan Davey, senior, pitcher
17-Nick Leonardis, senior, pinch hitter
15-Michael DelSordo, junior, shortstop
Did not bat:
2-Vincent Mellusi, junior, second base
42-Jim Shriner, senior, right field
4-Marcus Johnson, sophomore, left fielder
2-Jake DiClerico, junior, shortstop
13-Tyler Szczech, senior, second base
15-Mike Murphy, junior, center field
33-Aidan Plick, junior, first base
22-Joe Meola, junior, catcher
28-Mike Meola, senior, designated hitter
44-Will Gallagher, freshman, third base
Did not bat:
10-Jake Van Dam, senior, pitcher