BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Most teams with only one returning everyday player take time to round into shape. None are to be forgiven if there are a few hiccups along the way, as the present-day players begin to build their experience.
Then you have the Governor Livingston High School baseball team. What sets the Highlanders of Berkeley Heights and Mountainside apart is that the players are plugged in and ready to go. Spots on the varsity are not automatically given; they have to be earned.
As a result, Governor Livingston began the week not only 7-0, but yielded only six runs. Four of the wins came by shutout, with only two runs allowed in the last five games.
Governor Livingston outscored its first seven foes by an impressive margin: 82-6. The last six wins produced double-digit runs.
The Highlanders had all the momentum in the world when they were scheduled to play at Union County Conference–Watchung Division newcomer New Providence High School on Tuesday, April 19, in the afternoon, if weather permitted, at New Providence High School’s Miller Field.
New Providence defeated Cranford High School, previously 5-0, by the score of 9-3 at home on Tuesday, April 12.
Governor Livingston stood at 7-0 overall and New Providence at 6-1, winners of six straight. Both stood at 4-0 in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division standings.
Both are also slated to receive high seeds next week when the 68th annual Union County Tournament is to be seeded. The championship game is already scheduled to take place on Monday, May 23, at 6 p.m. at Kean University’s field in Union.
Governor Livingston is the defending champion and will be seeking to repeat for the first time. The Highlanders have won the Union County Tournament three times, including 2016 and 2018. New Providence has won the Union County Tournament twice, in 1977 and 1981.
Governor Livingston’s 7-0 start
April 1: Governor Livingston 8, Elizabeth 2, at Governor Livingston
April 2: Governor Livingston 13, Morristown 2, at Morristown
April 4: Governor Livingston 10, Union Catholic 0, at Governor Livingston
April 5: Governor Livingston 11, Union 0, at Union
April 11: Governor Livingston 12, Scotch Plains 2, at Governor Livingston
April 12: Governor Livingston 16, Westfield 0, at Westfield
April 16: Governor Livingston 12, Johnson 0, at Johnson
Governor Livingston team leaders at the start of the week included senior infielder Robert Murphy in runs with 15 and hits with 14, junior outfielder George Provel in home runs with three and RBIs with 16, and senior right-hander Dan Bass in strikeouts with 24.
The only returning player is pitcher-outfielder Michael Labisi, one of the seniors. Labisi had nine hits in his first 23 official at-bats. He also walked four times, stole five bases and scored 11 runs. All of his hits were singles, with the exception of one double.
Bass is 3-0, with wins against Elizabeth, Union and Westfield high schools.
“I don’t remember, in my 22 years as a coach, a kid being as dominant in a three-game stretch,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof said. “He has not given up any earned runs and has 24 strikeouts in 16 innings.”
Bass yielded two unearned runs vs. Elizabeth in an 8-2 home win, Governor Livingston’s season opener, and gave up no runs in an 11-0 win at Union and a 16-0 triumph at Westfield.
Bass will get the start this Tuesday, April 26, when Governor Livingston faces defending outright Watchung Division champion Cranford for the first time. The scheduled Watchung Division game at Governor Livingston is set for 4 p.m.
“It’s been a combination of his fastball and off-speed pitches that have been working real well for him,” Roof said.
Johnny Schmidt is 2-0 with wins against Morristown and Scotch Plains–Fanwood high schools, while Patrick Tullo and Matty Diskin are both 1-0. Tullo tossed a five-inning perfect game at home against Union Catholic High School when Governor Livingston won 10-0 on Monday, April 4.
“I’m very proud of the kids and what they have bought into what we’re teaching them,” Roof said. “However, this is just a small sample size.”
With inclement weather in the forecast, Roof expected to play at New Providence on Wednesday, April 20, rather than Tuesday, April 19.
On the night of Monday, April 18, Roof continued to say, “We have not yet faced New Providence and Cranford. We have to be realistic that this is not going to last.
“We hope to get as close to this as we can as the season progresses. We do have length in our lineup and feel that we can be multidimensional.”
The top three Union County Tournament seeds should go to Governor Livingston, New Providence and state-ranked Cranford. The Cougars improved to 6-2 with an 11-1 Union County Conference-crossover victory at Union Catholic on Monday, April 18.
Cranford last won the Union County Tournament in 2015, which was for the ninth time, all of them coming since its first victory in 1999.
Governor Livingston defeated Scotch Plains–Fanwood in the 2016 championship game and Westfield in the 2018 and 2021 title contests.
“This is a program and we are very proud of our tradition,” Roof said. “We have kids that have waited their turn to be starters in this program, whether they are seniors, juniors or freshmen. We have two freshmen — Diskin and Anthony DeNora — starting for us right now.”
Governor Livingston is also scheduled to host Summit High School on Thursday, April 21, at 4 p.m. and then play at Jonathan Dayton High School on Friday, April 22, at 4 p.m., both Union County Conference-crossovers. Summit and Dayton are battling for the lead in the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division, along with Union Catholic.
On Sunday, April 24, Governor Livingston will once again be involved in the Autism Awareness Baseball and Softball Challenge, with 35 games scheduled to be played Friday, April 22; Saturday, April 23; and Sunday, April 24, at the Community Park fields in North Brunswick. This is the 14th annual event and one that lines up with Autism Awareness Month.
Governor Livingston is scheduled to play Gill St. Bernard’s School in one of the two baseball games scheduled to begin on Sunday, April 24, at 4 p.m.
Other Union County teams involved include Plainfield High School facing Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Academy on Friday, April 22, at 4 p.m.; Cranford playing South Brunswick High School on Friday, April 22, at 7 p.m.; Scotch Plains facing Somerville High School on Saturday, April 23, at 7 p.m.; Rahway facing South Amboy Middle/High School on Sunday, April 24, at 10 a.m.; and Elizabeth closing with one of the 7 p.m. games on Sunday, April 24, vs. Sayreville War Memorial High School.
All home runs hit in the games will equal a donation to this year’s beneficiary, Madison Luyber, 17, of Moorestown. Luyber is battling a rare malignant brain tumor in the pituitary gland.
Photos Courtesy of Gene Nann