BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Senior DJ Gonnelli, 6-0, pitched a masterful 72 count complete game against defending champion Westfield Blue Devils to capture a 6-2 victory for the second ever Union County Baseball Championship title for Gov. Livingston. For his domination on the mound, Gonnelli is named Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week.
Gonnelli has become the ace that Gov. Livingston has needed after GL had lost their entire pitching staff to graduation. There has been arguably no better pitcher in Union County this year.
Gonnelli’s incredible season has not been limited to the mound. The senior first baseman has played the field flawlessly this year and has been affectionately known as the the “Big Dog” in the middle of the Highlanders potent offense. The 6’2 215 pound cleanup hitter is hitting at a .351 clip with 27 hits, which includes three homers, 8 doubles and a triple. He has driven in 25 runs and scored 19 more. If you combine what he has done on the bump [6-0, 53 strikeouts in 48 innings, 1.15 ERA] with what he has done at the plate, you have an MVP season in anybody’s book.
"DJ Gonnelli is the definition of a GL baseball player," said Gov. Livingston head coach Chris Roof. "He’s a man of high integrity, hardworking and team leader. He will do anything for his teammates or coaches."
Coming into this season, Gonnelli had only pitched five innings, but with losing the entire pitching staff to graduation, Roof knew DJ, along with others, were going to have to step up. "DJ has done more then anybody thought he ever would," said Roof. "Not that he would be a capable starter for us, but the fact that he’s a legit ace and one of the better pitchers in NJ."
Earlier in the season, Gonnelli, along with the Highlanders' big bats, shocked the State ranked Delbarton Green Wave by dealing them an 8-1 loss in one of GL's most meaningful victories in program history.
"Beating Delbarton and then ultimately Westfield in the county championship has proven how worthy DJ is," said Roof.
This level of play doesn't come without training and dedication. "Coach Rago helped me develop not only physically but mentally as well," said Gonnelli. "He really has showed me what it's like to think and pitch and brought a whole new outlook of pitching to me." Roof said that Gonnelli has bought into Rago's plan and his results are evident, not only on the mound, but as a hitter and first baseman.
"I cannot go without saying how important Matt Rago has been to our pitching staff. -- If it’s speed or distance training, band work, going over scouting reports, weight training, long tossing, drill work or just plain throwing bullpens, the boys have bought in and you can see our results. Rago is a future star in the business," said Roof.
Gonnelli has been named to the North/South senior All Star game as one of the best 25 seniors representing the Northwest squad. Gonnelli will join GL senior Danny Serretti, who was also named. And, Roof will be one of the coaches on the staff.
Below are comments from DJ regarding his past, present and future:
TAPinto: What was going through your mind when you took the mound to pitch in the UCT finals if front of that huge crowd?
DJ: When I walked out there for the first inning I was nervous. I never really have pitched in front of a crowd like that but after a couple batters I settled in and realized how awesome it was.
TAPinto: How did you prepare in the off season, and did you concentrate on your pitching?
DJ: In the off-season I was in the gym everyday. I woke up at 4:45 in the morning to train with a professional trainer. As for the baseball aspect I worked with my dad a lot, and I threw a couple bullpens before the season began but nothing too crazy.
TAPinto: You also are the teams cleanup hitter, what is it like having three smashers like Serretti, Compton and Reid ahead of you?
DJ: With those guys ahead of me it takes a lot of pressure off and let’s me relax and just play. I don’t have to worry about getting a hit every time because I know those guys are going to produce.
TAPinto: When you are pitching, has it had any impact on your hitting?
DJ: I try to keep pitching and hitting as separate as possible. I don’t like to put both of them together because it may mess with your head. As far as training I just have to put in extra work before and after practice.
TAPinto: Has the Montclair State coaching staff spoken to you now about becoming a pitcher next year?
DJ: Yes, we have talked about pitching next year and it looks like I will as of now.
TAPinto: What personal and team accomplishments are you most proud of?
DJ: Personally, just the hard work that I have put in over the years and being able to help the team. As a team, I’m proud of really everything we have done especially the county championship. It means a lot to win and I was happy to do it with those guys.
TAPinto: When did you start playing baseball?
DJ: I started playing baseball back in first grade.
TAPinto: What would you say about the culture of baseball in Berkeley Heights and the success of the program?
DJ: The culture that Coach Roof and all of the coaches created throughout the years is fantastic. They create a good environment but with the focus of winning. So we can really develop and be the best that we can.
TAPinto: What is your favorite GL memory?
DJ: My favorite GL memory is being with everyone that I have grown up with for one last year and just appreciating everything.
TAPinto: What do you like most about GL?
DJ: What I like about GL is the constant effort to be better. No one wants to remain the same and fights for better opportunities.
TAPinto: What are your favorite things to do other than playing baseball?
DJ: Other than baseball I played football and hangout with my friends a lot. I also like to workout out and do normal things that a teenager does.
TAPinto: Who is your role model?
DJ: My role model is definitely my dad. I strive to be just like him. He is a great man and everyone can see it.
TAPinto: What do you plan to study at Montclair State University?
DJ: I plan to major in Athletic Training at Montclair.
Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Delicious Heights, a family restaurant with three locations; Berkeley Heights, Bedminster and Basking Ridge, where it is part of the Basking Ridge County Club operating a public restaurant with outdoor dining, and acting as the banquet caterer, boasting a facility with panoramic views of the sprawling golf course. Visit our website, www.deliciousheights.com for weekly specials including Happy Hour specials from 3-6pm and daily featured dinner and lunch specials. Delicious Heights....where our only limitations are yours!
Delicious Heights is located at 428 Springfield Avenue in Berkeley Heights. 908.464.3287; 285 Main Street in Bedminster. 908.234.1596; 185 Madisonville Road in Basking Ridge. 908.766.9499.