CLIFTON, NJ — The Livingston baseball team is still battling to get its record up to .500, but the Lancers might actually win a sectional championship before they reach the break-even point.
Livingston will get that chance on Friday, as the 10th-seeded Lancers have reached the Section 1, Group 4 championship game, which will be played Friday on the road against top-seeded Montclair.
Livingston (9-11) defeated Clifton, 4-2, Thursday afternoon in the sectional semifinal. Nick Murray pitched the first 6 2/3 innings for the victory, but needed last-out help from closer Brandon Kenney, who recorded his third save in as many state tournament games, striking out the final batter on three pitches with Clifton runners at second and third.
Murray struck out seven batters, walked one and allowed one earned run in gaining his second victory of the tournament.
"Our pitching was really good today," said Livingston head coach Mickey Ennis. "It looks like it’s finally coming together for us now. This is the best baseball we have played all year. Teams just get hot at the right time sometimes, and there’s a shot at a championship for us now."
Ben Hauser's two-run single in the sixth inning gave Livingston the lead after the Lancers had an apparent run wiped off the board in the fifth inning when a runner was ruled to have missed second base on an appeal by Clifton. Ennis said he saw video of the play after the game and contends that his baserunner actually did touch the bag.
Chris Battista went 2-for-3 with one run batted in (RBI) and a walk. Hauser also was 2-for-3, and Mike Ilaria had an RBI single for the Lancers, who had high hopes to start the season before a COVID-19 interruption forced them to reset everything.
"It has been a difficult year," said Ennis. "We start off 2-0, we beat Millburn the day after they beat Seton Hall Prep, and we’re 2-0, feeling real good about ourselves, and then we find out that we have to shut down for two weeks. Everything we did was literally put on hold for two weeks. We were not able to get together."
Ennis added that the Lancers were "two weeks behind everyone else" when they returned.
"We just booked games and played them," he said. We couldn't practice, and the lack of practice time affected us through the season because we were not able to work on some of the fundamental points of the game. We had lost the sharpness and were not able to practice it. We were losing games on fundamentals, lack of preparation, and we had to play [a lot of] games just to qualify for the state tournament. Then there were weather issues on top of that. It looks like it’s finally coming together for us now."
Senior right-hander Robert Sayle has been slated to start on the mound against Montclair. Sayle, who plays third base when he doesn't pitch, is also one of Livingston's best hitters.
"Sayle has been very good at times, and if he is on his game [against Montclair], we could be in very good shape," said Ennis, whose team has lost three times to Montclair this season. "We're hoping that he gives us another good game. He also bats in the middle of our lineup and has been hitting the ball very well recently."
Friday's matchup begins at 4 p.m. on Montclair's home diamond.
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