BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston baseball team met their first big challenge of the season with a 6-2 win over UCC-Watchung division rival Westfield yesterday afternoon in Berkeley Heights.
Highlander senior left hander Nick Cocchia (1-0) turned in another brilliant pitching performance against the Blue Devils going 6 2/3 innings, giving up two runs while scattering 8 hits. Sophomore DH Stephen Reid gave Cocchia an early lead when he launched a two run home run over the left field fence in the third inning. Danny Serretti (2-3) collected a couple of hits including a run scoring triple to deep right center when the Highlanders broke open the game scoring four runs in fifth inning.
Victor Cruz (2-3) got Westfield on the board in the sixth with a solo homer.
The Highlanders raised their record to 3-0 and are currently ranked 8th in the state by NJ.COM.
Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof and Westfield coach Bob Brewster both called on left-handers who had success against the respective teams last season. Westfield's Cory Hiltz hurled a complete game seven hit shutout against the Highlanders last season. Gov. Livingston countered with Cocchia who pitched a spectacular six innings against Westfield in the Union County semi-finals, giving up just one run on five hits. Gov. Livingston pulled that game out in extra innings, not only eliminating Westfield from the Union County Tournament but snapped a Westfield school record 19 game win streak. Last season Westfield had taken both regular season games before the Highlanders took them out in the Counties.
Yesterday's contest saw both pitchers slip out of some early trouble by getting big outs. Westfield threatened when Jake Lerie singled with two outs in the second inning and Matt LaCorte hit a bomb to center field for what appeared to be a run scoring double. However the ball skipped over the outfield fence and was ruled a ground rule double, with Leire having to return to third base. Cocchia then got the next hitter to ground out to close out the inning.
Hiltz got himself in a jam in the bottom half of the second when he hit Cocchia and walked DJ Gonnelli. With runners on first and second Vin Doren laid down a bunt and was called safe at first loading the bases. However Hiltz facing the Highlanders top of the lineup got an infield popup and a strikeout to end the threat.
The third inning saw Cocchia give up back to back singles putting runners on the corners with just one out. Cocchia came through again as he got just what he wanted ,a sharp ground ball to second baseman Vin Doren. Doren who will play second this year when not pitching and Serretti at shortstop give the Highlanders arguably the best middle defensive infields in the state. The two smoothly turned the double play and the game remained scoreless.
Reid who has already worked his way into the middle of the Highlander lineup took a first pitch changeup deep for a home run after Serretti opened the bottom half of 3rd inning with a base hit. The Highlanders were looking for more as Tyler McCulloch (2-3) followed with a long double to right center and Gonnelli walked but Hiltz settled down holding the Highlanders to just two runs.
After Cocchia held the Blue Devils in check over the next two innings, the Highlanders finally figured out Hiltz in the bottom of the 5th inning. McCulloch and Cocchia singled putting runners on first and second.. Gonnelli (1-1) who had some great swings earlier against Hiltz before walking twice, then hit a rising line drive shot to left field. Westfield left fielder Jake Lerie made a great attempt at the ball getting his glove on it which allowed only one run to score, holding Gonnelli to a long single. A walk, sac bunt, and an error led to two more runs coming in before Serretti hit a long run scoring triple to give the Highlanders a 6-0 lead.
After Westfield’s Cruz took Cocchia deep to lead off the sixth the unfazed lefty continued his dominance getting a groundout and two strikeouts. Cocchia with his pitch count up to 93 fell one out short of a complete game when he was relieved by fellow senior Sean Savage. Savage threw just one pitch which produced a game ending ground out and the Highlanders had a big conference victory under their belt.
Things will be interesting for Highlander baseball the remainder of the week as everyone will be looking to take out the state's 8th ranked team. Gov. Livingston travels to Cranford Tuesday afternoon to take on a Cougar team who got their first win Monday against Scotch Plains on a dramatic walk -off double from Brian Oblachinski. Perennially Union County power Cranford came back from a two run seventh inning deficit to hand 19th ranked SPF their first loss of the season putting the rest of the Union County on notice they are still contenders despite dropping their first two conference games. Expect either Vin Doren (1-0) or Cole Schneider to get the start against Cranford.
The week concludes with home games against undefeated Summit on Thursday afternoon (4 p.m.) and a cross county matchup against Old Tappan on Saturday (12 noon).
Westfield hosts Elizabeth today with a 4 p.m. first pitch.