BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - One year after winning their first ever Union County Tournament title and advancing to the state sectional semifinals, the Governor Livingston Highlanders baseball teams is locked and loaded for what should be another milestone season.

The Highlanders are stacked at nearly every position and the state of New Jersey has taken notice as the Highlanders open the season as the Star Ledger’s eighth ranked team.

One can’t blame head coach Chris Roof for his excitement level for the season as this 2017 squad will unarguably be one of his more talented teams.

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“We bring back a majority of the kids that played last year along with junior Dan Serretti who missed all of last season,” Roof said. “But I told the team that we’re good on paper and we’re supposed to be good -- but, we still have to do the little things, not only on the field but off the field as well.”

Roof doesn’t hesitate to admit that his team is as talented as any team in the state but how his squad handles adversity will determine how far that talent takes them.

If the 2017 version of the Highlanders needs a lesson on how handling adversity can be a major factor in a season, they can simply look in the mirror.

“The good teams we’ve had- including the state championship team two years ago and our [surprise] Union County championship team last year - have been able to handle adversity,” Roof, the owner of 321 career victories at Governor Livingston, said. “As talented as we are, if we don’t handle adversity well we will not have as good of a year as everybody wants.”

Working in the team’s favor is that several veterans on this squad were on the 2015 state championship team including Serretti who will play his first game since that state championship game.

Serretti was a key cog at shortstop on the 2015 team even though he was just a freshman at the time and he’ll once again man the shortstop position this season as a junior.

“Danny has been doing great and is as healthy as he’s ever been,” Roof said.

Serretti, who has already committed to play at St. John’s is one of nine Highlanders already committed to play college baseball.

Joining Serretti in the infield will be sophomore Drew Compton at third base, senior Vin Doren at second base, and junior DJ Gonnelli at first. Senior Dan Baroff will be the team’s catcher.

Compton, who has already committed to play at Georgia Tech, returns after earning Third Team All-Group 3 honors as a freshman and, along with Serretti, is expected to be one of the state’s top players this season.

In the outfield will be juniors Will Jennings and Tyler McCulloch at right and left field, respectively. Both are committed to play at Iona. At center field will be sophomore transfer student Stephen Reid, who’s talent has already impressed Roof.

“This will be one of our deepest lineups we’ve had in my 14 years at the school,” Roof said. “Right off the bat you have Compton, McCulloch, Serretti, the new kid Reid, Baroff, and Will Jennings.”

“As for DJ Gonnelli, our eighth-spot hitter, he’s a middle of the order kid in most programs. -- And there’s another three or four kids on our roster that I feel would be able to start at another school -- but, because of what we have, they are not starting -- but that doesn’t mean they won’t give us significant help.” Roof referenced his backup catcher, junior Sam Pile, as a player that would be a starter in another program  -- "If anything were to happen to starter Dan Baroff -- we wouldn't lose a beat with Pile." 

Senior Nick Cocchia, who will pitch at Montclair State next season, will once again be the top dog at pitcher. Cocchia has certainly earned his status as the team’s number one pitcher as the veteran has won his fair share of big games over the course of his career.

Cocchia will be one of the team’s four captains this season along with Baroff, Doren, and senior Sean Savage. “All four of these guys are strong leaders and will be extensions of our coaching staff,” Roof said.

Cocchia will also be the team’s designated hitter when he’s not on the mound.

“Designated hitter will be a revolving door,” Roof said. “When Nick doesn’t pitch he could be the DH to save his arm. It could also be a time to give the outfield a break and put Nick in the outfield where he’s played well.”

Joining Cocchia on the pitching staff will be senior Cole Schneider, senior John Colendenski, Savage, and  junior Liam Hulburt. 

“I’m very happy with Sean Savage, who will be a key pitcher along with Nick. Sean is also a great utility player in that he can play and will help us at a bunch of different positions.”

“Liam had an outstanding Fall season with our team and has been pitching with confidence and he will surprise people. And John is another senior pitcher who is throwing the ball well.”

As for the schedule, the Highlanders will once again compete in the rugged Union County Conference where they’ll play traditional powers like themselves such as Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Cranford, and Union.

“You are expected to win every year and it’s not that easy to do,” Roof said. “You look at the top four teams in our conference and they’re four of the top teams in the state.”

Regardless of who the Highlanders play, their depth and skill at each position will no doubt cause problems for a lot of teams. But what should not be discounted is how driven the Highlanders are to get back to the championship pinnacle.

“There is no greater group of kids that I’ve been around,” Roof said. “If we can do the little things well and handle adversity, we can be special.”

Season opens on Sunday, April 2 when Gov. Livingston hosts the annual Highlander Classic. The Highlanders will play New Providence Pioneers at 12:30 p.m.  Kinnelon plays Madison in the second game at 3 p.m.

Roster includes 9 seniors: Thomas Barbera, Dan Baroff, Nick Cocchia, John Colendenski, Vin Doren, Conor Fletcher, Cole Schneider, Sean Savage, Jace Tweeten; 9 juniors: DJ Gonnelli, Liam Hulbert, Will Jennings, Tyler McCulloch, Rob Monnroy, Jack Pedini, Sam Pile, Sean Quinn, Dan Serretti; and two sophomores: Drew Compton, Stephen Reid

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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.