UNION, NJ — Scotch Plains’ Danny Wilkinson spun a complete game three hitter to lead the sixth-seed Scotch Plains-Fanwood over the two-seed Gov. Livingston in the semifinals of the 2019 UCT Saturday afternoon at Jim Hynes Stadium on the campus of Kean University.
After falling beyond, 6-1, in the third inning, Gov. Livingston who had rallied for two previous UCT wins could not not break through against Wilkinson who pitched his third complete game of the tournament. Gov. Livingston's John Grill and Joey Defeo combined to hold Scotch Plains to just six singles but the pair of lefties fell victim to a season high seven Highlander errors which resulted in four unearned Raider runs.
Chris Bruno connected for his third home run of the season in the fifth inning, which was really the only hard hit ball against Wilkinson all game.
Scotch Plains will now face Johnson who came from behind to defeat Summit 10-7 in the UCT final Monday night back at Kean.
Coming into the game, Gov. Livingston had defeated Scotch Plains two times previously this season, but had yet to face the Villanova bound Wilkinson. The hard throwing lefty was no stranger to Gov. Livingston having made two quality starts against them the past two seasons, having given up just three earned runs in a combined 12 2/3 innings of work. In his last two starts, both UCT games ,Wilkinson had been virtually unhittable (14IP, 2H,1ER), so the Highlander lineup knew exactly what they were up against as they were about to face the Raider ace.
Scotch Plains got on the board first when Willy Gale (1-4,2SB) reached on an error to open the game and came around to score without the Raiders getting a base hit. Gale, who moved over to third on a stolen base and a sac fly, was credited with a steal of home when a Grill pitch in the dirt allowed him to cross home plate with the game's first run.
Gov. Livingston was able to draw even in the first after Grill (1-3,RBI) dumped a base hit into left scoring Drew Compton
(0-1,HBP,BB) from second after he was hit by a pitch and moved up on a steal.
After Grill had put the first two hitters of the second inning on via a walk and a hit batter, Scotch Plains coach Joe Higgins to no one's surprise called for Dallas Lorenzetti to lay down a bunt. Lorenzetti’s bunt was misplayed in the infield and allowed both Raider base runners to come around as the ball was thrown into right field. Grill managed to strikeout the next two hitters, but Scotch Plains had now scored three unearned runs without the benefit of a base hit.
Scotch Plains, now holding a 3-1 lead with their ace on the mound, had clearly seized the game's momentum and with Wilkinson working at a quick pace, put the Highlanders down in order in the bottom half of the inning.
Unfortunately for Grill (2.2IP,2H,2ER), a lack of support from his defense would knock him out of the game. After a one out base hits from Mike Dieu(1-3) and Tyler Stines (1-4) put runners on first and second, Grill got DH Pete Cuccurullo(1-2) to sky a ball to the outfield which should have been the inning's second out but the ball was dropped allowing a run to score. Chris Smith (1-2, RBI) followed with an RBI single and yet another Highlander error allowed a a third run to score. DeFeo who would relieve Grill got the innings last out, but not before Scotch Plains had taken a commanding 6-1 lead.
Over the next four innings, DeFeo would match Wilkinson pitch for pitch. DeFeo (4.1IP,1H,0ER,7K) was brilliant striking out seven of the 14 batters he faced while allowing only one hit, that on a perfect bunt by Gale.
Wilkinson was mowing down the Highlanders till Chris Bruno hit a long drive over the left field fence to open the fifth inning. Unfazed after Bruno’s blast made it 6-2, Wilkinson resumed his dominance striking out the side to close the inning. That was as close as Gov. Livingston would get as Wilkinson cruised the rest of the way, sending the Raiders to Monday nights final.
Gov. Livingston will return to action Monday when one of the state's best teams Delbarton visits Berkeley Heights. Fresh off winning the Morris County Tournament on Saturday night, the Green Wave is loaded with D1 talent which includes pitcher Jack Leiter and SS Anthony Volpe, both committed to Vanderbilt. Tuesday, Cranford comes in, before the Highlanders host neighborhood rival New Providence on Friday afternoon.
Gov. Livingston will be officially awarded the top seed in the upcoming Central Jersey, Group II sectional state playoffs this week. The Highlanders did get some good news Saturday when they learned that senior pitcher Ryan Davey would return to action after being injured against Cranford on April16th. Davey not only gives the Highlanders a much needed arm but his ability to play every position except catcher allows Coach Chris Roof greater flexibility when making out his lineup. In addiction to losing Davey against Cranford, the Highlanders also lost All-State and MLB prospect Stephen Reid due to injury in the same game. It would have been nice to have Reid’s powerful right handed bat in the lineup against southpaw Wilkinson on Saturday. That would have been a fun matchup for local baseball fans. Reid will not be back this season. If he is not drafted in June, he will continue his academic and baseball career at Georgia Tech next year.
The post season will begin on May 20th with the Highlanders holding home field throughout the single elimination tournament. The opening round opponent has yet to be determined.