BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Just one day after a dominant opening round victory in the state tournament, the Governor Livingston Highlanders baseball team capped the regular season with a 7-1 victory over the Pequannock Golden Panthers.
The win extended Governor Livingston’s winning streak to six as they improved to 23-5 in the process. Pequannock fell to 19-6.
Governor Livingston was led offensively by seniors Dan Belfer (2 Hits, 3 RBIs, 1 run) and Ryan Zucker (1 hit, 1 RBI, 1 run), and junior Brian Cranston (1 Hit, 3 RBIs, 1 run). On the mound, sophomore Nick Cocchia went six innings and registered six strikeouts.
Cranston was yet again solid on the mound in relief of Cocchia. After a strong performance in Monday’s opening round win over Rahway, Cranston followed that up with a pair of crucial strikeouts in the game’s waning moments on Tuesday.
With Governor Livingston up, 3-1, in the second inning, the Golden Panthers were threatening to regain the lead with runners on second third and zero outs after Anthony Rosano’s double. Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof sensed the time for a pitching change and went with the dependable Cranston, who rewarded his coach by helping force a Pequannock batter out at first before striking out the very next batter for the inning’s second out.
With runners still on second and third, Pequannock remained in business. The Golden Panthers looked poise to take the lead once the very next Pequannock batter smacked a hard line drive towards right field that seemed primed to make its way into the outfield.
Governor Livingston shortstop Dan Serretti had other ideas. Serretti made a leaping grab of the ball for the inning’s final out that all but sealed the deal for a Pequannock comeback.
Serretti’s catch was as impressive a defensive play for the Highlanders all season and took the air out of the Golden Panthers while giving his team a jolt of their own.
The Highlanders fed off the momentum generated by Serretti’s catch by scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth to ice the game. Cranston’s RBI triple and Zucker’s RBI single were key moments in the inning that helped extent the lead to 7-1.
“The kids joke around with Serretti by calling him ‘Jetes’, which is short for his idol, Derek Jeter,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof said. “He models just about everything he does on the field after Derek Jeter. Danny’s playing as a freshman for a reason and that play showed why.”
As for Cranston’s performance to close the game, Roof had similar praise. “There’s a reason we go to Brian in that spot,” Roof said. “All year he’s been great for us and he continued that with a great jobtonight. He had two strikeouts and could’ve had more.”
As for the win, Roof commended both teams for a job well done. “It was a great win against a very good Pequannock team,” Roof said. “It was a good all-around game for both sides that ended with some fireworks.”
A fireworks presentation did indeed occur after Tuesday’s win that the entire community got the chance to enjoy. The fireworks within the actual game didn’t transpire until the game’s fourth inning. It took a while for both teams to get going offensively. The teams combined for just two hits through the game’s first three innings.
After Pequannock took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, the Highlanders responded with three runs of their own.
After seniors Ethan Frohman (hit-by-pitch), Ian Lynch (double), and Mike Falk (base-on-balls) found their way on base, Belfer smacked an RBI triple that scored Frohman, Lynch, and Falk to give the Highlanders a 3-1 lead.
It took the Highlanders a little while to get to Pequannock freshman pitcher Sean Klimek, but once they did, they did so with a strong statement. “When you’re facing a good pitcher like Klimek, it usually takes until the second or third time through the order to get the bats going,” Roof said. “But Klimek is special and he’s only a freshman. He’s got very good velocity and a good curveball. He’s one of the better ones we’ve seen this year.”
Roof is happy his team closed the regular season against a quality team like the Golden Panthers who are in the midst of state tournament run themselves.
“Playing a quality opponent like Pequannock during the tournament helps keep us fine-tuned,” Roof said. “Baseball’s a grueling sport and it’s tough for kids this age to bring it day in and day out, so a game like tonight helped us do that.”