NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - In an unlikely season that nearly didn’t happen due to Covid-19 concerns, the combined Mountainside-Berkeley Heights 14u Highlanders baseball team captured the NPGL Gold League championship Tuesday.
In years past, Governor Livingston Varsity Coach Chris Roof helped assemble Legions teams of rising ninth graders from Columbia and Deerfield Middle Schools. The idea was to introduce the boys from different schools to each other and to the GL way of winning.
This year, with the Legions league put on hold, long-time Berkeley Heights PAL and NPGL coach Matt Netter and “momager” Vicki Baum coordinated with Coach Roof, NPGL commissioners, townships, umpires, and field coordinators to pull together what would be a magical summer baseball season. The team of 13 boys, known as the MSBH Highlanders, were led by coaches Vinny Doren (GL class of 2017) and Will Jennings (GL class of 2018).
Covid-19 guidance included questionnaires, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, and masks, among other protocols.
The Highlanders got off to a strong start before slumping late in the regular season. They finished with a 6-4 record, but everything seemed to come together just as playoff time came. After handily defeating Watchung-Warren in the opening round – highlighted by a home run by catcher Anthony Labisi – the team headed out to Long Valley to square up against the undefeated division winners. The Highlanders brought their A game and knocked Long Valley out of the tournament with a barrage of doubles by sluggers Matt Kosuda, Brady Silverman, Jordan Baum, and Dylan Gardner.
At the same time, Summit had defeated Westfield to face New Providence in the other semi-final game. New Providence won setting up a championship matchup at their home field against MSBH.
In a rare pitcher’s duel, New Providence got outstanding pitching from two of their young hurlers, while the Highlanders’ Matt Diskin was nearly unhittable. The hard-throwing righty went the full seven innings, allowing just one hit while striking out eight. The Highlanders didn’t make a single error, and while the bats were unusually quiet, they held on to win 1-0 in a nail biter.
As the last player grounded out to end the game, the Highlander players stormed the field to celebrate and collect their trophies. “I’m so proud of these boys and thrilled to see them have something to get excited about in this upside down year,” said team manager Matt Netter,
Team roster: Jordan Baum, Matt Diskin, Keith Duryee, Dylan Gardner, Michael Geertsma, Terrance Hanratty, Jon Huether, Matt Kosuda, Anthony Labisi, Julian Netter, Brady Silverman, Ben Smookler, Lev Villanueva.