BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The Gov. Livingston baseball team hoists a fishing pole on the fence that guards the dugout before every game, a simple tribute to assistant coach Dan Mondelli’s signature phrase of “reel it in.”
In the seventh inning of Friday’s Central Jersey, Group 2 final, the Highlanders took the phrase in its literal meaning.
With the tying run at the plate and two outs, relief pitcher Dan Belfer snapped a curveball that got a third strike on Robbinsville’s Mike Fischer but also past catcher Rob Dilly. The ensuing play was like the final scenes from "Jaws."
Dilly fought with the dropped bat to find the ball, then threw off-balance to Mike Falk at first, who reeled in the wild throw to seal Gov. Livingston’s first state title since 2011.
“It takes years off your life,” head coach Chris Roof said. “I’ll take it. I wouldn’t have signed up for it if you told me the scenario at the end. Its nerve-wracking, I’ll tell you that. Theses kids are resilient. 26 wins doesn’t just happen for a reason. They’re a good team. They deserve it.”
Belfer earned the five-out save, his first of the postseason, closing the door on starter Ethan Frohman’s third victory of the state tournament. Frohman allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings in the first NJSIAA championship appearance of his career.
“This is what we’ve worked so hard for,” Frohman said. “All those nights in the winter, in the gym, in the hallways, the countless hours, this is what we worked hard for and it paid off today.”
Frohman got the momentum support he provided his Highlander teammates on Tuesday in the first inning, as Gov. Livingston scored three runs to open the game.
Following a leadoff single by Danny Serretti, Frohman slammed a double off the left field fence to put the Highlanders on the board. Ian Lynch followed with his 100th career hit, setting the table for run scoring plays off the bats of Falk and Belfer.
“In the top of the first inning, they were loud and ready to go,” Lynch said. “We came back and scored three runs in the bottom of the inning. We heard crickets from their dugout. We really jumped on top of them and gave Frohman some insurance runs, which was huge.”
Robbinsville managed a run in the third, as Ryan Fischer capped a string of three straight hits to put the Ravens on the board. However, Lynch and Belfer were right in the middle of two more Highlanders runs in the bottom half to put Gov. Livingston on top 5-1.
The Ravens fought back in their next two at-bats, as Tom McKiernan smashed a homer to left in the fourth and Dan McKiernan scored on a ground out to pull Robbinsville within two heading to the sixth.
Even though GL failed to score in their final two at-bats, their pitching and defense provided all the spark they needed.
After Frohman allowed two base runners in the sixth, he gave way to Belfer who seduced a fly out to right and a strikeout to end Robbinsville’s threat. Then in the seventh, the combination of Belfer’s curveball, Dilly’s successful block and Falk’s scoop at first sealed the Central Jersey, Group 2 title.
“It’s a lot of emotions in one day,” Lynch said. “It’s a hard fought game, definitely something I’ve dreamt about, always playing for a state championship. Being short twice hurts, finally in my senior year, this is it. We definitely worked hard for it and there you go.”
With the victory, Gov. Livingston heads to the Group 2 semifinal on Tuesday where they play defending state champion Buena at Rider University. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
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