BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston baseball team (3-2-1) locked up in their second Union County-Watchung Conference battle of the week, when they took on the Cranford Cougars and their outstanding right hander Gordon Graceffo Thursday afternoon in Berkeley Heights. In a game marked by great pitching, and big plays in the field and at the plate, the two rivals played to a 10 inning 4-4 tie with play suspended due to darkness. In a dramatic battle of future D1 players senior Highlander Danny Serretti (North Carolina) forced extra innings when he took a 2-0 Graceffo (Villanova) offering deep over the center field fence for a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 7th inning. The game could resume in the 11th inning at a later date, most likely when the Highlanders travel to Cranford on May 17th.
In yesterday's Gov. Livingstons home opener in the Heights, both teams got premium pitching performances. Gov. Livingston sent out senior lefty DJ Gonnelli to face off against Graceffo and the Cougars. Gonnelli would turn in a magnificent mound performance going six full innings, giving up just four hits while striking 8 Cougars. Unfortunately, after six innings of play, he found himself in line for the loss as Cranford managed to push across three unearned runs against him. Meanwhile, his counterpart Graceffo (104 pitches), masterfully managed to keep the Highlanders from putting together a big inning giving up just two runs through six innings, yielding 8 hits before Serretti took him deep. Both teams then got superb relief pitching which extended the game to the 11th inning. Ryan Davey came in for Gonnelli and went four innings giving up one run on just two hits. Cranford's Jeremy Ruka matched Davey's outstanding performance holding the Highlanders scoreless over his 3 2/3 innings of work.
Cranford got on the board first as the Cougars pushed across the first of their three unearned runs. A one out Michael Murphy (2-3, RBI) base hit was followed by a walk. Gonnelli then got a double play ball which was misplayed and Murphy scampered around for the game's first run. Gonnelli then settled down closing out the inning with a strikeout with runners on second and third.
In the Highlanders' half of the first, Drew Compton (2-4) dropped a single to right and advance into scoring position with a ground out. Tyler McCulloch (2-5, RBI) brought in the equalizer when he stroked a 3-2 pitch into right field bringing in Compton.
Cranford, again, took the lead in the next inning as they again, took advantage of an inning extending error. After putting down the first two hitters of the inning number nine hitter, Aidan Pick reached on an error. Gonnelli then lost focus and walked the next two batters on 9 pitches. Jimmy Shriner (1-4, 2 RBI) worked a full count with the bases loaded before stroking a single into center putting Cranford up 3-1.
"Our weaknesses going in today was that we started the game playing a little bit nervous and scared but that definitely turned around as the game went on," said third year varsity player Compton. "A big strength of ours is that we always fight back and we don’t go down easy.”
The score remained 3-1 despite the Highlanders getting some good swings against Graceffo. Andy Serretti (1-4), who appears to have secured the starting second base position, continued his impressive early season hitting when he ripped an opposite field double over left fielder's Deandre Fieldhouse head to open the fifth inning. After a pop out, Serretti came around to score when big brother Danny (2-5, 3 RBI) brought him home with a single up the middle.
A pumped Gonnelli now appeared to seize the games momentum when he struck out the side in the sixth. With Graceffo matching Gonnelli's dominance, the Highlanders were running out of outs as Graceffo got two quick sixth inning outs, before Will Jennings (3-5) reached him for a two out single. Jack Pedini then drove a pitch to left field which appeared to be trouble, but Cranford's Fieldhouse made a diving catch to end the inning.
Ryan Davey, who appears to be becoming this season go to guy out of the bullpen, was brought in to relieve Gonnelli to open the seventh. Davey walked the first hitter of the inning which always presents a problem. After a passed ball, Murphy doubled in the Cougars fourth run. Interestingly, with no outs and a man on second, Cranford Coach Dennis McCaffery chose not to play small ball and bunt Murphy over to third. Davey then struck out Shriner looking and got a weak ground out for two quick outs. Murphy was then caught stealing third and the inning ended with Cranford up 4-2, but not pushing across that insurance run which would come back to haunt them.
With his powerful right hander at 94 pitches, McCaffery confidently sent out Graceffo to finish up the game. Graceffo retired Andy Serretti on a first pitch ground out. Versatile 6'4" Davey (1-4), who can play all four infield positions, was getting his first start of the season at first base. Davey then sent a 0-1 pitch rocket over centerfielder's Murphy head for a one out double.
Graceffo was now forced to deal with top of the Highlanders lineup one more time. Now working carefully to Serretti, Graceffo missed the plate on his first two offerings. Lefty Serretti then crushed the next pitch, hitting a towering fly ball over the center field fence to tie the game. Graceffo then ran out of gas as he walked Compton on four straight pitches, giving way to Ruka. Sophomore Ruka got the very dangerous Stephen Reid to fly out and ended the inning with a strikeout.
Both Davey and Ruka then pitched three innings of shutout ball till it got too dark to continue play. The Highlanders had a few opportunities to score with the biggest coming in the 10th. However, the Cougar defense came up big for Ruka.
Stephen Reid opened the 10th inning by hitting a laser to straight away center. Somehow, Murphy got back on the ball to make the catch saving a leadoff extra base hit. McCulloch then followed with his second hit of the game. With two outs Will Jennings gapped a ball which rolled to the base of the outfield wall. Murphy made a perfect throw to his cutoff that nailed pinch runner Sean Quinn at the plate to end the days play.
“I think our team did a great job of fighting back at the end to preserve the game and hopefully we can continue this game in the future and come out with a win,” said Will Jennings.
Conference standings and state power points will likely determine if this game will resume. The Highlanders close the week at home Saturday when they take on Madison in the finals of the Highlander Classic. First pitch, approximately 2 p.m.
Earlier in the week, the Highlanders split away games with Westfield and Summit. Against Westfield they dropped an 8-7 conference heartbreaker after scoring six runs in the sixth inning to tie the game at seven, only to give up the game winner in the bottom half of the inning. Junior Ethan Saia getting his first taste of Union County pressure baseball took the loss in relief, but pitched four outstanding innings of four hit ball to keep his team in the after trailing 7-0 Will Jennings first homer of the season got the Highlanders going before Stephen Reid delivered the big blow with a bases clearing double to close to within 7-6. Ty Mculloch then lined a single to knock in Reid making it 7-7. After getting the first two hitters of the inning, Saia in his first extended outing of the season (58 pitches) yielded back to back doubles and Westfield had the game winning run they needed to avert blowing a late 7-0 lead.
Taking on Summit on Wednesday in a crossover Union County conference game, the Highlanders rode a complete game pitching performance from senior Liam Hulbert to a 7-2 victory. Hulbert (2-0) tossed six hit ball over seven innings for his second win of the year. The Highlanders connected for 11 hits with Drew Compton (3-4) and Jack Pedini (2-3) having multiple hit games. Sam Pile and Andy Serretti both had run scoring singles as the Highlanders broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning.