GLASSBORO, NJ - The Gov. Livingston baseball team suffered a gut wrenching season ending 2-1 loss to Manasquan in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group II Championships Wednesday afternoon at Rowan University in Glassboro.
The contest featured a marquee pitching matchup of two of the best left handers in the state with Highlanders Nick Cocchia facing off against the Warriors Tom Sheehan as the two aces locked upped in a classic pitching duel. Sheehan used a compliment of pitches including a low 90's fastball to hold the hard hitting Highlanders to just three hits and no earned runs over seven complete innings. Cocchia, matched Sheehan pitch for pitch, going a dominating seven innings, yielding only four hits, while striking out six. However, it was Cocchia's 96th pitch that got away from him with two outs in the seventh inning and a runner on third that allowed Manasquan to push across the game winning run on a wild pitch. The Highlanders finish the 2017 season with an impressive 26-4 as they fell just short of their quest for the school's fourth overall state championship.
After Cocchia put down the Warriors in order in the first, the Highlanders Stephen Reid presented the game's first scoring opportunity when he drove a ball deep into center for a two out triple. However, Sheehan stranded him there as he got Dan Baroff to pop out to right field.
Manasquan's James Harmstead opened the second with a double and with one out advanced to third on a wild pitch. Alex Galvan then grounded out for the second out of the inning but he brought in Harmstead for the game's first run.
The next three innings presented no scoring opportunities as both pitchers continued their dominance before the Highlanders took advantage of a two out wild pitch and a misplayed ball in the infield to knot the score a 1-1 in the home half of the fifth. Will Jennings one out single got things going. Jace Tweeten who was running for Jennings stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Ty McCulloch fought off an 0-2 count, fouling off four straight Sheehan pitches before he put the ball in play which was misplayed at first allowing Tweeten to score the tying run.
The tensions mounted as Manasquan's Adam Schreck opened the top of the seventh with a single to right on Cocchia's first pitch. Cocchia struck out the next hitter but in doing so he had bounced one in the dirt as the runner advanced to second. Cocchia then got a ground ball that he played over to first but pinch runner Joey Ostberg was able to move over to third. Unfortunately, Cocchia's next pitch decided the game as he threw a curve ball down that squirted under catcher Dan Baroff. As both the catcher and Ostberg at third initially lost sight of the ball, Osterberg saw the ball had gotten behind Baroff and broke for home scoring with a head first slide. The gratuitous bounce of the ball gave Manasquan and Sheehan the difference maker they were desperately seeking.
The Highlanders had won their last three playoff games with big seventh inning rallies, but Sheehan never gave them a chance as he put them down with three straight ground ball outs to end the game.
Sheehan who will pitch at Notre Dame next year won his third straight state playoff game. He has been nothing short of spectacular in his 20 innings on the mound as he has given up just one earned run on six hits while striking out 28 batters. The big lefty now leads Manasquan into the championship game for the first time since 1986.
Cocchia (8-2), who despite the loss, cemented his Highlander legacy as a big game pitcher, threw 16 playoff innings over three games, giving up just four runs while striking out 21 batters. Heading to Montclair State to continue his education and baseball career, Red Hawks Coach Jared Holowaty will certainly be getting a versatile talent in Cocchia.
It was a remarkable 2017 season for the Highlanders as they won their first 15 games and on May 1st found themselves Ranked #1 in the state for the first time in school history. They also became the first Gov. Livingston team in school history to garner national attention as USA Today had them ranked in their national top 25 poll. The rankings quickly became irrelevant as they dropped two consecutive games to opponents that they had previously soundly beaten, but it was what they did after those two difficult losses that truly made the season a successful one. The team went on to win 11 of their next 13 games, capturing a coveted Union County Watchung Division title and the Central, Group II state sectional championship, finishing up with a 26-4 record .
Photo credits: Dan Delargy