CRANFORD, NJ - Gov. Livingston, despite no-hitting Cranford, saw their 18 game win streak snapped as the Cougars took advantage of four Highlander errors to stun the newly crowned UCT champs, 3-2, Thursday afternoon in Cranford.
Liam Hulbert and Ryan Monroy combined to hold the Cougars hitless over six innings, but the Highlander defense unraveled late in the game allowing the Cougars to score three unearned runs. Andy Serretti hit his third home run of the year off Cranford's ace Gordon Graceffo to put Gov. Livingston up 2-0, but the Highlanders could not break through against the Villanova bound Graceffo who pitched the last five innings of the game for the win.
If Gov. Livingston, 20-3-1, had hung on for the win, they would have captured their second consecutive UCC-Watchung Division title outright. Now they may have to finish a suspended 14 inning tie game with Cranford next week to determine the Division Championship. Prior to the opening of the 2018 NJSIAA State Baseball Tournament on Monday, the Highlanders will play out of conference away games with Parsippany and Pequannock. Gov. Livingston the No. 1 seed in the Central, Group II section will host the No. 16 seed, Carteret on Monday, first pitch 4 p.m.
Cranford coach Dennis McCaffery knew coming into the game that he needed to get Graceffo some work in before the states. Instead of starting his ace Graceoff, McCaffery went with junior Kevin Donovan hoping that he would be able to keep the Cougars close till he called on Graceffo.
Gov. Livingston got off to a great start against Donovan as the Highlanders opened the game with three straight hits. After Danny Serretti (1-3,2B) led off with a double, Drew Compton (2-4,2B) and Stephen Reid hit back to back singles (1-2, RBI). Reid's hard base hit brought in Serretti, but Donovan got out of further trouble as he retired the next three batters.
The Highlanders threatened again in the second but couldn't get to Donovan. Gov. Livingston starter Hulburt (5 IP, 2BB, 2 K) was having his way with the Cougars as he easily retired the first six hitters he faced. McCaffery's gamble not to start his ace paid off as he now called on Graceffo to open the third with Cranford only trailing by a run.
Andy Serretti (1-3, HR) pulled a 1-1 pitch off Graceffo down the right field line for a solo homer in the 4th to give Hulbert a little breathing room at 2-0, Highlanders. It was one of the four hits Graceffo would give up in his five innings of work.
Things went south very quickly for Hulburt with one out in the bottom half of the fourth. After getting the first out, Hulbert issued a walk to Tyler Szchech. The pitcher then misplayed a ball allowing Pat Connelly to reach first and Szchech to advance to third. After getting the second out on a play at the plate, third baseman Compton to catcher Chris Bruno (1-3) Hulbert balked the runners over to second and third. Unfortunately for Hulbert it was another costly mistake, as Joe Meola's ground ball was booted in the infield allowing two runners to score, tying the game a 2-2.
The game remained tied until the sixth when the Highlander defense again cost their pitcher what proved to be the game winning run. Ryan Monroy who came on for Hulbert, hit Mike Murphy to open the inning. Coach McCaffery, playing small ball, called on his number three hitter, Szchech to lay down a bunt. The bunt was misplayed and the Cougars now had the go ahead run on third with no outs.
Monroy fought back with a strikeout of Connelly for the innings first out. McCaffery again played small, calling for Mike McGee to suicide squeeze. McGee's bunt was good enough to bring Murphy in from third for the go ahead run. The Highlander defense did manage to get a double play on the bunt to end the threat, but the damage was done.
Down to their last out against Graceffo the Highlanders Drew Compton made it interesting as he drove a 1-1 pitch off the left field wall for a long double. Taking no chances with slugger Reid, McCaffery intentionally walked him, which actually put the go ahead run on base. However, Graceffo got the final out on a ground ball to end the game.
Gov. Livingston and Cranford then resumed an earlier game that was suspended in a 4-4 tie. Ryan Davey who will be the Highlanders closer throughout the playoffs pitched four scoreless innings in relief but the offense just could not get a big hit to end the game.
In the three games, Gov. Livingston has lost this season, it was an erratic Highlander defense that was directly responsible for the setbacks. The old adage that pitching and defense wins championships was certainly proven to be true on Monday night in the UCT final win over Westfield. Even with an offense that scores close to 10 runs a game, and a solid pitching staff, the Highlanders will need to play better in the field if they expect to make a run at another state title.