BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In the Highlander Classic, the 8th ranked Governor Livingston Highlanders baseball team defeated the Madison Dodgers, 12-2, to claim the championship. Saturday’s game ended after just six innings due to the 10-run mercy rule and was the second consecutive game in which the Highlanders defeated an opponent on a mercy rule.
With the win, the Highlanders improved to 2-0 on the season and have now outscored its first two opponents by a combined, 23-2.
Governor Livingston pitcher Liam Hulburt picked up the win in his first career start along with the tournament MVP trophy. The junior finished with five strikeouts and allowed just three hits.
With one of the best defenses in New Jersey, Hulburt's strategy going into Saturday's game was to "get outs." "Whether it was striking someone out or my defense making plays, I just wanted to get outs," said Hulburt. "As a pitcher for GL, I have one of the best defenses in New Jersey behind me, so it's very reassuring on the mound to know they are there to back me up."
Hulburt also received outstanding support at the plate from his teammates. The Highlanders had 13 hits on Saturday.
DJ Gonnelli’s three hits and three runs scored paced the Highlanders. Tyler McCulloch finished with two hits and scored two runs of his own while Nick Cocchia had a solid all-around performance at the plate in recording two hits to go along with an RBI and two runs scored.
Danny Serretti and Sam Pile each recorded three RBIs while Vin Doren and Will Jennings chipped in with two RBIs apiece.
After Madison took a 2-1 lead after three innings, Hulburt and the Highlanders had seen enough.
"I felt early on I didn't have my best stuff," said Hulburt. "But, I did my best to keep relaxed and focused on what's important and that's winning the game. So, for Coach Roof to give me the MVP, it really meant a lot."
Roof knows his team needs to show mental toughness during adverse situations. When Roof tells his team to show him who is really tough, "that fires us up because every guy on the team wants to be the one who gets the big hit or makes the big play," said Hulburt.
After Hulburt shut out the Madison batters in the top of the fourth, McCulloch jumpstarted the hitting onslaught with a single. A short time later, Cocchia followed up with a grounder to first that advanced McCulloch to second. After a Gonnelli hit to left field that was aided by a Madison fielding error, Sam Pile hit for his second RBI of the game which was then followed up by a Doren RBI.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that we would start hitting," said Hulburt. "We have some outstanding hitters and I knew once someone got it started that momentum would continue throughout the batting order."
Jennings, the Highlanders next batter, walked and the bases were suddenly loaded. Drew Compton walked immediately after and the Highlanders took a 4-2 lead.
Hulburt was again dominant in the fifth and once again, his teammates rewarded him with an offensive outburst. The Highlanders scored six runs in the fifth inning thanks to RBI hits from Cocchia, Doren, and Serretti, who cleared the bases with a line drive double.
Already holding a commanding 10-2 lead, the Highlanders put the finishing touches on the victory in the bottom of the sixth when Jennings hit a deep center double that brought home two runs and officially ended the game on the mercy rule.
Up next, Gov. Livingston (2-0) will host Westfield (1-1) on Monday, April 10 with a 4 p.m. start.