BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Up 2-0 in the top of the second, with two Cranford hitters already retired, it looked as though the Governor Livingston baseball team had a serious chance to upset the state's second ranked baseball team, and knock off their second straight undefeated opponent.
But the Highlanders made two consecutive fielding errors, opening the door for a three-run Cranford rally, giving away their early momentum. Governor Livingston was never able to get it back, adding two more errors in a nine-run fourth inning, and eventually fell in a 13-3, five-inning mercy rule at home on a brisk Thursday afternoon.
"When you don't make plays, you don't win. That's really the bottom line," said Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof. "Yeah, yeah it's a young team, young team, young team, but it's a learning lesson, it's a good bunch of kids. They were ready to play, but when you make five errors, you don't deserve to win."
In the bottom of the first inning, Barron Natelli gave Governor Livingston an early lead when he turned around a two-out pitch and deposited it over the leftfield netting, for a two-run homer. With two outs and a runner on in the top of the second, a hard hit groundball ate up the Highlander third baseman, allowing Cranford's first run to score. In the next at bat, Governor Livingston's right-fielder lost track of a pop-up and let it drop, putting runners on the corners. Cranford's Sean Freeney took advantage of getting a fifth out, crushing a two-run double to right, giving the Cougars the lead for good.
"We're very big on keeping the momentum in our dugout, and when stuff like that happens, the momentum trickles over to the other side," Roof said. "If we could've played some defense today, we could've made it a closer game, no doubt about it."
Cranford's Chris Folinusz led off the third with a solo homer to center, but in the bottom of the third, Ryan Jennings, who reached on a ground-rule double, was driven in by Steve Duda, to bring the locals back within one, at 4-3.
But everything fell apart in the fourth inning for Governor Livingston. A shortstop error turned what would've been at least one out and maybe an inning ending double play, into a two-on and one out situation for Freeney. Just as he did in the second, he blasted a two-run double to right, putting Cranford up, 6-3. After a walk put two more runners on with just one out, Folinusz knocked in another run with a double, and then two more Cranford runs scored in the next at bat because of another Governor Livingston error.
"I think we should beat everybody, that's just the mentality that I have," said senior Justin Ennis. "It was there for us, it was there for us to take it and we just didn't take advantage of it today."
The Cougars wound up adding four more runs in the inning, getting a pair of RBI from Tommy Trotter, and one from both Alex Plick and Sam Scher. Governor Livingston managed two walks and two hits over the next two innings, and had runners on second and third in the bottom of the fifth, but couldn't get a big hit to extend the game.
"I thought today, on this given day, this team was not 10 runs better than us, and that's what we told the kids," Roof said.
It's difficult to fairly grade Jennings's performance on the mound. Only six of the 13 runs he allowed were earned, and because of the errors made behind him, his pitch count had swelled to 91 with just one out in the fourth. John Tomlinson came in relief of Jennings in the fourth, allowing two inherited runners to score, but not giving up any earned runs.
Cranford improved to 6-0, while the Highlanders dropped to 5-3 following the loss. They have a quick turnaround, as the locals will be in Elizabeth tomorrow looking to bounce back against the 5-6 squad.
"Anytime you get a big win, or you lose by one, it's the 24 hour rule," Ennis said. "After 24 hours, it's over with, you have to move on to the next game."