Baseball: Gov. Livingston Highlanders Bounced From Union County Tournament by Johnson 9-5

Johnson Crusaders end the Highlanders' run for a second straight UCT title by defeating GL 9-5 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Kevin Metz closes the game. Credits: Bobbie Peer

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston baseball team was handed their first loss of the season in the quarter finals of the Union County Tournament as No. 9  Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders defeated the defending county champs 9-5 yesterday afternoon in Berkeley Heights.

The Highlanders, who had won their first 15 games of the season, spotted the Crusaders a 5-0 second inning that they simply could not overcome. Johnson will now move on to play No. 4 Westfield in the semi-finals on Saturday in Cranford. The Highlanders will travel to Elizabeth for a regular season game on Thursday looking to get back on track.

The game began with Highlander righty Cole Schneider (3-1) who has averaged 10 strikeouts per game striking out three of the four batters he faced. Johnson starter Joe DiProfio (2-1) matched Schneider scoreless inning as he retired the side in order.

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The second inning would prove to be the Highlanders undoing. Schneider had a 0-2 count on Kevin Metz before he lined a double into right field. The next batter walked on four pitches putting runners on first and second. Anthony Caldiero then singled to center scoring the game's first run. A sac bunt attempt followed but on the play a throwing error led to two more runs scoring for a 3-0 lead. Schneider looked like he was going to limit the damage by striking out the next two batters, but the next three Crusaders singled pushing the lead to 5-0. 

Meanwhile, DiProfio had the hard swinging Highlander lineup off balance and over anxious as he worked three scoreless inning before giving up a solo homer to Stephen Reid in the 4th inning. By that time the Crusaders had managed to score three runs in the fourth inning and they held a comfortable 8-1 lead.

The hole the Highlanders dug was just too big to get out of even though they tried to rally late in the game. Danny Serretti drilled a long two run homer to close within 8-3, but Gov. Livingston simple could not get the big hit when they desperately needed it. The Highlanders left the base loaded in both the 6th and the 7th inning while scoring just one run in each frame.

The Crusaders did their best to help the Highlanders cause by committing three errors, but Metz who came on in relief after Serretti’s homer got the big outs when he needed to despite his infields erratic play.

"Wow, they [GL] are really a good team, baseball is funny sometimes," said Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy. "There's things that need to happen to beat good teams and this is a really good team."

His team has been on both sides of the win playing a difficult schedule. The Crusaders defeated Westfield earlier in the season and came up short in a recent county match-up against Scotch Plains-Fanwood. 

"We've been in a lot of games this year, we've played really good teams in the schedule. -- Gov. Livingston being No. 2 in the state, they really are that good. We are just happy we competed well and we had a chance to win," said Kennedy.

The loss was a disappointing one for the defending Union County champs, who earlier in the day had taken over the No. 1 ranking in the state for the first time in school history. The Highlanders still have plenty to play for the remainder of the season. Over the remaining 10 regular season games, a UCC-Watchung divisional title and maintaining their No. 1 seed in Central Jersey, Group II state playoff bracket are top priorities as they make a run at the overall Group II state championship.

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