LINDEN, NJ - In a Union County Tournament Final matchup that many didn’t expect, the second-seeded Governor Livingston Highlanders softball team defeated the Cranford Cougars, 4-3. With the victory, the UCT champion Highlanders improved to 16-4 while the Cougars fell to 8-5.

The Highlanders were led on offense by Steph Bade (1 Hit, 1 R, 1 RBI), Olivia Hendrzak (1 Hit, 1 RBI), Nicole Trezza (1 Hit), and Hayley Berliner (1 Hit). Jackie Goldbeck also scored a run for Governor Livingston.

For Cranford, Vienna Stivala (1 Hit, 1 RBI), Morgan Ferretti (1 Hit, 2 RBIs), Julia Palozzola (1 Hit), and Rebecca Scott (1 Hit) were key contributors at the plate.

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Governor Livingston’s Alanna Namit was once again fantastic on the mound in pitching the entire game and registering 12 strikeouts and allowing just 2 walks in the process. Friday’s win was Namit’s tenth of the season and was undoubtedly one of her best performances. The sophomore made quick work of Cranford’s batters for much of the game and was the catalyst behind yet another solid Governor Livingston team effort defensively.

Namit got the better of Cranford’s Theresa Wetherell, who was solid herself (4 Innings Pitched, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk) in a pitching duel that contributed to 0 runs being scored in the game’s first three innings. The strong command on the mound for both pitchers early on hinted at a low-scoring affair.

Impressed by the performance of both pitchers, Governor Livingston head coach Mike Roof attributed the early struggles of both teams to nerves as well. In a game of this magnitude, it’s common for batters to be a bit unsettled at the plate.

“The slow start in the first three innings is kind of what I expected,” Roof said. “There’s a lot of emotions and nerves that go into games like this but the better players find ways to get it done in games like today.”

Cranford head coach Heather Bormann echoed Roof’s sentiments on the game’s uneventful start. “A little bit of both-nerves and pitching-had to do with the game’s slow start,” Bormann said. “In our case, we’re a young team and all of our girls have never experienced a game like this.”

Like Roof said, a team’s best players are the ones that spark their teams in games like today. Whether those players show up go a long way in determining the game’s outcome. And if the fourth inning was any indication, the outcome could have gone either way.

The better players for both teams showed up in the fourth inning. All seven of the game’s runs came in a fourth inning that saw the two teams combine for eight hits. Namit got things rolling for Governor Livingston at the top of the fourth with a single. After Wetherell walked Alex Foley, Bade smacked a double into the outfield that scored the game’s first run.

 “That first run always gets the team looser,” Roof said.

And sure enough, the very next batter, Debbie, kept Governor Livingston’s momentum rolling with an RBI single to make the score 2-0.  Berliner followed Debbie’s hit with an RBI double of her own that extended the lead to 3-0.  With runners on second and third base, Wetherell was suddenly reeling and showed the first sign that both pitchers were indeed “human” after dominating the first three innings. And add in the error that contributed to Governor Livingston’s third run, the Cougars were in serious danger of letting the game get away real fast.

“The fourth inning was huge for us,” Roof said. “Cranford helped us out a bit with the miscues and walks. But our girls made play-after-play in the inning and kept finding ways to get on-base.”

After a Wetherell strikeout, Governor Livingston’s Hendrzak hit an awkward roller that scored the runner on third to make it 4-0. Hendrzak was thrown out at first for the inning’s second out. The very next Governor Livingston batter was also thrown out at first. Wetherell and Cranford’s defense settled down just in time and kept their hopes of a comeback alive.

The Cougars hopes of a comeback turned into a reality in the bottom of the fourth inning. With her team down 4-0, Cranford’s Palozzola jump started her team’s comeback attempt with a double. Stivala, the very next batter, hit a line drive to the outfield that scored Palozzola from first.

Namit was able to get rid of two of Cranford’s next three batters before Ferreti hit a single to score two more Cranford runs.  Ferreti’s double-RBI single brought Cranford within one.

“I’m proud of the girls for never giving up and doing whatever they could to get on base,” Bormann said. “We’ve always been a team that fights back and today was no different.”

Namit was able to settle down and help force out Cranford’s next batter to end an exciting inning for both teams. The fourth inning was Namit’s only rough moment of the game and Roof had a reasonable explanation for that.

“The top of the fourth inning when we scored those four runs was so long,” Roof said. “That was a long time for any pitcher to sit. And Alanna having to sit down for so long made her a little rusty. But at the same time, you have to give Cranford a ton of credit. They had some good at-bats in the inning.”

The game’s last three innings were much like the first three for both teams: Strong pitching leading to quick outs offensively. The only difference for Cranford was the different pitcher. Sensing Wetherell’s wearing down a bit after a long fourth inning, Bormann sent freshman Brenna Dolan to the mound. Sending a freshman to the mound in a game of this magnitude could have been costly for Cranford but Bormann’s decision worked. 

“We’ve had this type of pitching rotation all year,” Bormann said. “The defense wasn’t backing Theresa up how they should have so we decided to switch it up. They’re two completely different pitchers with different styles and they both did well today.”

As for Roof’s star pitcher, Namit’s six combined strikeouts over the game’s last three innings helped seal the deal. After pulling to within one in the fourth to make the game 4-3, Cranford didn’t threaten again and Namit was a big reason why.

“Alanna’s performance today is the reason I feel comfortable going to her in big games” Roof said. “She doesn’t get bothered by runs whereas some pitchers do. Those last three innings were huge for her and it showed how mentally and physically tough she is. Alanna’s one of the toughest kids we’ve had come through this program in a while.”