VERONA, NJ — The way Ryan Cardona has been pitching this year, a one-run lead can feel like a lot more for Livingston. When facing another ace in Millburn’s Kyle Mazer, however, that run can be very hard to come by.

But third-seeded Livingston scratched together a run three batters into the game and it was all Cardona from there, as the Lancers’ ace tossed a complete game, four-hit shutout to make the Lancers’ 1-0 lead hold for the duration of the Greater Newark Tournament (GNT) semifinal Saturday. Livingston advances to next Saturday’s final and will play fourth-seeded Nutley, which stunned second-seeded Seton Hall Prep earlier in the morning.

In certainly his grittiest outing of the year, Cardona, who flashed a fastball that sat 86-89 miles-per-hour, improves to a staggering 7-0 and lowered his ERA to a mere 1.01, while beating Millburn for the second time in 2018. Meanwhile, Livingston’s offense, though not ultra productive, took down Mazer for the second time in less than two weeks while facing him for the third time this season.

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Chris Senney, who drove in the game’s only run, went 2-for-3 and with a screaming lineout to lead Livingston’s offense, which gathered six hits — all singles — and drew a pair of walks. Chris Tamburi also collected two hits in three at-bats, and Brett Mendez scored the lone run.

Livingston took advantage of Mazer (7 IP, 6 H, ER, 2 BB, 2 K) when he was most vulnerable Saturday afternoon, and that just happened to be right out of the gate. Batting from the leadoff spot, Mendez worked a walk and advanced to second base on Kacey Chambers’ sacrifice bunt right back to Mazer. Now with a runner in scoring position and just one out, the table was set for Senney, and he didn’t miss his opportunity.

The lefty-hitting third baseman pulled a Mazer fastball over the infield and Mendez scored ahead of Millburn right fielder Nick Santagata’s throw home. Less than five minutes into the game, Livingston was staked to the lead that proved to win.

Though, from a box score perspective, Senney’s RBI single decided the result of the game, there were in fact many instances where fate rest in Cardona’s right arm. Among the most dangerous situations that Cardona (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 92 pitches) faced came in the bottom of the third.

Millburn nine-hitter Matt Knowles led off the inning with a single and worked his way to third base at the expense of a pair of outs. With two down and the tying run looming 90 feet from home, Cardona had to face Peter Serruto, one of the most dangerous hitters in the state and a potential high-round selection in next month’s MLB First Year Player Draft. But Cardona overpowered the righty-hitting catcher and struck him out on a check swing to escape the jam. Cardona also induced Serruto (0-for-3, K) to pop out with a man on second to end the fifth.

In the second inning, Cardona was faced with a two runners in scoring position, two-out situation, but struck out Peter Gula to end the threat.

Cardona found himself in a similar spot two innings later, when he walked Oren Abbott — who also drew a base-on-balls in that second inning — and Ben Sinins, consecutively. Abbott would steal second and third, but with one out, first baseman Will Egner made a spectacular over-the-shoulder running grab in foul territory and Tom Kelly snagged a Gula liner at second to bail out Cardona.

Abbott, a big-hitting lefty with speed regarded as one of the best freshmen in all of New Jersey, roped a ground-rule double to dead center field with one out in the sixth — the only extra base hit from either side — but Cardona escaped his final predicament of the game by inducing two put-outs to second baseman Kelly.  

Livingston did not advance a runner past second base after the first inning, and had a two-on, two-out threat erased by Mazer after Chambers and Tamberi singled in the fifth, though Chambers was erased on Egner’s fielder’s choice groundout to third.

The win gives Livingston its first GNT finals birth since 2009, when they won it all. And for the first time in five years, Seton Hall Prep will not play for a title. Livingston, almost certainly with Cardona back on the bump, will face Nutley in the GNT championship next Saturday, also in Verona. Nutley could throw Trevor Santos, who shutout Seton Hall in five innings Saturday, or go with Josh O’Neill, John Luberto, Marty Higgins, or Andrew Budine.