BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - This past Wednesday, the first day of National Signing Day, the Governor Livingston Highlanders baseball team and Coach Chris Roof were beaming with pride, as three standout players signed their National Letters of Intent to play Division I baseball, and a fourth announcing he will play at the Division III level.
Leading the stellar group, shortstop Dan Serretti signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at the University of North Carolina in the baseball rich ACC. Corner outfield teammates Tyler McCulloch and Will Jennings signed their National Letters of Intent to continue their baseball at Iona College.
With their families, teammates and head coach Chris Roof on hand, the three signed on to pursue their dream of playing at the next level. Roof will also be sending a fourth member of the Gov.Livingston baseball class of 2018, first baseman DJ Gonnelli, off to another solid collegiate baseball program as Gonnelli heads to Montclair State University to continue his baseball career at the D3 level.
These four athletes are the latest of a long line of college talent that Roof has produced at Gov. Livingston. Undeniably recognized as one of the finest baseball mentors in the state, Roof has sent 53 players, including, now, 17 D1, to the next level during his tenure as the Highlanders head coach.
Last season, Governor Livingston's high profile recruit Danny Serretti got back on track after missing his sophomore season due to injury hitting at a .376 clip with 35 hits and 29 RBI.
Serretti who was on everyone's recruiting radar before his freshman year, had originally verbally committed to Saint John's University after his freshman season. However, he reopened his recruitment this past summer after some SJU coaching changes and a stellar summer campaign at various high level showcases down south. Serretti drew major attention from ACC powers North Carolina and Georgia Tech among others, but settled on heading to Chapel Hill and becoming a Tar Heel.
Serretti instantly felt University of North Carolina was the right place for him following a visit to the school. With its top notch training facilities, the beautiful Chapel Hill campus, 5000 seat Boshamer Stadium and most importantly, a comfortable rapport with Head Coach Mike Fox and Associate head Coach Scott Forbes, Serretti knew he found a new home. “Everything was perfect, so I knew this would be the spot for myself," said Serretti.
He expects to compete for the shortstop position at the next level, a position he has played at Gov. Livingston over his four varsity seasons. Serretti might have another big decision to make if Major League baseball comes calling in the 2018 June draft, but he will deal with that if the opportunity presents itself. “If the circumstances were right, then I would have to sit down with my parents and talk about it,” Serretti said. “Right now I’m just focused on this year and the spring and helping the team out.”
"It is big time baseball," said Roof about Serretti landing at North Carolina. "It's going to be a challenge, but he can do it.”
McCulloch was called up to varsity early in his sophomore season and immediately produced as he collected three hits in his first varsity game. McCulloch never looked back as he has became the Highlanders regular left fielder and looking to building on back to back outstanding seasons at the plate. A gap hitter with good power to all fields, he worked his way to the top of the Highlanders lineup last season as he became the Highlanders leadoff man with his unique ability to get on base. His junior season produced 27 hits, 23 RBI runs and he scored 30 times. He is the rare type of athlete who knows how to confidently take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way. Just like he did when Roof called upon him to add some pop to the Highlander lineup as a sophomore, McCulloch was inserted into the Highlander basketball lineup early last winter and immediately gave Coach Chris Loeffler the boost of offense he was looking for. McCulloch will again take to the hardwood this winter and will counted on to be a key contributor.
Because of his high school baseball playing experience, McCulloch realized his sophomore year, he had an interest in playing baseball in college. "I started working really hard and it happened.” He added, “I just love playing the game and all this hard work should pay off."
At a showcase last summer, Iona coach Pat Carey made contact with McCulloch and began his recruitment. “He asked me to go for a visit, so I went and visited the school. I thought it was a really good fit,” said McCulloch. The Gaels throughout last season numerous times came out to watch McCulloch and Will Jennings and were able to get a commitment from them both.
As a freshman, Will Jennings found himself along with Serrettti in the Highlanders' lineup. An accomplishment in itself for a freshman to crack the lineup at Gov. Livingston Jennings was unfazed and immediatley became a contributor on what would be a Group II State Championship team. He has seen his production steadily increase over his first three varsity seasons which has seen him play on both a State and Union County Championship team. Last year he carried the team early offensively and wound up with 26 hits, 25 RBI and a solid .400 on base percentage.
His passion for the competition ignited his wanting to continue his career beyond playing at Governor Livingston High School.
He got his opportunity when Iona coach Pat Carey got a chance to catch both Jennings and McCulloch on the showcase circuit and opened up his recruitment with an offer to visit Iona.
“When I went on my visit, everything about the school, I liked,” Jennings said. "Overall, I think it's a good fit for me and my family."
Jennings said he expects to play in the outfield and plans to major in business, marketing or communications.
Highlander first baseman DJ Gonnelli will also continue to play at the collegiate level, joining former Highlander stars Nick Cocchia, Ian Lynch and John Tedseco, as he chose to stay local and play for Montclair State University. Governor Livingston baseball has a rich tradition with Montclair State as Coach Roof starred there as a member of the Mountain Hawks 1993 National Championship team and former Highlander Craig Conway was a three time All- American, as well as the school's all-time hit leader.
Last season Gonnelli took over the first base duties and solidified the Highlander infield defense with some fine work with his glove. Gonnelli also became a dangerous middle of the lineup hitter, making pitchers consistently pay for trying to work around the top of the potent Highlander offense. He hit at a .357 clip while driving in 19 runs. Gonnelli is a hard worker and has seen his game improve both offensively and defensively under the tutelage of the Highlander coaching staff the past two seasons and drew interest from a number of local collegiate programs. The 6-2 215 pound Gonnelli is a three year varsity football athlete and it was not uncommon for Gonnelli to play a hard fought football game on Saturday and then play in a fall baseball game on Sunday morning. It was that type of determination to improve his game that allowed him to reach his goal of playing collegiate baseball.
There is no doubt that Coach Roof and his staff have prepared these student athletes for life beyond Gov. Livingston.
Serretti and Jennings were members of the 2015 NJSIAA Group 2 State Championship team. All four played prominent roles in last year's state sectional championship and were part of the school's first ever Union County Championship (2016) team. The high standards, accountability and commitment of Gov. Livingston baseball will serve these boys well as they follow in the footsteps of former Highlanders who pursued their dream of playing collegiate baseball.