UNION, NJ - For the Westfield baseball team, a high-profile defeat may end up becoming a case of "lost and found."
Third-seeded Gov. Livingston scored one run in the sixth inning and three in the seventh to pull away for a 6-2 victory over top-seeded Westfield in the Union County Tournament championship game before a packed house at Kean University Monday night.
Westfield was the defending tournament champion. The victory extended GL's in-season winning streak to 17 games, and marked the second county title for the Berkeley Heights school.
But while Westfield (14-9) lost the game, the Blue Devils might have identified the pitcher who can solidify their rotation for the upcoming state tournament. Junior right-hander Mike Carlone, after a shaky start, settled in and pitched five brilliant innings before Gov. Livingston (20-2-1) wore him down in the seventh.
Senior left-hander D.J. Gonnelli (5-0) pitched a complete-game five-hitter for the Highlanders, limiting Westfield to two hits and no runs over his final six innings. Gonnelli threw just 72 total pitches.
Carlone struck out four and issued three unintentional walks. He allowed just two earned runs through his first six innings.
Neither starting pitcher looked long for the game in the early going, as Gov. Livingston parlayed two hits, a walk, a hit batsman, two wild pitches and an error into a pair of first inning runs, only to see Westfield come back with two runs of its own in the bottom of the first.
Three of Westfield's first four batters hit singles. Matt McIntyre led off with a single to right, but was picked off first by Gonnelli. Andrew Caminiti followed with a single to right-center, and Jake Lerie reached on an error before cleanup hitter Chris Wagner shot an RBI single through the hole into right field, sending Lerie around to third. Jake Vall-Llobera's sacrifice fly to right plated Lerie to tie the game, 2-2.
After that, what appeared destined to be a high-scoring donnybrook instead settled in to become a taut pitcher's duel. Carlone held a heavy-hitting Highlander lineup to two hits over the next four shutout innings in just his third starting assignment this season. But Westfield coach Bob Brewster gave assurances that now, there will be more.
"Beginning in the second and third innings, Mike was throwing his change-up, getting it over and we were making great defensive plays behind him," said Brewster, in his 36th season as the Blue Devils' head coach. "He was pitching in the bullpen early this season, but (a couple of weeks ago) we started to stretch him out with a start against New Providence where he went four innings."
Carlone, who had a victory in relief over GL in early April, followed that start with a gem, a two-hit complete-game shutout of a strong Ridge High School team last Monday that paved the way for his county championship start.
"We know he is good, and he's got great composure," Brewster said of Carlone. "He's gonna give us something now in the state tournament."
Westfield opens play in the state Section 2, Group 4 tournament next Monday.
“After the first inning, both pitchers just locked in and made great pitches,” said Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof, whose team won the UCT for the second time in the last three seasons. “Carlone threw a great change-up to keep us off balance.”
Gonnelli struck out five batters and did not allow a walk to Westfield.
“Westfield is a good team, and an aggressive team,” Roof said. “DJ was getting ahead in the count, and he had a low pitch count.”
Gov. Livingston threatened to break the 2-2 tie in the fifth inning when No. 3 hitter Stephen Reid--who leads the county with 12 home runs--ripped a liner to center field with two out and Ryan Davey on second base. But Westfield center fielder Stephen Barden, a wide receiver during the Blue Devils’ championship football season, dove to make a grab off the blades of the artificial turf for the third out.
Problem for Westfield was that Gov. Livingston was flashing some impressive leather in the field, too. Third baseman Drew Compton robbed Westfield’s Caminiti with a diving stop in the third inning, and Wagner launched a booming drive to right-center to lead off the fourth, only to see GL right fielder Will Jennings leap to make a catch in the alley, robbing Westfield’s .505-batting lefty of an extra-base hit.
“We hit the ball on the button time and time again, and they made the plays against us,” Brewster said.
Gov. Livingston broke the tie in the sixth inning with an unearned run against Carlone. Tyler McCullough, who had reached on an infield single and taken second on a throwing error, scored on a two-out single to left by Jack Pedini.
Gov. Livingston loaded the bases in the seventh, but Carlone, now past 100 pitches in the game, nearly escaped after getting Gonnelli to line out to drawn-in second baseman Mike Knapp for the second out. But McCullough followed with a bouncer up the middle that shortstop Caminiti knocked down with a dive as a run scored to extend the Highlanders’ lead to 4-2. Jennings followed with a two-run single to the gap in left-center for a 6-2 lead that spelled the end of Carlone’s night. Dan Russo came on to get a fly out to end the inning.
GOV. LIVINGSTON (20-2-1) 200 001 3 -- 6 9 3
WESTFIELD (14-9) 200 000 0 -- 2 5 2