Cranford’s Will Gallagher scattered seven hits in a 3-2 complete game victory over Gov. Livingston.
It’s the year of the milestone in high school baseball and it was Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof’s chance to take a swing at a meaningful one yesterday in Berkeley Heights.
The problem facing the Highlanders was that the timing of the schedule did not favor an easy route to completing the desired task, in this case career victory No. 400 for Roof.
Righthander Will Gallagher was one of the immovable forces in that challenge as he and his third-ranked Cranford teammates came to town with something completely different in mind. That was taking care of business and improving to 12-1 on the season.
Gallagher scattered seven hits, struck out two and walked one in a gritty 97-pitch effort that saw the Cougars spoil the party for Roof and the Highlanders, 3-2, in a well-played and entertaining high school ball game.
Roof will get his second chance at No. 400 this morning. It will be a more user-friendly opportunity, as Gov. Livingston is host to Plainfield in a first round Union County Tournament game.
The usually potent Cranford bats had some challenges of their own in the form of Gov. Livingston righthander Dan Bass, who handcuffed the Cougars over the first four innings to the tune of no runs on three hits. Meanwhile, the Highlands had scratched for two runs of their own to put the visitors in a 2-0 hole.
But, as it will do when poked, Cranford responded with a three-run top of the fifth inning that restored its usual order to things. Cranford sent nine batters to the plate in an inning that had a little bit of every thing; five hits, two of them that never left the infield, a walk, a sac fly and one really big clutch hit by Shane VanDam.
VanDam stepped in with two outs, two runs in and runners on the corners and got the count to 1-1 before he unleashed.
“I was really just looking for something in the zone,” said VanDam, “not trying to do too much. I sense (Bass) was starting to wear down a bit. I got a high and away fastball.” VanDam drove into center field for an RBI single that scored Lucca Limeria to give Cranford a 3-2 lead. VanDam, Cranford’s No. 6 hitter, went 3-for-3 with three hard singles.
You knew it was time for concern for Gov. Livingston when No. 9 hitter Jake Carter led off the fifth by beating out a slow roller down the third base line. Leadoff batter Marcus Johnson followed with a single to center field. That brought up arguably the Cougars best hitter, Georgia Tech-bound sophomore Ryan Jaros. While a bunt may have been in order, and Cranford coach Dennis McCaffery rarely would eschew such an opportunity, Jaros’ bat offered a different opportunity, perhaps some major fireworks.
But McCaffery stayed with his gut and ordered Jaros to drop one down. The shortstop did his job and moved both runners over with a tidy sacrifice.
“It’s a credit to Ryan,” said McCaffery, 439-135 (.765) in his career. “Not everyone would think bunt in that spot with Ryan at the plate, but he did his job and it made a big difference.”
Indeed, both runners would subsequently score, the first on a single to left by Limeria and the second on Shea Grady’s sac fly to right field that tied the score at 2-2. Then VanDam delivered his go-ahead shot to center.
Bass would get out of it from there but the 21-pitch inning had taken its toll, pushing his pitch count to 82. “Dan did a great job,” said Roof. “He ran out of gas in the fifth. We are still building him up. I think at 75 pitches he was getting to his limit. But if you told me before the game that we were going to hold Cranford to three runs, I’d tell you we’d win.”
Gallagher was in major trouble in both the third and fourth innings but managed to limit the Highlanders to a single run in each inning.
“Will throws three pitches for strikes and he’s gutsy out there,” said McCaffery. “He had second and third and one out and second and third no outs and he gave up just one run each time. He competes. We were fortunate to put three up for him. Credit to GL. They play a hard-nosed brand of game.”
Briant Brzydlo opened the third inning for Gov. Livingston (9-4) with a single to center field. After a force-out at second, leadoff batter Jack Pires doubled to the gap in left-center field to chase Freddy Truncale to third. Michael Labisi, who was terrific in relief later, lofted a fly to right field that enabled Truncale to tag and score the game’s first run.
Gallagher then got Matty Murowski to line out to left field to stem the rally.
Gov. Livingston shortstop Michael Shaffer, impenetrable in the field, beat out a slow roller to third to start things in the fourth. Jayson Schmidt then dropped a bunt down the third base side while Shaffer caused havoc on the base paths. Shaffer never stopped at second and just steamed toward a temporarily unoccupied third base. That caused first baseman Tony Silva to come off the base early on Gallagher’s throw to first in his haste to try to cut down Shaffer at third. But Shaffer beat the throw by a hair while Schmidt was safe at first, setting up the Highlanders with no outs.
But Gallagher extricated himself again from any serious damage. He got Nick Gold to bounce out to a drawn in Jaros at shortstop as the runners held. John Schmidt then lifted a fly ball to right that was deep enough to score Shaffer and boost the lead to 2-0. Gallagher, however, struck out the next batter to end the threat.
“I was throwing my off-speed stuff in any count for strikes,” said Gallagher of his curveball and changeup. “They hunt fastballs, so I threw off-speed in counts they expected a fastball. I was hitting my spots.”
Gallagher also came up with a huge defensive play that quickly diffused a potential Gov. Livingston rally in the sixth. Shaffer led off and reached on a throwing error. Jayson Schmidt, to no one’s surprise, squared to bunt. But Schmidt got some air under his bunt of a high fastball. Gallagher charged toward the plate, dove and came up with the ball for the first out. He then jumped up and fired to first to double up Shaffer who was well on his way to second base.
“My catcher called for a high fastball,” said Gallagher. “I knew it was coming. I flew off the mound. I think that really deflated them. They were on the fence cheering and then they got quiet.”
Truncale threaded a single through the right side with two outs in the seventh to put the tying run on and bring the potential winning run to the plate. But Gallagher finished his complete game by striking out Pires looking at a 1-2 fastball.
Bass permitted three runs on eight hits, struck out two and walked one. Labisi held Cranford scoreless over the Cougars’ final two at bats on no hits, struck out two and walked one.
Gov. Livingston first baseman Brzydlo made a terrific play on a bad hop grounder by Johnson for the second out of the sixth inning. Johnson’s bouncer toward the hole took a wicked hop and nearly bounced over Brzydlo’s head. But the first baseman snared it and led Labisi beautifully with a well-timed throw to the bag.
Roof takes the field this morning with a 399-165-1 career record (.708).
A special thanks to John Haddad for the outstanding photos running with this game story.