Thrown into an instant three-run hole, you’d have thought the Gov. Livingston players might have blinked. In retrospect, it appears they may have actually smirked.
Westfield’s quick start perhaps triggered alarming assertiveness at the plate by the Gov. Livingston hitters, who would unleash 12 hits in five innings on the way to a 16-6 mercy rule victory in the 67th Union County Tournament championship game completed over two days in Elizabeth.
“We were down, but we didn’t have any fear,” said freshman DH Matt Kosuda, who was in the middle of all four Gov. Livingston rallies. “We’ve been punched in face before and we punched right back. We are really confident at the plate and know what we are capable of.”
The county championship was the third for Gov. Livingston, all coming in the past five tournaments. Meanwhile, Westfield failed in its bid to extend its UCT record of 15 crowns. This was not the pretty pitchers duel this county has been accustomed to in its finals. On the contrary, it was a hitter’s delight.
But Gov. Livingston did get three serviceable innings of relief from righty Dan Bass, the winning pitcher who did not throw a pitch on Thursday. Bass allowed two runs on two hits, struck out three and walked two on Wednesday before the game was halted by a thunderstorm and play was suspended until Thursday.
Gov. Livingston (16-4) returned to Williams Field on Thursday with a 13-6 lead, two runners aboard in the bottom of the fifth and Kosuda batting with an 0-1 count. Kosuda worked a walk to load the bases. Michael Labisi then drew another walk to force home a run and extend the lead to 14-6. Then Freddy Truncale laced a two-run double to left-center field to drive in two runs and end the game via the 10-run mercy rule.
The Highlanders had made the trip to Elizabeth High from Berkeley Heights, sent three batters to the plate and celebrated a championship borne of a thunderous lineup. Gov. Livingston scored 47 runs in its four UCT games, getting production throughout its deep lineup. The championship game was no different.
Each of the Highlanders nine batters scored a run and seven of them had at least one hit. Truncale, the No. 8 hitter, walked it off and went 2-for-4 with 4 RBI in the game. Kosuda was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and drove in four as well. But Matty Murowski, the No. 3 hitter, had the biggest hit of all as part of his 3-for-3, 3 RBI effort in which he scored all four times he came to the plate.
Jack Pires and Jayson Schmidt drew back-to-back walks to open the bottom of the first inning against Westfield starter Ian Gannaway. That gave Murowski a big opportunity to immediately cut into that 3-0 deficit. The senior catcher did not miss, driving a long shot deep into the left-center field gap for a two-run triple. Suddenly all the emotion on the diamond had switched dugouts.
“There’s no doubt Matty’s two-run triple energized our dugout and got the momentum back on our side,” said Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof. “We were down 3-0 and all the momentum was with them. If we go down 1-2-3 there, it’s a different game. Pires and Jayson Schmidt drew walks and Matty delivered.”
Nick Gold then drew a one-out walk and stole second on a 1-2 pitch to Kosuda. The freshman, seeing an opportunity, too, didn’t waiver, slashing a single through the middle to score both runners and suddenly put Gov. Livingston in front, 4-3.
“I was just thinking I had to deliver in that spot,” said Kosuda. “I was a little bit late, got two strikes on me and was telling myself to stay short as possible, get my foot down, get the ball in play and be a team player. I got the barrel on it and we scored two runs.”
Westfield got out of further trouble in the first with a pretty 4-6-3 double play.
The Blue Devils (12-11), who upset top-seeded Cranford in the semifinals, had plenty more in the tank. Enzo Mizerek led off the second with a single to right, stole second, reached third on an infield error and scored the tying run on Jake Bencivenga’s grounder to third base.
But it really was all Gov. Livingston from there. Bass relieved starter John Schmidt after the later walked the leadoff batter in the third and retired six of the first seven batters he faced.
“Dan Bass is a huge part of this victory,” said Roof. “When things were starting to unravel, he came in and held them down to give our offense an opportunity to start adding on runs and to separate from them.”
While Bass, a junior, was restoring order on the mound, the Highlander bats struck for four runs in the third inning, two runs in the fourth and six more runs in the fifth to put it away.
After Gannaway walked the bases loaded in third around a strikeout, Labisi got a run home on a grounder to shortstop. Then Truncale doubled to right score two more. Gavin Malave, the No. 9 hitter, then launched a shot to left-center that went for an RBI triple and an 8-4 lead. Impressively, Gov. Livingston’s Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters had driven in all four runs during the rally.
“I don’t want go out on limb and say this is the best lineup I’ve had, but this is the most diverse one,” said Roof. “We hit for average, power, we bunt well. It’s just a fun team. We put up a lot of runs.”
Murowski and Michael Shaffer had back-to-back singles with one out in the fourth and Kosuda delivered them both with a two-out single to right field, lifting the lead to 10-4.
At that point, everyone in the park knew a thunderstorm was approaching. If the game was not official before a permanent stoppage, it would have to be replayed in full. If the game was stopped after it was an official game, it would merely be suspended.
Bass, who closed the fourth with two strikeouts after Matt Melao’s one-out double, got through the top of the fifth, too, despite allowing two runs that shaved the lead to 10-6. Mizerek (2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 runs) dropped a double down the right field line to score both runs in the inning.
Westfield was far from out of the game, but the Highlanders never let up. Malave started the six-run fifth that took two days with a bunt single down the third base side. Pires followed with Gov. Livingston’s third triple of the game to deliver Malave. The scorching Murowski followed with an RBI double to left-center. Shaffer reached on an infield error that scored Murowski. Nick Gold walked and Kosuda strode to the plate not knowing he would not complete his at bat for another 22 hours.
“Winning this for coach Roof is so great,” said Kosuda. “He’s been a special coach in my life, a mentor to me. Our team is so happy to bring a third county title to him and our school.”
Gov. Livingston’s other two UCT titles came in 2016 and ’18.
“This is one of the more competitive teams we’ve had,” said Roof, “in terms of the whole team. It’s the most hard-nosed, get-after-it group of kids we’ve had. They are quiet, not big rah, rah guys, but between the lines they really compete.”
NOTES: Kosuda, who will play his fourth summer with the Diamond Jacks program out of Diamond Nation, had missed a few games after jamming his right shoulder sliding. But he’s picked right up where he left off, though slotting in at DH instead of his usual left field. … Melao doubled home Mizerek in the top of the first and Leo Mangiamele followed with an RBI single. Gannaway drew a bases loaded walk to give Westfield its early 3-0 lead. … Neither Gannaway nor Gov. Livingston’s Schmidt would make it out of the third inning.