What you missed at terrific Public Group Baseball championships

By Bob Behre | June 10, 2024

Pompton Lakes won the Group 1 championship, it’s first-ever Group title.

The opportunity to take in four state group championship games in succession on a Saturday in June is a gift given by the NJSIAA since the finals were moved to Veteran’s Park in Hamilton in 2018.

As usual, the day delivered in a big way as baseball fans from every corner of the state were afforded the opportunity to see the best teams and players squaring off for all the marbles.

DiamondNation.com, represented by yours truly, has taken in every one of those games since 2018 at the park’s always well-groomed Bob DeMeo Field and the memories just keep piling up. This sensational final day of high school baseball in New Jersey delivered once again.

We’ll take a walk through each game to dissect a bit what went right, or wrong, for the eight talented teams that reached the ultimate day, the ultimate game, in their respective high school seasons.

Let’s chat how Pompton Lakes (Group 1) and Bridgewater-Raritan (Group 4) won their school’s first-ever Group championship in baseball and how Gov. Livingston (Group 2) and Morris Knolls (Group 3) brought another title to those baseball-loving communities.


Pompton Lakes (26-4) 14, Point Pleasant Beach (25-5) 4

While the story here was Pompton Lakes’ relentless, circular lineup that pounded out 14 hits in five at bats, don’t miss the gritty effort put forth by lefthander Tyler Benway.

While Benway wasn’t perfect, his 11 strikeouts and one walk tell a story of a pitcher who was mostly in command during a game shortened to five innings by his team’s prodigious bats. Benway, who bats fourth, contributed two singles and drove in two runs.

Benway allowed four runs on sixt hits, but just two of those runs were earned. The gritty part of his effort was in the fact how often he rallied from unfavorable counts and kept the upperhand.

“I do love how I battled back and only had one walk,” said Benway in the throes of state championship jubilation. “I think I mixed it up pretty well.” The fastball/slider mix was effective to the point where Benway caught five batters looking at strike three, four of those on fastballs.

The game ended suddenly when Nick Laccietiello laced a two-out, three-run double to straightaway center field in the bottom of the fifth to forge the 10-run mercy rule victory. To that point, Pompton Lakes had 13 singles and zero extra-base hits. The Passaic County school had essentially bled Point Pleasant Beach to death with a fingernail clipper.

Laccietiello’s game-clinching double was surely the hardest hit ball by Pompton Lakes all afternoon.

“This is stuff you tell your kids and your grandkids about,” said Laccitiello, perhaps best capturing the moment. “I got a low fastball and hit it good. I saw the center fielder take a step in and I said, ‘Here we go.’”

While every single Pompton Lakes hitter contributed in some way, the team’s No. 3 hitter Vincent Stigliano was the most coldly efficient, drawing a walk in his first at bat then singling in the next three trips to the plate. He also scored twice and drove in two runs.

“We put runs up on everyone,” Stigliano said. “We hit up and down our lineup. We played a hard schedule. We were ready.”

Benway’s only scary inning was his last. He surrendered consecutive one-out doubles to Point Beach’s Antonio Acevedo, Noah Banick and Nate Clayton as the Ocean County club scored twice to shave the deficit to 11-4. But Benway bore down and got the next two batters and the coveted championship.

Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof and his team celebrate Group 2 championship.


Gov. Livingston 3, Pascack Valley 0

In a simplistic analysis, one would say this was the Matt Diskin and Matt Kosuda show. But we hate the term “simplistic” when discussing baseball. 

Diskin surely was terrific in his complete game three-hit shutout and he and Kosuda delivered huge home runs that forged the margin of victory. But much more went into this championship victory, the fifth group title in the long proud baseball history at the Berkeley Heights school.

It was hard to believe in the end — after Diskin’s 10-strikeout, 2-walk, 107-pitch performance —  that the Gov. Livingston starter was fighting a cold that risked his availability on Saturday, if not his ability to go deep in the game.

Ironic in all that was the fact that Gov. Livingston’s exuberance was personified by Diskin’s Mark Fidrych-like prances off the mound at the conclusion of each successful inning — and there were seven of those for the efficient righthander.

“Matt was sick the past two or three days and we were hoping for four or five innings out of him,” said Gov. Livingston coach Chris Roof . “It took him two or three innings before he locked in.”

Diskin did lock in late in that third inning when he began a string in which he retired 12 straight Pascack Valley batters, eight by strikeout. “Matt has so much heart and enthusiasm. Once we saw him hopping off the mound at the end of innings, we knew he was okay.”

It was a good day to be a Diamond Jack playing for Gov. Livingston. Enjoying Group 2 championship, from left, are Anthony DeNora, Keith Mann, Zach Geertsma, Matt Kosuda, Dominic Labisi, Aidan Feldman, Michael Novotny and Michael Basile.

Diskin intimated he hadn’t been precise through the first couple innings, though he had gotten through them unscathed. “I missed with a couple changeups and sliders,” he said. “I felt like I was at a do or die point.”

He may have been the only person at Bob DeMeo Field to feel that emotion, but he did truly lock in after he got a strikeout looking and a groundout to end the third.

Kosuda, who transferred back home after two years at St. Joseph of Metuchen, significantly changed the mood in the stadium when he launched a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the third to stake the Highlanders to a 2-0 lead. Dylan Gardner, the No. 9 hitter, had led off the inning with a single inside third base.

“There’s a lot of emotion in hitting a home run in a state final. It’s something you dream about as a little kid,” said Kosuda. “I saw a few pitches and just kept it simple and barreled up the ball.”

The team’s defense was outstanding, as always, as it went error-free and was highlighted by left fielder Dominic Labisi’s diving catch of Justin Kaplan’s liner leading off the top of the seventh. That would prove even bigger after Diskin walked cleanup hitter Nick Donofrio, then surrendered a two-out double to left-center to Evan Biener.

Suddenly, Pascack Valley had two runners in scoring position and the tying run at the plate. But Diskin got pinch-hitter James Narlinger to fly to center field on a 1-2 pitch. Gardner put it away and the celebration began.

That Pascack Valley was still in the game in the seventh inning was thanks to the outstanding performance of their lefthander J.T. DeRiso, who limited the potent Highlander attack to four hits. The two home runs did all the damage as he struck out four and walked two. DeRiso threw just 83 pitches in his six innings of work.

Gov. Livingston also won Group 2 championships in 1999 — when Roof was an assistant under Bill Howard — and in 2011 and 2015 under Roof’s direction.

Kosuda batted .448 on the season and he and leadoff hitter Zach Geerstma led the team with 8 HRs. Gov. Livingston’s numbers as a team were staggering. The team batted .349 and hit 30 home runs while its pitching staff posted a gaudy 1.88 ERA.

Morris Knolls won its second straight Group 3 championship.


Morris Knolls 11,  Delsea 3

Of all the loaded lineups we saw this season, Morris Knolls’ assemblage of lumber may have been the most fearsome and unstoppable.

That lineup proved too much one more time, defeating an exceptional Delsea team, 11-3, on the biggest stage. Delsea, in fact, was ranked No. 7 in the state by NJ.com coming in, compared to Morris Knolls’ No. 10 designation.

It was Morris Knolls’ second consecutive Group 4 championship after the Denville school – a Morris County school with a proud athletic history – finally broke through for the first time last year.

That Golden Eagle lineup was topped by Virginia-commit Luke Dickerson, also expected to be a high MLB draft choice come July. Dickerson put forth an all-time high school season not ever to be forgotten in the Garden State.

Morris Knolls’ starting pitcher, righthander James Kahn, will never forget his performance in the Group 3 championship game. Kahn expended all of his allotted 110 pitches in a gritty 6⅓ innings in which he permitted three runs on four hits, struck out five and walked four. He also chipped in with three singles in four trips and two RBI.

It didn’t start well for Kahn, who surrendered a double down the third base line to Frankie Master, the game’s first batter, and committed a throwing error on No. 2 hitter Zach Maxwell’s bunt. Masters would score the game’s first run on a double play grounder before Austin Buchanan’s double to right field fired the Delsea side up again.

But Kahn’s worries pretty much died a pleasant death there with a strikeout that ended the inning. Then Morris Knolls simply unleashed its offensive beast.

“We bounced back like we did last year,” said Kahn, recalling how the Golden Eagles fell behind, 3-0, in the top of the first in the 2023 Group 3 final courtesy of a couple errors. That team pounced on Mainland from there. It was Kahn’s arm that pounced on Delsea after the first inning this time, as he allowed just two hits the rest of the way.

“I worked the two-seamer and four-seamer with the slider and threw a few curveballs,” said Kahn. “I just trusted my stuff.”

Morris Knolls scored three times in the bottom of the first, keyed by Joe O’Toole’s RBI single and Kahn’s subsequent two-run single. Kahn singled in Mike Simone in the third inning to extend the Golden Eagles’ lead to 4-1. Simone had led off with a double.

Dickerson, meanwhile, had come into the game with 18 home runs on the season, tied with Millville’s Mike Trout and Ramsey’s Ashton Bardzell for the state’s all-time record.

“I wasn’t thinking about (breaking the record),” said Dickerson. “I was just staying with what I do at the plate.” That’s an awful lot.

Dickerson drew a leadoff walk in the first inning, stole second and scored. He was hit by a pitch in the second inning. When he finally got a pitch he could hit in the fourth, he drove into the right-center gap for an RBI double. He later scored. Dickerson was intentionally walked in the fifth and scored his third run of the game. He bounced out to shortstop in the sixth after stumbling out of the box on what looked like a sure infield hit for the speedy shortstop.

Dickerson concluded his 2024 season at .467 with 49 hits, 64 runs, 46 RBI, 27 stolen bases and the shared state record of 18 home runs. That’s epic by any Garden State standard.

“We had a great team,” said Dickerson. “We’ve been playing together since we were so young. We really put it together the past two seasons.”

Morris Knolls had 10 hits, drew seven walks (two intentional), were hit by two pitches and had a total of 21 baserunners. That’s the Morris Knolls experience many opponents saw the past two seasons.

Bridgewater-Raritan won the NJSIAA Group 4 championship, its first.


Bridgewater-Raritan 6, Eastern 4

This one had so many tangible angles on which to set off on even for the novice baseball fan.

There weren’t many novices on hand at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton when Bridgewater-Raritan (30-3), ranked No. 4 in the state by NJ.com, edged unranked Eastern (25-7), 6-4, for the school’s first NJSIAA Group 4 championship.

That No. 4 came into play a few times, as in the runs the Panthers allowed that were not “too many.” And the biggest No. 4 of all, as in the fourth championship Bridgewater-Raritan has won this season.

The Skyland Conference Delaware Division champions, the Somerset County Tournament champions and the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 champs added the final diamond on a crowded 2024 crown with the Group 4 title on Saturday.

It’s the first group title in baseball for the school since Bridgewater East and Bridgewater West merged in 1992. Bridgewater West won the Group 2 title in 1989. Bridgewater East was the Group 3 runner-up in 1971. Eastern won its only state title in 2013, when it took home the Group 4 crown.

And, as strong, resilient and stubbornly good as Bridgewater-Raritan has been all season, does this happen without the continued brilliance of reliever Cory Rible?

“Cory is the ultimate luxury,” said Bridgewater-Raritan coach Max Newill.

The righthander Rible entered the game in the top of the fifth inning, assigned the duty of protecting a one-run lead over the final three innings and to deliver his school’s first state championship.

Rible faced nine batters, struck out seven of them, retired all of them on 39 pitches and ultimately was consumed on the mound in one of the more wild dogpiles you’ll ever see.

“It was mostly fastballs but I mixed in a couple curveballs,” said Rible. “They were guessing but I just really attacked with the fastball.”

Here’s how Rible made that lead standup, starting with the very top of the Eastern batting order.

He went K, 4-3, K in the fifth. He then went boom, boom, boom with three straight strikeouts in the sixth. He then ended any mystery with a K, 6-3, K performance in the seventh. It was simply magnificent and had to be one of the all-time most dominant and clutch closing performances in state final history.

“He was really good on Monday,” said Newill about Rible getting the last six outs in order in a 2-0 victory over Skyland Conference rival Hunterdon Central in the Section 2, Group 4 final. Rible struck out three in that one.

Rible wasn’t needed on Wednesday when the Panthers rolled to an 8-1 victory over Livingston in the Group 4 semifinal. Kellan Komline worked the first five in that one and Mike Lentini closed the final two innings.

“It’s a credit to the other pitchers on our staff that we were able to give Cory Wednesday off and he could come in here fresh on four days rest,” said Newill. “And Jack Lanum got those last two out in the fourth tonight. That was big.”

Diamond Jacks J.R. Rosado and Kellan Komline bask in their team’s Group 4 championship.

Lanum did provide the bridge from starter Owen Crimmins, who struggled at times, to Rible.

Something equally huge occurred in the Panther’s at bat in the bottom of the fifth, an at bat it had entered clinging carefully to a 5-4 advantage.

Matt Fattore, Bridgewater’s No. 3 hitter, led off the inning. Fattore, who hit a big two-run home run against Livingston in the semis, had already driven in two runs with a second inning single to give  Bridgewater a 5-0 lead. But Eastern’s No. 3 hitter, Sam Winsett, reset the table with a stunning grand slam in the third that drew his team within 5-4. Winsett’s grand slam, even in a losing effort, had to be one of the more clutch home runs you’ll ever see in a state final.

But Fattore has shown a flair for the dramatic and he didn’t waste time in his at bat in the fifth. A stone cold fastball hunter, Fattore got a changeup on the first pitch from Logan Dawson and crushed it over the left field fence to extend the lead to 6-4.

“I was looking fastball but adjusting for off-speed,” said Fattore. “He sent that changeup right down the middle. I stayed within myself and ripped it.” As a bonus, the home run was the senior Fattore’s 100th career hit.

Rible had just mowed down the top of the Eastern order in the top of the inning. Now Fattore had given him some breathing room.

“Everybody likes a little insurance,” said Newill. “Is there a better time to hit a home run than in a state final?”

Apparently there was no better time for Bridgewater-Raritan to win four championships in the same season than 2024. The victory gave the Panthers their 30th win. “You don’t see that too often with a public school,” said Newill. No, especially not with the loaded schedule Newill challenged his team with this season.

Gloucester Catholic, St. Augustine prevent North Jersey sweep

The Gloucester Catholic – St. Thomas Aquinas championship game in Non-Public B was pushed from Thursday to Friday due to rain, but nothing can derail the Gloucester train from rolling to its state record 21st state championship and second straight.

The Rams (27-2) defeated the Edison school, 10-0, as Tate DeRias tossed a state final five-inning no-hitter, striking out 13 and walking two. Gloucester Catholic, ranked No. 3, scored seven runs in the first inning and put the 10-run mercy rule in effect with a three-run bottom of the fifth.

Unranked St. Augustine (20-9) sent 15 batters to the plate and lashed eight hits in an 11-run third inning as it build a 12-4 lead over No. 1 Delbarton (30-3) before rain suspended the game at Veterans Park on Thursday. When the sun rose on Friday, Delbarton’s fortunes did not improve as St. Augustine held on for a 12-5 victory and its third Non-Public A championship.

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