Livingston baseball coach Mickey Ennis will tell you he had no idea what to expect in Wednesday’s North 1, Group 4 state tournament opened at Bergen Tech.
His team has been playing catch-up since being grounded by COVID-19 for two weeks after starting the season 2-0. To make things more uncertain, Livingston had lost four-straight heading into the tournament.
Ennis also knew Bergen Tech had won its last six games, outscoring opponents 52-11. And then there was this nugget, Tech’s last win was a 6-1 victory over St. Joseph (Mont.).
“Zero idea what to expect,” Ennis said on the bus ride home. “I knew we were playing a team with 12 wins and their last win was against St. Joe’s. All I could hope was that we played our best defensive game of the year.”
Tenth-seeded Livingston (7-10) did exactly that. It pitched pretty well, too, and upended seventh-seeded Bergen Teck (12-9) by a 3-0 score in Teterboro.
Livingston advances to Saturday’s quarterfinals where it will travel to meet second-seeded Ridgewood (15-8). Ennis will match wits with his old college teammate, Ridgewood coach, Kurt Hommen. Ridgewood defeated Memorial, 7-0, Wednesday.
“We haven’t fared too well against them recently in the state tournament,” Ennis said.
That was concern for another day, however.
Livingston received a superlative pitching performance from right-hander Nick Murray. Murray, a 6-foot, 175-pounder, went six innings, throwing 105 pitches. He allowed only two hits, walked four and struck out 11.
While his strike-to-ball ration wasn’t spectacular (63-42), his first-pitch strikes total was. He faced 27 batters and threw 18 first-pitch strikes. Reliever Brandon Kenney threw first-pitch strikes to two of the three hitters he faced.
“Baseball is a game of firsts,” Ennis said. “First-pitch strikes, first out of the inning, first run of the game.
“Nick really didn’t have his secondary pitches today (a forkball and a curve), but he spotted his fastball and really cut a couple loose when he had two. It’s not easy to pitch a shutout when you have just one pitch working.”
Murray faced his moment of reckoning right in the first inning. A leadoff walk then two misplays on Bergen Tech bunts loaded the bases with no outs.
“I couldn’t help but wonder if we were in for one of those days,” Ennis said.
Murray, however, rose to the challenge. He retired the next three hitters on swinging strikeouts.
“From that point forward, we really played good baseball,” Ennis said.
The Livingston offense mustered only x hits against Bergen Tech starter. But it was enough.
With one out in the top of the third, Livingston used a walk, a single by David Cotungo and a stolen bases to place runners at second and third. With two outs, Mike Ilaria blooped a fly ball to short right that found grass between three Bergen Tech defenders. Both Livingston runners scored for a 2-0 lead.
Livingston added an additional run in the top of the fourth on a first-and-third double-steal. Robert Sayle, who led off the inning with a single, scored the run.
The good news for Livingston is it will have three, rare days of practice.
“We lost the two weeks and have been playing a ton of baseball,” Ennis said. “We just haven’t been able to practice much. We’ve had some fundamental errors that we hope to correct before Saturday.”
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