Opening Day is now just a day away – Friday, April 1.
It couldn’t come sooner for a Union team that is anxious to show a great deal of improvement.
What better way for the Farmers to begin their 2016 campaign by knocking off defending Group 2 state champion Governor Livingston at their place after losing to the Highlanders three times in three tries a year ago, including twice up on the hill in Berkeley Heights.
It all starts for Union tomorrow on the other side of Union County.
* * *
An uncharacteristic 0-8 start a year ago included the Farmers getting shut out three times in their first five games.
Behind quality pitching from the likes of senior right hander Jonathan Brignoni and senior lefty Joe Poland, Union was in most of those games, with many of them going down to the final seventh inning out.
In total, Union lost three games by one run and four others by two runs in an at-times-frustrating 5-18 campaign.
Union lost its first eight and closed with a three-game slide, but in between went 5-7, including a Union County Tournament win.
Brignoni, Union’s best pitcher last year, is now playing at Ramapo College and just earned his first victory in a game played in Florida.
Although Union will not have the luxury of having him in its rotation again, third-year head coach Angel Navarrete expects to count on seniors Matt Meola and Kyle Boyd to provide a lift the Farmers will surely need.
Meola is Union’s first baseman and one of its pitchers, the lone lefty on the staff. A three-year varsity starter, Meola went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run to earn Union County MVP honors in last June’s Union-Essex Underclassmen All-Star Game at Kean.
“Matt is an unbelievable clubhouse leader,” Navarrete said. “He’s capable of being a top player in Union County.”
Boyd, Union’s left fielder, batted .471 last year.
“Kyle is a freak athlete,” Navarrete said. “He started in football and is a great leader on and off the field. He has great speed and power.”
Also back are junior Quincy Bryant at shortstop and senior Chris Petrucelli at second base.
“We started a lot of young guys last year, but the kids continued to work hard and kept learning and kept getting better,” said Navarrete, a 2000 Cranford graduate who played for Dennis McCaffery and also coached on his staff.
Navarette’s first Union squad went 7-15 in 2014.
“I feel like the kids want to prove something, that they were better than they were the last two years,” Navarette said. “Our seniors have been through some tough times.”
Union is set to open its season at defending Group 2 state champion GL tomorrow at 3:45 p.m.
“The program is healthy and the kids and coaches are working their butts off,” Navarrete said. “They never stop believing, day by day.
“I give all the credit to the kids and the coaches.”
NOTES: The Union County Conference alignment remains exactly the same for this year.
Cranford and Gov. Livingston shared the Watchung Division crown a year ago, while Johnson, Dayton and Union Catholic finished tied for first in the Mountain Division.
Roselle Park won the Valley Division undefeated at 8-0 and Rahwaycaptured the Sky Division perfect at 7-0.
AS OF MARCH 22:
Matt Meola, senior, LH
Steve Dembeck, senior, RH
Joey Novoa, junior, RH
Marco Vitale, junior, RH
Matt Meola, senior, 1B
Chris Petrucelli, senior, 2B
Jamie Olivo, junior, 3B-RF
Quincy Bryant, junior, SS
Kyle Boyd, senior, LF
Chris Ludolph, senior
Chris Ortiz, senior
Shamar Sims, senior
1966 – Union 2, Parsippany 1
1970 – Union 5, Ewing 1
1962 – Union 3, Jefferson 1
1964 – Union 3, Roselle 0
1965 – Union 10, Westfield 2
1967 – Union 17, Jefferson 2
1970 – Union 4, Jefferson 0
1973 – Union 1, Johnson 0
1975 – Union 15, Cranford 0
1993 – Union 5, Westfield 3
GROUP 4 (3):
1972 – Union def. Ewing
1974 – Union def. Sayreville
2002 – Union 8, Jackson 4
GROUP 4 (2):