UNION – When you’re winning ball games it seems like the little things keep going in your favor.
Then they add up and the next thing you know you’re on a roll.
That’s the case with Scotch Plains at the moment.
The Raiders, winners of eight straight, hope it continues.
When a ground ball could have concluded the top of the fifth inning and kept the score tied, Scotch Plains took advantage of a Union fielding error.
The ninth-seeded Raiders went on to score four unearned runs with two outs in the fifth to take the lead for good en route to a 6-2 triumph over the eighth-seeded Farmers in Tuesday’s North 2, Group 4 first round baseball game played at Union High School’s Gordon R. LeMatty Field.
As a result, Scotch Plains will next be scheduled to play at top-seeded Millburn in a Thursday quarterfinal matchup. The rain date would be Friday.
Fifth-seeded Watchung Hills is hosting 13th-seeded North Hunterdon in their quarterfinal on Wednesday, so the other three quarterfinal matchups might try to do the same thing and play a day before Thursday and Friday’s anticipated rainfall.
Scotch Plains, which went 4-0 against Union this year and improved to 17-9 by extending a season-high winning streak to eight, snapped a 1-1 tie in the fifth when Patrick Downey raced home from third on a wild pitch thrown by Union reliever Zach Fernandez.
Peter Yarem was up at the time with the bases loaded and was walked to load them again.
Union head coach Angel Navaratte then replaced Fernandez with right hander Brandon Bedlivey to face cleanup batter Matt Fox. Bedlivey immediately got ahead with two off-speed pitches for called strikes.
Fox, who previously off Union starter Joey Novoa produced an RBI-groundout in the first to give Scotch Plains a 1-0 lead and then led off the fourth with a bloop single to left, was ready for a third.
“We saw that pitcher (Fernandez) two games ago and I was looking for a curve,” Fox said. “I was expecting it and saw it away.”
Fox put the bat on the ball and went the other way, smashing a shot to the gap in right-center. The runners from second and third scored and then when the ball was bobbled in the outfield the runner from first also ended up scoring as Scotch Plains now had a 5-1 lead.
With Scotch Plains senior left hander Tim Geissel in control on the mound at that time – he was on a streak of retiring eight straight going into the bottom of the fifth – that lead looked almost insurmountable.
“I just went with it and got a good result,” Fox said. “We’ve had that mentality of late, knowing how to produce runs.”
“Matt had a big day and I’m glad for him, he’s a hard worker,” Scotch Plains head coach Joe Higgins said. “Our guys have been better lately with two strikes. We’re striking out less, which is a big improvement.”
Geissel halted Union three-up, three-down in the third, fourth and fifth innings and retired 11 in a row before hitting Nestor Conforti leading off the bottom of the sixth.
In a start that was six innings complete and included roughly 80 pitches, Geissel allowed two runs on just four hits, while striking out five, walking only one and hitting one batter. He improved to 6-4.
Sophomore lefty Dan Wilkinson hurled a 1-2-3 seventh, striking out the second batter he faced.
“I was able to attack by getting ahead with fastballs,” said Geissel, who also blanked Union 10-0 at home in a May 3 Union County Tournament quarterfinal. “Union was able to get some decent hits, but if you can attack the zone and hit your spots, you’ll do alright.”
“Tim is a competitor out there, his demeanor never changes,” Higgins said. “In the first inning or two he didn’t have that much on his fastball.
“When he retired the 11 in a row was when he got going and started to pick up tempo a bit.”
Geissel struck out the side on 13 pitches in the fourth right before Scotch Plains broke the game open in the fifth. He then tossed a third straight perfect inning in the fifth.
“Once we got those four runs he grew even more confident,” Higgins said.
Union tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the second when junior catcher Jerry Gamone went the other way by hitting a hard grounder to second for a ground out RBI, plating Rich Jones. With one out, Jones reached on a bunt single that stopped in the grass on its way toward third.
Jones reached second on an errant pickoff attempt by Geissel and then went to third on a single to center delivered by designated hitter Gio Zuena.
Scotch Plains increased its lead to 6-1 on a sacrifice fly to center hit by Downey. Designated hitter Spencer Vaughn drilled a shot down the left field line for a one-out double and then reached third on a wild pitch before coming home on Downey’s fly ball.
On a 4-6-3 double play, Conforti scored from third to pull Union to within 6-2 in the sixth. Conforti led off the inning by being hit by a pitch, which was the first baserunner Geissel allowed since the second inning.
Union, which after winning three of four fell to 12-14, produced two outs at the plate in the first to prevent Scotch Plains from adding to its already 1-0 lead. The second out was the result of a 1-2-5 putout that started with a ball hit back to Novoa. The third out was a 2-6-2 play, with Gamone throwing down to second in an attempt to get the Scotch Plains baserunner trying to steal second. Union shortstop Quincy Bryant took the throw and then fired back to Gamone, who applied the tag on the Scotch Plains baserunner trying to score from third.
In Union County Conference-Watchung Division play, Scotch Plains defeated Union at home 7-4 on April 11 and then won at Union 3-1 last Thursday.
When Scotch Plains lost a tough, 3-2 decision at Cranford in the UCT semifinals – just missing returning to the UCT final one year later – the Raiders were at 9-9 and coming off consecutive setbacks to the Cougars. Scotch Plains was 0-3 vs. Cranford this year.
“After that game Coach told us there was still a lot of baseball to be played,” Fox said. “We had a change in mindset. Coach said it was a new season. Ever since then we’ve been having a lot more fun and have been more relaxed.”
“I’m proud of these guys,” Higgins said. “It was easy to be totally deflated after that last loss to Cranford.
“I told the kids that we still had a long way to go. This is a real fun group, with the seniors leading the way.”
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 BASEBALL AT UNION
9-Scotch Plains (17-9) 1 0 0 0 4 1 0 – 6 8 2
8-Union (12-14) 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 – 2 4 3
Scotch Plains senior LH Tim Geissel (6-4)
6 innings complete (the starter, did not come out for the 7th)
79 pitches (may be off by a few)
2 runs, 4 hits, 5 strikeouts (2 swinging, 3 looking), 1 walk, 1 hit batter
1-2-3 innings: third, fourth (struck out the side), fifth
retired 11 in a row at one point from second to sixth inning
Pitch count: 1-19. 2-12. 3-12. 4-13. 5-9. 6-14. Total: 79.
Union senior RH Joey Novoa (4-4)
4 and 1/3 innings (the starter)
2 runs (1 earned), 6 hits, 0 strikeouts, 0 walks
1-2-3 inning: third
Pitch count: 1-17. 2-12. 3-4. 4-8. 5-2. Total: 43.
Scotch Plains – Jake Canavan (infield), Peter Warren, Peter Yarem (bunt), Spencer Vaughn (infield), Matt Fox, Patrick Downey.
Union – Quincy Bryant, Rich Jones (bunt), Gio Zuena, Dren Gocaj.
Scotch Plains – Matt Fox, Spencer Vaughn.
Union – None.
Scotch Plains – None.
Union – None.
Scotch Plains – None.
Union – None.
SCOTCH PLAINS RAIDERS (17-9):
9-Jake Canavan, senior, center field
20-Peter Warren, senior, shortstop
15-Peter Yarem, senior, catcher
6-Matt Fox, senior, first base
18-Colin McAlindin, senior, right field
11-Spencer Vaughn, senior, designated hitter
42-Tim Geissel, senior, pitcher (did not bat)
22-Dan Wilkinson, sophomore, pitcher (did not bat)
7-George Mueller, senior, third base
24-Patrick Downey, junior, left field
1-Jonathan Ramos, sophomore, second base
UNION FARMERS (12-14):
4-Quincy Bryant, senior, shortstop
13-Nestor Conforti, senior, first base
11-Marco Vitale, senior, second base
17-Jamie Olivo, senior, right field
21-Dren Gocaj, freshman, third base
23-Alex Camacho, senior, center field
7-Rich Jones, junior, left field
5-Gio Zuena, freshman, designated hitter
18-Joey Novoa, senior, pitcher (did not bat)
9-Zach Fernandez, sophomore, pitcher (did not bat)
2-Brandon Bedlivey, junior, pitcher (did not bat)
3-Jerry Gamone, junior, catcher
2017 NORTH 2, GROUP 4 BASEBALL
SEEDS: 1-Millburn. 2-Woodbridge. 3-Bayonne. 4-Phillipsburg.
5-Watchung Hills. 6-Westfield. 7-Newark East Side. 8-Union.
9-Scotch Plains. 10-Elizabeth. 11-Piscataway. 12-Brigewater-Raritan.
13-North Hunterdon. 14-Ridge. 15-Dickinson. 16-Columbia.
Monday, May 22
Elizabeth 1, Newark East Side 0 – at Newark East Side
North Hunterdon 11, Phillipsburg 4 – at Phillipsburg
Tuesday, May 23
Millburn 2, Columbia 1 – at Millburn
Scotch Plains 6, Union 2 – at Union
Watchung Hills 3, Bridgewater-Raritan 2 – at Watchung Hills
Westfield 10, Piscataway 0 – at Westfield
Bayonne 8, Ridge 7 – at Bayonne
Woodbridge 2, Dickinson 1 – at Woodbridge
Wednesday, May 24
13-North Hunterdon at 5-Watchung Hills, 4 p.m.
Thursday, May 25
9-Scotch Plains at 1-Millburn, 4 p.m.
6-Westfield at 3-Bayonne, 4 p.m.
10-Elizabeth at 2-Woodbridge, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, May 30
At higher seeds.
Friday, June 2
At highest seed.