UNION – Chomping at the bit to pitch for the first time this year, St. Joseph’s, Metuchen transfer Mike Velez threw 65 pitches in his first outing last week.
After beating Rahway in his Union debut, the Union native dialed it up a notch Saturday when facing New Providence.
With a trip to the county semifinals on the line, Velez didn’t disappoint as he held the Pioneers to three runs on three hits over six innings complete, while striking out 11 and walking just one.
While he struck out the first four batters he faced looking and gave up the three runs he did from the fourth inning on, he felt he pitched better as the game progressed.
“I was getting my curveball over in the fourth and fifth,” said Velez, who tossed perfect innings in the first, third and fifth.
Velez opened the game by striking out the side on 16 pitches, getting all three New Providence batters to look at fastballs for strike three.
“First-pitch strikes are the major key,” Velez said. “In the first inning I was able to establish my fastball.”
Also sparked by a 17-hit attack which included two by Velez, Union led from start to finish in producing an 11-5 win in the Union County Tournament quarterfinal played at Union High School’s Gordon R. LeMatty Field.
SATURDAY, MAY 12 UCT SEMIFINALS AT KEAN:
7-Elizabeth vs. 3-Gov. Livingston, Noon
4-Union vs. 1-Westfield, 3 p.m.
SATURDAY MAY 5 UCT QUARTERFINALS:
Westfield 6, Cranford 3 – at Westfield
Union 11, New Providence 5 – at Union
Elizabeth 13, Scotch Plains 11 – at Scotch Plains
Gov. Livingston 11, Johnson 5 – at GL
LeMatty, Union County’s second-winningest coach with 641 victories, was present to see the Farmers advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2012.
Union last reached the final in 2012 and last won the UCT way back in 1993, which was its eighth crown and first after LeMatty’s tenure (1959-1991). LeMatty led Union to its first seven UCT championships.
The semifinals are scheduled to take place at Kean University next Saturday, May 12, with the final set to be played at Kean the next day – Sunday, May 13 (Mother’s Day).
In his first start – Union’s first round UCT game at home vs. Rahway April 28 – Velez also struck out 11, which came in 5 and 1/3 innings and in much less pitches.
“I was on a new pitch limit today and felt really great,” Velez said. “I felt just as strong in the sixth and could have pitched more.”
Fellow Union junior right hander Zach Fermandez pitched the seventh, giving up two runs on two hits, while striking out two and walking one. The next Fernandez start will be Monday at home vs. West Morris.
Velez will be in line to pitch Union’s UCT semifinal next Saturday at Kean against top-seeded and defending champion Westfield. The final is scheduled for next Sunday at Kean.
“Mike was very good,” Union pitching coach Matt Melody said. “It took a while for him to get his breaking ball going.
“In the one inning (the fourth) he got behind a big, but from the fourth inning on his slider was really good.”
Velez gave solid hits in the fourth by Chris Kubas, which was a double to left-center that Andrew Sanborn almost caught, and Greg Lambert, which was a one-out, two-run single the other way to right by Greg Lambert. Velez finished the inning by striking out the final two batters he faced swinging.
Velez yielded a leadoff infield single in the sixth, with that runner eventually coming around to score on a 6-4 fielder’s choice.
“New Providence is a decent hitting team, so I don’t mind giving up the hits that I did,” Velez said.
“Mike commanded the ball real well,” Union head coach Angel Navarrete said. “He threw the ball well and got better as the game went on.”
Velez’s last two strikeouts came on off-speed pitches.
“Mike complements a good pitching staff,” said Navarrete, also referring to starters that include junior right hander Zach Fernandez, senior right hander Brandon Bedlivey and sophomore right hander Andrew Sanborn.
“He’s not the guy, he’s one of the guys.”
Bedlivey went the distance in beating Westfield 3-2 in eight innings Friday in a Union County Conference-Watchung Division matchup at Union. The Farmers scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth, snapping a 2-2 deadlock.
“Brandon throws nothing but strikes,” Navarrete said. “He mixes his pitches well.”
Against New Providence, Union took the lead for good in the second at 1-0 on a sacrifice bunt toward first base that had enough spin on it for batter Zach Jones to run past the tag of New Providence pitcher Ryan Sherman. Jalen Bryant, who led off the inning with a double over the left fielder’s head, scored the game’s first run on the play.
Union led off five of its six at-bats with hits.
The Farmers scored four runs on five hits in the third to expand their lead to 5-0. Jerry Gamone delivered an opposite field RBI-single to right and then a double steal of second and home made it 3-0. Anthony Farinha then smoked an RBI-single to left on a hit-and-run play for a 4-0 score. Bryant followed with an RBI-single to center to make it 5-0.
After Lambert’s 2-run single pulled the Pioneers to within 5-2 in the fourth, Union came back from not scoring with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth to plate five more runs in the fifth. Sanborn drove in a run with a single to center and two more runs scored on a 6-4 fielder’s choice Velez hit into. Bryant followed with a bloop, 2-run single to center to put Union up 10-2.
Gio Zuena drove in Union’s final run on an RBI-single to center in the sixth.
Matt Shen drove in New Providence’s fourth run on an opposite field RBI-single to right, while the final Pioneer run was the result of a Union error.
“It feels great to be moving on (to the UCT semifinals),” Velez said. “We feel like we have the best pitching and one of the best lineups.”
65TH ANNUAL BASEBALL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
THE QUARTERFINAL AT GORDON R. LeMATTY FIELD IN UNION
5-New Providence (13-4) 0 0 0 2 0 1 2 – 5 5 2
4-Union (12-7) 0 1 4 0 5 1 x – 11 17 3
Union junior RH Mike Velez (2-0)
6 innings complete, 105 pitches
3 runs on 3 hits, 11 strikeouts (6 swinging, 5 looking), 1 walk
Pitched perfect innings in the first, third and fifth.
Struck out the side in the first and only allowed hits in the fourth and sixth.
New Providence junior RH Ryan Sherman (2-1)
2 innings and 2 batters, 25 pitches
3 runs on four hits, 1 strikeout (swinging), 0 walks, 1 hit batter
5-NEW PROVIDENCE PIONEERS (13-4):
9-Tommy Jankowski, senior second baseman
1-Tyler DeGeorge, senior left fielder
17-Stanton Leuthner, junior shortstop
20-Chris Kubas, junior catcher
16-Greg Lambert, senior right fielder-pitcher
22-Dylan Bedder, junior first baseman
5-Ryan Sherman, junior RH pitcher
24-Danny McCarron, junior LH relief pitcher
12-Jack Connor, junior third baseman
14-Matt Shen, senior center fielder
6-Anthony Iannacone, junior
8-Matt Byrnes, senior
10-Ben Burrows, senior
7-Ricky Miensky, senior
13-Nate Scott, sophomore
Head coach: Chris Brodeur
4-UNION FARMERS (12-7):
11-Andrew Sanborn, sophomore center fielder
17-Dren Gojac, sophomore shortstop
24-Mike Velez, junior RH pitcher
3-Jerry Gamone, senior catcher
1-Anthony Farinha, senior third baseman
4-Jalen Bryant, freshman left fielder
9-Zach Fernandez, senior first baseman-RH relief pitcher
5-Zach Jones, junior right fielder
22-Gio Zuena, sophomore designated hitter
12-Nick Saraceno, sophomore second baseman (did not bat)
21-Julian Fernandez, junior
42-Josh Bonilla, sophomore
7-Brandon Bedlivy, senior
2-Drew Darby, junior
Head coach: Angel Navarrete