Union baseball seeks to continue success achieved at end of last season; Farmers sparked by Carter bat, Meola pitching

Opening Day is Tuesday, April 2 at home vs. Watchung Division foe Linden

Union came back last year to finish a respectable 13-13 after reaching the Union County Tournament championship game for the first time in 19 years.

Will this be the season the Farmers win the UCT crown for the first time since 1993?

“Sometimes the hardest thing is teaching your kids how to win,” said head coach Frank Napolitano, a 1989 UHS graduate who is now in his seventh season at the helm of the Farmers. “Hopefully we can continue.”

Union, after a 3-8 start, reached the UCT final as the eighth seed, knocking off top-seeded and two-time defending champion Cranford in the quarterfinals.

The Farmers won 10 of their final 15 games.

“Are we going to have a run in the counties again,” Napolitano asked? “I don’t know. We had a decent run at the end last year.”

Holding Cranford in check last year was senior lefty Devin Zimmerman. The Farmers were also sparked by the stellar offensive and defensive play of senior catcher Nazir Barnett.

While Union will certainly miss those key performers, the Farmers have a great deal back, including seniors Mike Meola, Denzell Boyd, Chris Dillon, Jon Zimmerman, John McTernan and junior Will Sangster.

Dillon is out now with a broken toe, with Napolitano hopeful he will be back in the lineup by the end of April.

The pitching staff – all right handers this season – includes Meola, Boyd, Dillon, McTernan, Sangster and sophomores Jeff Lara and Jon Brignoni.

Meola, a four-year starter, one-hit Roselle Catholic in a UCT first round game last year, with the Farmers winning 8-2 at Union’s Gordon LeMatty Field.

“Mike has matured a lot as a pitcher,” Napolitano said. “He’s learned to control his mechanics.”

Meola, as a freshman, earned his first victory when he defeated St. Peter’s Prep.

“Mike has great movement on his fastball and has developed two other good pitches, a changeup and curveball,” Napolitano said. “He’s going to be a force because of those three pitches.”

Behind the plate will be senior Mike Bevan and sophomore Luis Alvarado.

The infield includes Dillon, Bevan and McTernan at first base, Zimmerman at second base, Brignoni and junior Brandon Rodriguez at third base and Sangster at shortstop. Napolitano said that McTernan is Union’s utility player, one who can play all positions.

Zimmerman is a three-year starter who batted .474 last year, drove in 19 runs and scored 11 times. He switched between third base and second base his sophomore season before playing only second base last year.

Napolitano has a solid double-play combination in Sangster back at shortstop and Zimmerman back at second.

Carter returns in left field and Boyd in center, while McTernan and Rodriguez will play in right. Lara is another outfielder.

Carter is also a four-year starter who came up at the end of his freshman year and played about eight games in left field, according to Napolitano.

“He’s being looked at by a couple of Division 1 schools and Montclair State also likes him,” Napolitano said. “Rhode Island has also shown interest.”

Also a standout quarterback who will play that position for the Union County All-Stars in the 20th annual Snapple Bowl that is scheduled to be played July 18 at Kean University, Carter was among the top baseball players in Union County last year. He batted .442, with 23 RBI and 25 runs scored.

Napolitano said that Carter is leaning toward playing baseball in college.

“Doug is the type of player who can play at the next level,” Napolitano said. “He does it all for us.”

Carter, who delivered the game-winning hit in last year’s UCT semifinal win over Scotch Plains, will be batting fourth in Union’s lineup this season.

“Doug is a fantastic kid and a great baseball player second,” Napolitano said. “He’s a team leader in the lockerroom and he works as hard as any kid I’ve ever had here.”

Carter has power to drive the ball and also the ability to spray it the opposite way to right field.

“Doug has developed into a hitter who can hit all pitches,” Napolitano said. “He drives the ball and is a gap-to-gap type hitter.

“He didn’t really strike out that much last year, I think only six times. He puts the ball in play and has proven to come through in the clutch for us as well.”

Boyd, Union’s fastest player, sets the tone at the top of the order. He stole 18 bases last year in addition to batting .370 and scoring 32 runs.

“Everybody’s working hard and it’s good to have a lot of those guys returning so we don’t need to spend a lot of time teaching them,” Napolitano said. “I also like our younger guys.”

Union was able to scrimmage Columbia, Millburn, Bloomfield, Parsippany Hills, New Brunswick, Belleville and Holmdel. In the scrimmage against Holmdel, which is guided by former Linden coach Dan Mondelli, Meola pitched and Union won 4-2.

In addition to home and away league games against fellow Watchung Division foes Cranford, Gov. Livingston, Elizabeth, Westfield, Linden and Scotch Plains, Union also has a challenging out-of-county schedule that includes Bayonne, Madison, Watchung Hills, North Brunswick, Seton Hall Prep, Franklin and Bridgewater-Raritan.

Of the four teams that reached last year’s North 2, Group 4 semifinals, Bridgewater-Raritan is the only school that is still situated in the section. Defending champion Hillsborough, finalist Hunterdon Central and semifinalist Sayreville all moved back to Central Jersey, Group 4.

Newcomers to North 2, Group 4 after spending many years in North 2, Group 3 are Millburn and Scotch Plains.

Like the way of soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter, there will be a power points system for the first time this spring to award postseason berths and determine seeding in each section.

A team’s first 15 games will count toward playoff qualifying. The cutoff date is May 10.

“I think it plays into the advantage of someone that does play a tough schedule,” Napolitano said. “We tried to pick up a lot of Group 4 schools.”

In addition to playing Group 4 squads Elizabeth, Linden, Westfield and Scotch Plains – all North 2 schools – in Watchung Division play, other Group 4 schools Union is scheduled to face include Bayonne (North 2), Watchung Hills (North 2), North Brunswick (Central), Franklin (North 2) and Bridgewater-Raritan (North 2).

The Farmers are scheduled to open Tuesday morning at 11 at home against Watchung Division rival Linden.

Union defeated Linden 8-7 at home last year, while the game at Linden  was not played.

 

UNION SCHEDULE

April 2 Linden, 11 a.m. – Watchung Division

April 4 at Westfield, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

April 6 at Bayonne, 11 a.m.

April 9 at Scotch Plains, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

April 10 at Madison, 4 p.m.

April 12 Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

April 13 Watchung Hills, 10 a.m.

April 16 at Cranford, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

April 17 Rahway, 4 p.m.

April 18 Elizabeth, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

April 20 at North Brunswick, 10 a.m.

April 21 Westfield, 6 p.m. at TD Bank Ball Park – Watchung Division

April 23 at Brearley, 4 p.m.

April 25 Seton Hall Prep, 4 p.m.

April 27 UCT first round at higher seeds

April 29 Franklin, 4 p.m.

April 30 at Linden, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

May 4 UCT quarterfinals at higher seeds

May 2 at Johnson, 4 p.m.

May 6 Bridgewater-Raritan, 4 p.m.

May 9 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

May 11 UCT semifinals, TBA

May 13 at Summit, 4 p.m.

May 15 Union Catholic, 4 p.m.

May 16 at Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

May 17 Cranford, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

May 21 at Elizabeth, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division

May 23 Roselle Park, 4 p.m.

 

2013 UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE

ALIGNMENT

 

WATCHUNG DIVISION (7 schools)

Governor Livingston

Elizabeth

Cranford

Union

Westfield

Scotch Plains

Linden

Defending champion: Cranford

 

MOUNTAIN DIVISION (8 schools)

Johnson

Roselle Catholic

New Providence

Dayton

Roselle Park

Union Catholic

Brearley

Oratory Prep

Defending champion: Dayton

*New Providence and Oratory Prep moved up from Valley.

 

VALLEY DIVISION (7 schools)

Hillside

Roselle

Plainfield

St. Mary’s, Elizabeth

Rahway

Summit

Patrick School

Last year’s champion: New Providence

*Rahway and Summit moved down from Mountain.

 

2012 UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE

FINAL STANDINGS

 

WATCHUNG DIVISION

Cranford (10-1) – repeat champion

Westfield (9-2)

Gov. Livingston (7-4)

Union (5-6)

Elizabeth (3-8)

Scotch Plains (2-8)

Linden (2-9)

Games not played:

Westfield at Cranford

Gov. Livingston at Scotch Plains

Elizabeth at Scotch Plains

Union at Linden

 

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

Dayton (12-0) – champion

Johnson (10-4)

Union Catholic (9-4)

Roselle Catholic (8-5)

Summit (5-8)

Rahway (4-8)

Brearley (3-11)

Plainfield (1-12)

Games not played:

Rahway at Dayton

Union Catholic at Dayton

Summit at Rahway

Plainfield at Roselle Catholic

 

VALLEY DIVISION

New Providence (10-0) – champion

Roselle Park (7-2)

Oratory Prep (7-5)

St. Mary’s (6-4)

Hillside (3-7)

Roselle (0-7)

St. Patrick (0-8)

Games not played:

St. Mary’s at Roselle Park

Hillside at Roselle Park

Roselle at Roselle Park

New Providence at Roselle

St. Patrick at New Providence

St. Mary’s at St. Patrick

Hillside at Roselle

Roselle at St. Patrick

St. Patrick at Roselle

 

2011 UCC CHAMPIONS:

Watchung Division: Cranford

Mountain Division: Union Catholic

Valley Division: Roselle Park

 

APRIL 20 UNION / GMC AUTISM AWARENESS CHALLENGE

AT COMMUNITY PARK IN NORTH BRUNSWICK (ROUTE 130)

 

4 GAMES AT FIELD A

Westfield vs. Sayreville, 10 a.m.

Roselle Catholic vs. Metuchen, 1 p.m.

Plainfield vs. J.P. Stevens, 4 p.m.

Elizabeth vs. Edison, 7 p.m.

 

4 GAMES AT FIELD B

Union vs. North Brunswick, 10 a.m.

Roselle Park vs. South River, 1 p.m.

Union Catholic vs. Woodbridge, 4 p.m.

Johnson vs. South Plainfield, 7 p.m.

 

GMC teams will be the home team.

Each team will be responsible to pay the cost of one umpire with a voucher or check.

Each team is responsible for 6 baseballs.

Bill Kilduff will assign umpires for all games.

Field A is to the left of the refreshment stand.

Field B is to the right of the refreshment stand.

 

APRIL 27 GMC AUTISM AWARENESS DAY

AT COMMUNITY PARK IN NORTH BRUNSWICK (ROUTE 130)

 

4 GAMES AT FIELD A

North Brunswick vs. Perth Amboy, 10 a.m.

South River vs. Dunellen, 1 p.m.

J.P. Stevens vs. Sayreville, 4 p.m.

East Brunswick vs. Woodbridge, 7 p.m.

 

4 GAMES AT FIELD B

Metuchen vs. Iselin Kennedy, 10 a.m.

South Brunswick vs. Colonia, 1 p.m.

New Brunswick vs. Spotswood, 4 p.m.

Edison vs. St. Joseph, Metuchen, 7 p.m.

 

The home team will be determined by the flip of a coin.

Each team will be responsible to pay the cost of one umpire with a voucher or check.

Each team is responsible for 6 baseballs.

Bill Kilduff will assign all umpires for both dates.

Field A is to the left of the refreshment stand.

Field B is to the right of the refreshment stand.

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