Union baseball, boasted by hurlers Velez, Fernandez and Sanborn, seek long-awaited success

PHOTO COURTESY OF GENE NANN – Senior right hander Zach Fernandez – 5-2 last year with a 1.61 ERA – will pitch in college at Rhode Island.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GENE NANN – Junior righty Andrew Sanborn has a 5-5 varsity record in two seasons. Also one of Union’s top batsmen, Sanborn bats leadoff in the lineup.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Senior right hander Mike Velez will pitch collegiately at Wagner.

Union last won the Union County Tournament in 1993. The Farmers last captured the North 2, Group 4 sectional state championship in 2002.
This year’s baseball team has the potential to challenge for both long-awaited titles.
It’s been some time since Union has had real success on the diamond, but coming in at 17-10 last year was a big stepping stone.
With a pitching staff led by seniors Mike Velez (Wagner) and Zach Fernandez (Rhode Island) and junior Andrew Sanborn, Union is being looked at a bit differently this season.
As if the Farmers have the talent necessary to hoist a trophy or two.
“We walk in with higher expectations,” said head coach Angel Navarrete, at the helm of the Farmers since 2014. “The kids as a whole have raised the bar at Union High School.”
The rest of the pitching staff includes junior right hander Gio Zuena, senior Julian Fernandez (Zach’s twin brother) and sophomore lefty Quincy Mitchell.
“We feel that we can hold teams down with our entire pitching staff,” Navarrete. “It should be something fun to watch.”
Union’s 5-3 start last year included only 15 runs against. Shutouts followed over Plainfield and West Morris. Wins that were produced by giving up only one run included Elizabeth at home, Rahway in the UCT, at Linden, Union Catholic at home, Dickinson at home and Piscataway at home in the first round of the North 2, Group 4 playoffs.
At catcher are Hudson Catholic transfer Rody Martinez, a junior, and sophomore Matt Silvestre.
The infield consists of Velez and Zach Fernandez at first base, junior Nick Saraceno at second, sophomore Jalen Bryant at third and junior Dren Gocaj at shortstop.
The outfield has senior Zach Jones and Mitchell in left field, Sanborn and Mitchell in center field and Zuena in right field.
Union opens April 1 at home against Westfield, the team it lost to last year at Kean in the UCT semifinals.
Velez started the game and took the loss in a 7-4 comeback Westfield victory. It was the first loss for Velez after he defeated Rahway and New Providence in UCT play.
“Mike is great to watch and fun to have,” Navarrete said.
Velez transferred in from St. Joseph’s, Metuchen last year. He was 3-2 for Union with a 2.74 ERA. Velez was 1-0 as a freshman at St. Joe’s and 0-2 his sophomore campaign.
“It will be nice to be able to play him Game 1 this time,” Navarette said. “We expect a lot from him. We see great things from him on the mound, at the plate and at first base.”
Fernandez is a four-year varsity starter. He was 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA last year. His overall varsity record is 7-8. Fernandez was 0-5 in 2017 with a 5.73 ERA.
“Zach has gotten bigger and stronger and is more of a team leader,” Navarrete said.
Sanborn (5-11, 185) made great strides last year, including an impressive win at Cranford. He was 2-4 last year and has a two-year varsity record of 5-5.
“Andrew goes from quarterback (after basketball) to pitcher and he is bigger and throwing harder,” Navarrete said.
“Last year with our pitchers it was a matter of improving. This year it’s more like fine tuning.”
So, who will be starting on the mound vs. Westfield on Monday?
“All I can tell you right now is that Sanborn will be batting leadoff,” Navarrete said.

THE SCHEDULE
April 1 Westfield, 4 p.m.
April 4 Cranford, 4 p.m.
April 6 at Middlesex, 11 a.m.
April 9 at Elizabeth, 4:15 p.m.
April 10 Roselle Catholic, 4 p.m.
April 11 Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m.
April 13 at Spotswood, 11 a.m.
April 16 at Scotch Plains, 11:30 a.m.
April 18 at Westfield, 11 a.m.
April 19 at Dickinson, 11:30 a.m.
April 20 Madison, 11 a.m.
April 23 at Summit, 4 p.m.
April 25 Randolph, 4:30 p.m.
April 30 at Cranford, 4:15 p.m.
May 2 Elizabeth 4:15 p.m.
May 3 New Providence, 4 p.m.
May 7 at Gov. Livingston, 4:15 p.m.
May 9 at Johnson, 4:15 p.m.
May 14 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m.
May 15 Somerville, 5 p.m.
May 17 Union Catholic, 4 p.m.

UNION COUNTY’S TOP 3 WINNINGEST BASEBALL COACHES:

Ray Korn:
Roselle Catholic (1974-1979) and Elizabeth (1980-2008 minus one year):
651-308-1 (.679)

Gordon LeMatty:
Union (1959-1991):
641-272-4 (.702)

Bob Brewster:
Westfield (1983-present):
630-318-3 (.665)

UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
BASEBALL
OPENING DAYS

MONDAY, APRIL 1 (3 games)
Westfield at Union, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
Summit at Rahway, 4 p.m. – crossover
Plainfield at Union Catholic, 4 p.m. – crossover

TUESDAY, APRIL 2 (9 games)
Gov. Livingston at Elizabeth, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
Scotch Plains at Cranford, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
Union Catholic at Johnson, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
Summit at New Providence, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
Linden at Dayton, 4 p.m. – Valley Division
Oratory Prep at Brearley, 4 p.m. – Valley Division
Rahway at Roselle Park, 4 p.m. – Valley Division
Roselle Catholic at Hillside, 4 p.m. – Sky Division
Roselle at Plainfield, 4 p.m. – Sky Division

ALSO
MONDAY, APRIL 8
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth at Plainfield, 4 p.m. – Sky Division

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth vs. Roselle, 4 p.m. – Sky Division
At Warinanco Park

OPENERS:

Watchung Division
Westfield: April 1 at Union
Union: April 1 vs. Westfield
Gov. Livingston: April 2 at Elizabeth
Elizabeth: April 2 vs. Gov. Livingston
Scotch Plains: April 2 at Cranford
Cranford: April 2 vs. Scotch Plains

Mountain Division
Summit: April 1 at Rahway
Union Catholic: April 1 vs. Plainfield
New Providence: April 2 vs. Summit
Johnson: April 2 vs. Union Catholic

Valley Division
Rahway: April 1 vs. Summit
Roselle Park: April 2 vs. Rahway
Linden: April 2 at Dayton
Dayton: April 2 vs. Linden
Oratory Prep: April 2 at Brearley
Brearley: April 2 vs. Oratory Prep

Sky Division
Plainfield: April 1 at Union Catholic
Roselle Catholic: April 2 at Hillside
Hillside: April 2 vs. Roselle Catholic
Roselle: April 2 at Plainfield
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth: ???

UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
BASEBALL ALIGNMENTS
FOR 2019 SEASON

WATCHUNG DIVISION (6 schools):
Cranford
Elizabeth
Gov. Livingston
Scotch Plains
Union
Westfield

MOUNTAIN DIVISION (4 schools):
Johnson
New Providence
Summit
Union Catholic

VALLEY DIVISION (6 schools):
Brearley
Dayton
Linden
Oratory Prep
Rahway
Roselle Park

SKY DIVISION (5 schools):
Hillside
Plainfield
Roselle
Roselle Catholic
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth

UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
FINAL BASEBALL STANDINGS
FOR 2018 SEASON

WATCHUNG DIVISION (6 schools):
1-Gov. Livingston (6-3-1) – repeat outright champions
2-Scotch Plains (6-4)
3-Westfield (5-4)
4-Cranford (4-5-1)
5-Union (4-6)
6-Elizabeth (3-6)
Not played: Elizabeth at Westfield

MOUNTAIN DIVISION (5 schools):
1-New Providence (7-1) – outright champions
2-Johnson (6-2)
3-Summit (5-3)
4-Union Catholic (2-6)
5-Linden (0-8)

VALLEY DIVISION (6 schools):
1-Roselle Park (8-2) – co-champions
Rahway (8-2) – co-champions
3-Oratory Prep (7-3)
4-Dayton (5-5)
5-Brearley (1-8-1)
6-Roselle Catholic (0-9-1)

SKY DIVISION (4 schools):
1-Plainfield (4-0) – repeat outright champions
2-Hillside (2-2)
3-Roselle (0-4)
4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth (0-0)

UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
BASEBALL CHAMPIONS
2010 TO 2018

2018 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Gov. Livingston
Mountain: New Providence
Valley: Roselle Park, Rahway
Sky: Plainfield

2017 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Gov. Livingston
Mountain: Summit
Valley: Roselle Park
Sky: Plainfield

2016 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Westfield
Mountain: Johnson
Valley: Summit
Sky: Rahway

2015 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Gov. Livingston, Cranford
Mountain: Dayton, Johnson, Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park
Sky: Rahway

2014 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Westfield
Mountain: Dayton
Valley: Summit

2013 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Cranford
Mountain: Dayton
Valley: Summit

2012 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Cranford
Mountain: Dayton
Valley: New Providence

2011 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Cranford
Mountain: Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park

2010 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Scotch Plains.
Mountain: Cranford
Valley: Dayton

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