UNION – What was more impressive to senior right hander Zach Fernandez, his 12 strikeouts – including at least one in all seven innings – or the fact that his command was so good he did not walk a batter?
“I just decided to go right at them, fastball first,” said Fernandez as the Rhode Island-bound Union senior tossed a four-hitter in taming Westfield 5-1 in Opening Day Union County Conference-Watchung Division baseball action Monday at Gordon R. LeMatty Field.
“My fastball and my curve, I was very confident throwing both pitches,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez retired the first 11 batters he faced before giving up consecutive singles to Andrew Caminiti and Daniel Kohler with two outs in the fourth. Caminiti reached on an infield single past Union third baseman Jalen Bryant, while Kohler went the opposite way to right to put runners on first and second.
At that point Union had a 2-0 lead on unearned runs scored with two outs in the second.
Fernandez, who last year was 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA, bounced back in the fourth to retire Chris Ho on a fly ball to left that Union left fielder Gio Zuena made a nice running catch of sprinting past the line to his right.
“That young man (Fernandez) was very polished and ahead of most of our hitters,” said Westfield head coach Bob Brewster, now in his 37th season at the helm of the Blue Devils. “He had a nice slider and really good command.”
Fernandez retired the side in order for the fourth time in the fifth before yielding a triple to Westfield’s leadoff batter Matt McIntyre in the sixth and then a double to Sean Flynn in the seventh.
Christian Pansini drove in McIntyre on an opposite field sacrifice fly to right with one out in the sixth to put Westfield on the board for the first time. On Flynn’s double to deep left-center, Union’s 8-6-2 relay – from center fielder Andrew Sanborn to shortstop Dren Gocaj to catcher Rody Martinez – easily nabbed Ho at the plate. Ho, who reached on a hit-by-pitch in the back on a 3-0 count, attempted to score from first base.
“Zach was ready to go since he first got out here today, right from throwing in the bullpen,” said Martinez, a junior, who is in his first year as Union’s catcher after transferring from Hudson Catholic. “My thing is to make Zach as comfortable as he can be. The most important thing is for him to throw with a lot of confidence.”
After retiring the first two batters he faced on a pop up in the infield and a fly ball to right, Fernandez struck out the next eight batters he faced, including all three in the second swinging and all three in the third looking.
Fernandez was fooling Westfield batters on fastballs down the middle, off-speed pitches away and a curve that crossed the plate and dropped.
“I tried to be as aggressive as I could be,” Fernandez said. “Westfield is the team we lost to in the county semifinals last year. This is a good start, but we have a long way to go.”
Union took the lead for good with two outs in the bottom of the second. The Farmers first executed a perfect hit-and-run, with Bryant finding the hole the opposite way through the vacated space at second while Matt Silvestre was going on the pitch. Silvestre reached on the second of two walks issued by Westfield starter Michael Carlone, who allowed zero earned runs in five complete innings.
Bryant then stole second base to give Union second and third with one out. Carlone came back to retire Zuena on a pop up. He then got Nick Saraceno to hit a ground ball to first, but Westfield failed to execute what should have been a 3-1 inning-ending putout at first. As a result Union scored two unearned runs to break the scoreless tie.
The Farmers went ahead 3-0 in the fifth when on a wild pitch Saraceno, who reached on an error, moved from second to third and then raced home after an errant throw that landed in the outfield.
Following a walk to Dren Gocaj, Union’s No. 3 hitter Mike Velez smashed a long home run over the left field fence, connecting on a first-pitch fastball. Carlone previously struck out Velez on three pitches looking to end the first and on four pitches swinging to conclude the third.
Velez made sure this time, in rather quick fashion, that Carlone was not going to get him a third time.
Westfield made five errors, all of them highly costly.
“The good thing is that they are correctable,” Brewster said.
Carlone struck out four and walked two and gave up five runs – all unearned – on two hits.
“I thought he pitched well,” Brewster said.
Carlone started last year’s UCT final and the Group 4 semifinal for Westfield.
Brewster said he was also dominating in a scrimmage at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen.
“He’s a tough kid,” Brewster said. “He has a number of pitches and is very confident with all of them. He’s very stingy.”
BREWSTER STILL ENJOYS COACHING BLUE DEVILS
I first asked longtime assistant and pitching coach Brian Sloan, “what do you think” to the question of whether this will be head coach Bob Brewster’s final season at the helm of the Blue Devils.
Sloan said: “who knows?”
Then I walked over to Brewster and asked him. Brewster – on April 1 mind you – said, “you never know.”
The bottom line is that Brewster still very much enjoys coaching the Blue Devils, whether this will ultimately be his final year or not.
He presently stands as Union County’s No. 3 coach in terms of wins with 630. Union’s Gordon LeMatty (retired) is second at 641 and Elizabeth’s Ray Korn (retired) first at 651.
“I still love building a brand new team,” Brewster said. “I enjoy watching the young kids coming up. We still have a lot of talent here.
“We also have a new freshman coach in Jay Cook.”
Brewster was excited that Cook was now involved. He was a player for Brewster – Brewster reminded me – that ended his career with the Blue Devils in 2002 with a 40-game hitting streak. Cook also helped lead that Westfield squad to the Union County Tournament championship.
“Jay pitched at Montclair State and was also a pitching coach there,” Brewster said.
Westfield and Union are not scheduled to play again until Thursday, which will both be Watchung Division contests. Westfield is at defending champion Gov. Livingston and Union will host Cranford.
On Tuesday, Cranford is scheduled to open at home against Scotch Plains and GL at Elizabeth, both also Watchung Division clashes.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
Westfield (0-1, 0-1) 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 1 4 5
Union (1-0, 1-0) 0 2 0 0 3 0 x – 5 3 0
UNION STARTING PITCHER:
9-Zach Fernandez, senior RH (1-0)
7 innings complete, 93 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-9. 2-12. 3-13. 4-20. 5-13. 6-12. 7-14. Total: 93.
4 hits, 1 run (earned).
12 strikeouts (8 swinging and 4 looking), 0 walks, 1 hit batter.
Fernandez struck out 8 in a row from first inning to fourth.
He struck out the side swinging in the second inning.
He struck out the side looking in the third inning.
Fernandez pitched perfect innings in the first, second, third and fifth.
WESTFIELD STARTING PITCHER:
17-Michael Carlone, senior RH (0-1)
5 innings complete, 84 pitches.
Pitch count: 1-12. 2-24. 3-12. 4-11. 5-25. Total: 84.
2 hits, 5 runs (all unearned).
4 strikeouts (1 swinging and 3 looking), 2 walks (3-2 and 3-1 counts).
Retired the side in order in the third inning.
WESTFIELD RELIEF PITCHER:
5-Michael Catanzaro, LH
1 inning complete, 15 pitches.
Pitch count: 6-15. Total: 15.
1 hit, 0 runs.
2 strikeouts (both swinging), 0 walks.
Westfield – Andrew Caminiti, Daniel Kohler.
Union – Jalen Bryant (2).
Westfield – Sean Flynn.
Union – None.
Westfield – Matt McIntyre.
Union – None.
Westfield – None.
Union – Mike Velez.
Westfield – Christian Pansini.
Union – Mike Velez 2.
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS:
3-Matt McIntyre, senior center fielder
4-Christian Pansini, junior second baseman
9-Andrew Caminiti, senior right fielder
12-Daniel Kohler, junior first baseman
22-Christopher Ho, sophomore right fielder
23-Sean Flynn, senior left fielder
8-Victor Coustan, junior third baseman
1-Michael Charlton, senior catcher
6-Jake Bencivenga, pinch hitter
17-Michael Carlone, senior RH pitcher
6-Andrew Sanborn, junior center fielder
17-Dren Gocaj, junior shortstop
11-Mike Velez, senior first baseman
3-Rody Martinez, junior catcher
23-Matt Silvestre, sophomore designated hitter
4-Jalen Bryant, sophomore third baseman
22-Gio Zuena, junior left fielder
12-Nick Saraceno, junior second baseman
13-Quincy Mitchell, sophomore right fielder
Did not bat:
9-Zach Fernandez, senior RH pitcher