Closing its 2018 season as one of the hottest teams in Union County, the Union softball team – with almost everyone back – has immediately continued its winning ways.
The Farmers took a 3-0 record – all one-run wins – into Wednesday’s scheduled Union County Conference-Mountain Division clash at Scotch Plains.
Union wrapped a 10-11 season a year ago with a campaign-ending six-game winning streak that saw the Farmers outscore the opposition by an impressive 53-10 margin, including two shutouts.
It’s been some time now since Union was recognized as one of the top teams in Union County – Union last won the Union County Tournament and also North 2, Group 4 both in 2009 – but that is slowly beginning to change.
“It’s been a while since we started 3-0,” said seventh-year head coach Kristin Nunes.
Union scored three times in the top of the seventh and held Dayton scoreless in the bottom of the inning to produce a come-from-behind 5-4 Mountain Division triumph Tuesday in Springfield.
“We’re getting the right hits at the right time,” Nunes said.
Union opened with a 4-3 win at Mountain Division foe Union Catholic on April 2 and then won in walk-off fashion in its home-opener on April 4, defeating Hudson County school Bayonne 4-3 with a single run in the bottom of the seventh.
“We have to start hitting more, but I will take what I can now,” Nunes said. “We have a good group of kids here.”
Among Union’s starting nine from a year ago, the only player lost to graduation was center fielder Lizruby Alicea.
Back on the mound is junior right hander Alyssa Thomas, who was 10-9 last year with 150 strikeouts. She also excelled her freshman season.
“She’s averaging 10 strikeouts so far and is not letting up at all, which is huge,” Nunes said.
Thomas earned mound victories over division foes Union Catholic and Dayton. Against the Bulldogs Tuesday Thomas struck out 12 and walked just one in tossing a four-hitter.
Back at catcher for the third year is standout senior Arielle Roman, a four-year varsity starter who was Union’s first baseman in 2016. Roman enters Wednesday’s division game at Scotch Plains two hits shy of 100 for her career.
Last year Roman led Union in batting average at .619, home runs with six and RBI with 31 prior to the team’s season-ending 10-0 home win over Rahway.
So far this year Roman is already batting .636, with six singles and a home run. She leads the team in RBI with five.
Batting third in the lineup again, Roman will continue playing collegiately on the Division 3 level at Centenary.
“We try to get a run out of the first three batters every game,” Nunes said. “Arielle takes every at-bat seriously.
“She wants to hit and has been very patient this year, looking for good pitches.”
Returning infielders include sophomore Emily Schroeder at first base, sophomore Simone Casella at third base and designated player (DP) and junior Elizabeth Arias at shortstop.
“Elizabeth worked very hard in the off season, hitting every day,” Nunes said of the two-year starter.
Back in the outfield are senior Tamia Howell in left and senior Lauren Baran moving from right to center.
“Tamia’s job is to get on base, she’s really fast,” said Nunes of Union’s lefty-swinging leadoff batter.
Howell led Union in stolen bases last year with 15. She’s batting .417 and will attend Rutgers-Newark and play soccer and softball there.
With the Farmers down 4-2 in the top of the seventh vs. Dayton – Union led 2-0 before Dayton scored four runs in the sixth – Howell began Union’s game-winning really by reaching first on a bunt and then moving to second on a stolen base.
Roman singled to right one out later to give Union runners on first and third. Arias then hit a line drive to center field that was good for a two-run triple which tied the game at 4-4.
Kailey McDonough then hit a ground ball to third that was able to get Arias home with the go-ahead run. McDonough reached first, but Union did not score again.
Thomas allowed only one baserunner in the seventh, stranding a runner at first as Union improved to 3-0.
Union led Bayonne 3-2 after five innings. Nunes opted to replace Thomas on the mound with freshman Kaiya Simpkins for the final two innings because Nunes felt Bayonne was starting to hit Thomas harder.
Although Simpkins allowed a run that enabled Bayonne to tie the game at 3-3 in the sixth, she made up for it by delivering the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh. Simpkins, who ended up being the winning pitcher, produced a walk-off double that drove home Howell for the game-winning run.
NOTES: As of Wednesday Summit was leading the Mountain Division at 3-0 and was 4-0 overall. Union was second in the division at 2-0. Union first plays Summit Monday at 4 p.m. at Summit’s Memorial Field.
Roman, Howell and Arias are Union’s 2019 captains.
The last Union player to reach 100 career hits was 2015 graduate and standout center fielder Jessica McDonough, who is now a senior playing in the outfield at Misericordia University.
Her younger sister Kailey is one of the two freshmen on this year’s varsity squad.
The Mountain Division this year consists of these six schools: Brearley, Dayton, Scotch Plains, Summit, Union and Union Catholic. Three-time defending outright champion Roselle Park moved up to the Watchung Division, while Benedictine Academy moved down to the Valley Division. Last year’s Valley Division co-champions Union Catholic and Summit moved up to the Mountain Division.
Union had only one 1-run victory last year, a 3-2 division home triumph over Dayton.
UNION SOFTBALL 2019
Seniors: Lauren Baran, Tamia Howell, Ciara Johnson.
Arielle Roman, Jaziah Wilson.
Juniors: Elizabeth Arias, Emma Radler, Alyssa Thomas.
Sophomores: Simone Casella, Kaitlyn Marques, Emily Schroeder.
Freshmen: Kailey McDonough, Kaiya Simpkins.
April 2: (A) Union 4, Union Catholic 3 – Mountain Division
April 4: (H) Union 4, Bayonne 3
April 9: (A) Union 5, Dayton 4 – Mountain Division
April 10 at Scotch Plains, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
April 12 Westfield, 4 p.m.
April 15 at Summit, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
April 17 Union Catholic, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
April 18 at Roselle Park, 4 p.m.
April 23 at Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m.
April 24 at Oak Knoll, 4:15 p.m.
May 1 at Millburn, 4 p.m.
May 3 Kent Place, 4 p.m.
May 7 at Brearley (DH), 4 p.m. – both Mountain Division
May 8 Dayton, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
May 9 at New Providence, 4 p.m.
May 14 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
May 15 Summit, 4 p.m. – Mountain Division
May 17 Rahway, 4 p.m.
May 20 at Linden, 4 p.m.
May 21 Mount St. Mary, 4 p.m.