Jonathan Dayton baseball wins North 2, Group 1 for first time since 2014

Jonathan Dayton High School’s five standout seniors include Brandyn Bernknopf, Anthony Bianchi, Kieran Conway, Peter Ramirez and Jon Rodrigues. They helped lead the Bulldogs to the North 2, Group 1 sectional state championship and the program’s seventh straight winning season at 17-12.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The cliché, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” appropriately applies to this year’s Jonathan Dayton High School baseball team.

When Group 1 Jonathan Dayton lost at Bergen County Group 4 power Ridgewood High School, 4-0, on Saturday, April 20, Ridgewood went on to post another solid 23-5 season, and the Bulldogs found themselves with a 2-7 record approaching game No. 10 of their 2024 campaign.

Not the standard at all for Jonathan Dayton, as the Bulldogs, who reached the 2022 Union County Tournament championship game for the first time since 2005, were seeking a seventh straight winning season.

Jonathan Dayton bounced back with wins against Union Catholic and Roselle Catholic high schools, but then lost to bigger schools Union and South Plainfield high schools and still found itself five games below .500 at 4-9 on Saturday, April 27.

The resume to get back to the North 2, Group 1 playoffs was not being bolstered by any stretch of the imagination, four weeks into the season.

Jonathan Dayton closed April with a 7-6 Union County Conference-Mountain Division win at Elizabeth High School–Frank J. Cicarell Academy, the start of a four-game winning streak. Consecutive setbacks to eventual champion Governor Livingston High School in the UCT and then Barringer High School still had the Bulldogs less than .500 at 8-11 on Friday, May 10.

Jonathan Dayton then turned its season around by winning five of its final six regular season games, the only loss in that stretch coming to eventual Mountain Division champion Union Catholic, to enter the North 2, Group 1 playoffs as the sixth seed at 13-12.
Now a seventh straight winning season was possible. The Bulldogs also felt winning North 2, Group 1 for the first time in 10 years was not out of the question as well.

Jonathan Dayton extended its winning streak to four by beating 11th-seeded Glen Ridge High School, 5-2, at home in first round play on Thursday, May 23.

All four Union County North 2, Group 1 schools advanced to the quarterfinals, all playing on the road. Three won. Then two won in the semifinals to guarantee that Union County would have the champion.

Jonathan Dayton reached the semifinals after winning at Bergen County foe and third-seeded Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr High School, 5-3, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, May 29.

Then, in the semifinals, Jonathan Dayton walloped Union County Conference-Watchung Division opponent New Providence High School, 14-6, to reach the final.

Jonathan Dayton then went back on the road to David Brearley High School and blanked the Bears 4-0 to claim the crown for the first time in a decade. Jonathan Dayton previously split with Kenilworth during UCC-Mountain Division play.

So Jonathan Dayton won the section this way in four games: home, away, home, away.

Jonathan Dayton returned home for its Group 1 semifinal against Pompton Lakes High School. The Passaic County school jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Jonathan Dayton battled to get the score to 5-3, but it wasn’t enough, as the Bulldogs fell one victory shy of playing for an overall group state championship.

Jonathan Dayton won a season-high seven straight and nine of 10 before falling in its final game. The Bulldogs came in at 17-12 overall, a seventh straight winning season, and finished 7-5 in the Mountain Division for fourth place among the seven schools.

“I’m really proud of the leadership from the seniors,” Jonathan Dayton baseball head coach Mike Abbate said. “All five could have quit or stopped leading when we were 2-7, but they didn’t.”

Those seniors include No. 8, Brandyn Bernknopf, pitcher-outfielder; No. 11, Jon Rodrigues, pitcher-outfielder; No. 12, Anthony Bianchi, catcher-outfielder; No. 24, Peter Ramirez, pitcher-utility; and No. 42, Kieran Conway, catcher-first baseman.

Bernknopf produced 25 hits, scored 25 runs and drove in 24. Rodrigues had 19 hits, scored 22 times and drove in 11; while Bianchi banged out nine hits, scored 10 runs and drove in 10.

Ramirez had 36 hits, scored a team-leading 33 runs and drove in 22. Conway had 16 hits and drove in 12 runs.

Frank Dasti, a third-year varsity starting junior, reached 100 career hits.

“Frank Dasti is the toughest- and hardest-working kid around, which is why he stands out each day, whether he is pitching, hitting, fielding or running the bases,” Abbate said.

Dasti led Jonathan Dayton with 38 hits. He scored 23 runs and drove in 21.

Dasti will be ranked as one of the top seniors in the state for 2025.

“My coaches, Frank Dasti, Dom Dasti, Jim Monaghan and Pete Dercole, are also a huge reason why we are champs again,” Abbate said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

2024 North 2, Group 1 Baseball

Jonathan Dayton Bulldogs are champions For first time since 2014.

Seeds: 1-Cedar Grove. 2-Verona. 3-Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr. 4-Whippany Park. 5-David Brearley. 6-Jonathan Dayton. 7-New Providence. 8-Roselle Park. 9-North Arlington. 10-Hoboken. 11-Glen Ridge. 12-Weehawken. 13-Secaucus. 14-Belvidere. 15-Newark Tech.

First round

Thursday, May 23

Cedar Grove received a bye.

• Roselle Park 2, North Arlington 1 – at Roselle Park

• David Brearley 11, Weehawken 0 – at David Brearley

• Whippany Park 10, Secaucus 0 – at Whippany Park

• Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr 10, Belvidere 0 – at Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr

• Jonathan Dayton 5, Glen Ridge 2 – at Jonathan Dayton

• New Providence 4, Hoboken 1 – at New Providence

• Verona 10, Newark Tech 0 – at Verona


Wednesday, May 29

• Cedar Grove 8, Roselle Park 0 – at Cedar Grove

• David Brearley 2, Whippany Park 0 – at Whippany Park

• Jonathan Dayton 5, Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr 3 – at Wood-Ridge Jr/Sr

• New Providence 23, Verona 1 – at Verona


Friday, May 31

• David Brearley 4, Cedar Grove 3 – at Cedar Grove

• Jonathan Dayton 14, New Providence 6 – at Jonsthan Dayton


Monday, June 3

• Jonathan Dayton 4, David Brearley 0 – at David Brearley

Photo by JR Parachini