UCC baseball tournament blazes into high gear in quarterfinals

Union High School baseball coach Angel Navarrete, at left, and Westfield High School baseball coach Jay Cook, at right, have both led their teams to the UCT quarterfinals.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — If the weather cooperated and the quarterfinals were played at the fields of the higher seeds on Wednesday, May 18, then the 68th annual baseball Union County Tournament is set to move on to Kean University in Union.

The semifinals are scheduled to be contested at Kean on Saturday, May 21, and the final is scheduled for Kean on Monday, May 23.
As of press time, starting times for the semifinals and final at Kean were not set in stone.

Usually, the semifinals go at noon and 3 p.m. or 12:30 and 4 p.m., and the final at 6 or 7 p.m.

Seven of the eight first-round games were completed on Saturday, May 14, at the fields of the higher-seeded teams.

The only first-round game that had to be played this week was 12th-seeded David Brearley High School at fifth-seeded Union Catholic High School, which was rescheduled for Tuesday, May 17, after press time.

Three teams won on the road in first-round play, with Summit, Jonathan Dayton and Union high schools beating higher-seeded teams.

Here’s a look at the scores of the seven first-round games played on Saturday, May 14:

• No. 1 Cranford beat No. 17 Rahway, 10-0, at Cranford.

• No. 9 Summit beat No. 8 Elizabeth, 17-0, at Elizabeth.

• No. 4 Westfield beat No. 13 Oratory Prep, 2-0, at Westfield.

• No. 3 Governor Livingston beat No. 14 Roselle Catholic, 10-0, at Governor Livingston.

• No. 11 Jonathan Dayton beat No. 6 Arthur L. Johnson, 8-3, at Arthur L. Johnson.

• No. 10 Union beat No. 7 Scotch Plains–Fanwood, 7-5 (eight innings), at Scotch Plains–Fanwood.

• No 2 New Providence beat No. 15 Linden, 6-2, at New Providence.

The matchups for the Wednesday, May 18, quarterfinals looked like this:

Top side of the bracket:

• No. 9 Summit at No. 1 Cranford.

• No. 12 David Brearley or No. 5 Union Catholic at No. 4 Westfield.

Bottom side of the bracket:

• No. 10 Union at No. 2 New Providence.

• No. 11 Jonathan Dayton at No. 3 Governor Livingston.

Top-seeded Cranford, defending champion Governor Livingston, Summit and Westfield high schools all won their first-round games by shutout.

Governor Livingston began the week at 16-5 and on a three-game winning streak, and Jonathan Dayton at 10-6-1 and winners of four straight.

“We’re excited to be playing in the quarters,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Roof said on Monday, May 16. “Dayton is a very good team with a great coaching staff. It will be a great game Wednesday.”

Jonathan Dayton, guided by head coach Mike Abbate since 2010, has reached the semifinals twice during Abbate’s tenure. His 2012 team, which finished 20-5, lost to Westfield, 7-3, in the semifinals at Elizabeth’s Williams Field. Abbate’s 2014 team, which closed at 24-5 after capturing the North 2, Group 1, sectional state championship, lost to Governor Livingston, 6-1, in the semifinals played that year at Kean.

Senior Patrick Tullo was the winning pitcher for Governor Livingston in its 16-0 triumph at home against Roselle Catholic. Sophomore Matthew Shaffer was 3-for-3, with two runs and three RBIs.

Dayton scored the game’s final six runs in the top of the seventh to erase a 3-2 deficit at Johnson. Junior Wesley Griffith was 3-for-3, with one run and one RBI for the Bulldogs.

Cranford’s 10-0 win at home against Rahway was its eighth straight triumph. Junior Dan Olear, the winning pitcher, senior Kurt Petschow and senior Ryan Nicholas combined on a three-hit shutout.

Junior Joseph Fagan and sophomore Luke Jacobson banged out three hits each in Summit’s 17-0 win at Elizabeth. Junior pitcher Spencer Nicely tossed a five-inning, four-hit shutout, striking out five and walking three.

Two days earlier, Summit won at Elizabeth, 3-1, in Union County Conference–Mountain Division play. Three days before that, Elizabeth won at Summit, 8-7, in the first of their two division games against each other.

Summit, which began the week at 9-10, won at higher-seeded Cranford, 3-2, in the 2019 quarterfinals.

Westfield, which reached the UCT final last year after knocking off top-seeded Cranford, 2-1, in the semifinals, got by Oratory Prep, 2-0. Sophomore right-hander Jack Chavez blanked Oratory Prep on four hits, striking out six and walking just one. The Blue Devils scored in the fourth and sixth innings.

Union, the 10th seed, won for only the fourth time but got past seventh-seeded Scotch Plains–Fanwood, topping the host Raiders, 7-5, in eight innings. Union and Scotch Plains–Fanwood, as of Monday, May 16, still had to play their two Watchung Division games against each other. After Scotch Plains–Fanwood scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 5-5 and send it to extra innings, Union scored the game’s final two runs in the top of the eighth.

The four schools to have won the UCT since 2009 are Cranford four times, Governor Livingston and Westfield three times each, and Scotch Plains–Fanwood twice. There was no tournament in 2020 because of COVID-19. The last school to have won the UCT outside of those four was Elizabeth in 2008.

Tip Your Hat Classic debuts at Union next week

Taking advantage of the small gap between the conclusion of county tournaments and the commencement of the state tourneys after Memorial Day, a first-time, two-day baseball event is planned for Union High School’s Gordon R. LeMatty Field.

The first Tip Your Cap Classic includes four games scheduled to be played at Union — two on Wednesday, May 25, and two on Thursday, May 26.

The event supports the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which provides mortgage payoffs or mortgage-free homes to America’s catastrophically injured veterans and first responders, gold star families and families of fallen first responders.

“This is a great opportunity for a group of talented New Jersey baseball programs to come together for a great cause,” Union head coach Angel Navarrete said.

Here’s the two-day lineup.

Wednesday, May 25:

• Game 1: Union vs. Old Bridge, 4:15 p.m.

• Game 2: Millburn vs. Don Bosco Prep, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 26:

• Game 1: Union vs. Madison, 4:15 p.m.

• Game 2: St. Joseph’s Metuchen vs. Bergen Catholic, 7 p.m.

LeMatty, Union County’s third-most winning coach with 641 victories from 1959 to 1991, just had his 89th birthday on Sunday, May 15.

“We have a Central Jersey vs. North Jersey theme here, in an attempt to raise awareness for the 9/11 foundation Tunnel to Towers,” Navarrete said. “This will also allow kids a network link to connect with college coaches.”

Photo by JR Parachini