Union County softball winners wrap up 2024 season

The Jonathan Dayton High School Bulldogs captured their first softball Union County Tournament championship in 2024 and also led Union County in wins with 22, going 22-7.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — There were three 20-win teams, two sectional champions for the first time in a long time and one new, first-time-ever county champion among the highlights of a highly memorable and unique 2024 Union County softball campaign.

Schools such as Jonathan Dayton, Arthur L. Johnson and David Brearley don’t often win championships. Recent times have seen the likes of schools such as Cranford, Westfield, Governor Livingston and Roselle Park win their share of titles, when it came to the county tournament and sectional state tournament play.

However, that was not the case this past spring.

Jonathan Dayton High School won the Union County Tournament for the first time.

David Brearley and Arthur L. Johnson high schools won sectional titles for the first time in a while. David Brearley captured a sectional crown for the first time since 2005. Arthur L. Johnson last won consecutive sectional titles in 1995 and 1996, en route to the Group 2 state championship game both of those years.

Three of the six teams in the Union County Conference’s upper Watchung Division won 20 games: division champion Governor Livingston High School at 20-8 overall; Jonathan Dayton at 22-7; and Arthur L. Johnson at 20-12. The other three all finished .500 or better overall to show how challenging the division proved to be for the teams.

Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, which eliminated top-seeded Governor Livingston in the UCT by a 5-0 score in quarterfinal-round play in Berkeley Heights, came close to winning 20 games, finishing 18-9 overall and third in the Mountain Division at 4-3.

Jonathan Dayton, which led Union County with its 22 wins, reached the UCT semifinals last year, but were humbled by eventual three-peat winner Cranford High School.

“That opened up some eyes,” Jonathan Dayton head coach Dave Rennie said. “We wanted to get back and felt we had a better chance to win it this year.”

Jonathan Dayton was led on the mound by sophomore hurler Lila Carroll and at the plate by 100-hit plus senior standouts Natalie Mignone, Alyssa Santangelo and Kate Buckley.

Jonathan Dayton, the second seed, defeated eighth-seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 6-5, in the UCT final at Kean University’s Cougar Field in Union.

Jonathan Dayton junior shortstop Angela Gatto, who, last year, tore her ACL 17 games into her sophomore campaign, blasted two solo home runs, the second one proving to be the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh, to snap a 5-5 tie with two outs and Gatto down 0-2 in the pitcher’s count.

The Raiders, who have won the UCT just once in 1977, tied the game with three runs in the top of the seventh. After cutting the deficit to 5-3, sophomore standout Emily Roof slugged a two-run homer with two outs to tie the contest.

“Both teams hit the ball really hard and had some really big hits,” Rennie said. “Scotch Plains just happened to hit more right at our players.”

Jonathan Dayton has improved its record the last four years, going 6-12 overall in 2021, 10-11 in 2022, 18-10 in 2023 and 22-7 in 2024. The Bulldogs were edged at home by Rutherford High School, 4-3, in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs.

Last year, Jonathan Dayton won the Mountain Division perfect at 8-0 and moved up to the Watchung Division this year. The Watchung Division was highly competitive this year, with winner Governor Livingston going 20-8 and winning the division at 8-2; Jonathan Dayton 22-7 and second at 7-3; Cranford 16-12 and third at 6-4; Arthur L. Johnson 20-12 and fourth at 4-6; Westfield High School 14-11 and fifth at 3-7; and Elizabeth High School–Frank J. Cicarell Academy 12-12 and sixth at 2-8.

“Respect everyone and fear no one has been our mantra all year long,” Rennie said, after his Bulldogs captured the UCT championship for the first time.

Both David Brearley and Arthur L. Johnson scored winning runs in their final at-bats to capture the sectional state championships on the same day.

In the North 2, Group 1 final at two-time defending champion Weehawken High School, David Brearley scored two runs in the top of the eighth and then held on for a 5-3 extra inning triumph.

The Bears received two hits from junior Valentina Capra, freshman Gia Pirozzi and sophomore Amber Zawacki. Francesca Licata, a senior, scored twice, while Capra, senior Leah Sims and Zawacki scored once.

Pirozzi was exceptional on the mound, scattering nine hits, while striking out four and walking none.

In the Central Jersey, Group 2 final at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark, the host Crusaders scored the game’s final three runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun Delran, 4-3.

Arthur L. Johnson sophomore Elizabeth Fitzharris provided the game-winning RBI that sent the Crusaders to their championship.

Banging out two hits each for Arthur L. Johnson were seniors Krista Labianca and Lacey Vill and one each for Fitzharris, freshman Cassie Conforti and senior Shannon Lancellotti. Scoring the runs were Lancellotti twice and Labianca and Vill.

Conforti also excelled on the mound, tossing a three-hitter that included eight strikeouts and three walks.

David Brearley fell at eventual champion Cedar Grove in the Group 1 semifinals, while Arthur L. Johnson was downed at home by Gloucester City High School in the Group 2 semis.

David Brearley also captured the UCC’s Mountain Division crown at 7-1.

Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child and New Providence High School, which split against each other, shared the Valley Division title, both going 7-1 in division play. Oak Knoll went 15-9 overall and New Providence was 12-8.

Roselle’s Abraham High School was Union County’s only perfect division champion in 2024, with the Rams going 8-0 to capture the Sky Division crown. Roselle finished 10-8 overall.

Union County Conference

2024 division champions

Watchung: Governor Livingston (8-2)

Mountain: David Brearley (7-1)

Valley: Oak Knoll (7-1), New Providence (7-1) co-champs

Sky: Roselle (8-0)

Union County Tournament Champions: Jonathan Dayton Bulldogs (22-7)

North 2, Group 1 Sectional State Champions: David Brearley Bears (16-12)

Central Jersey, Group 2 Sectional State Champions: Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders (20-12)

Photo Courtesy of Dave Rennie