Union Farmers start 2022 softball season 1-1 with a victory against Immaculata

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UNION, NJ — Shannon McMahon was a pretty good softball pitcher herself at South Plainfield High School and then Kean University.

Union High School softball team’s first-year head coach also has a “pretty good” pitcher to work with and continue to show the way in junior right-hander Alexa Liquori.

A prominent player for then–head coach Kristin Nunes last year as she helped lead the Farmers to a 12-6 record that included her tossing a no-hitter at Bridgewater–Raritan in the North 2, Group 4, playoffs, Liquori also made the most of last week’s season opener.

On Friday, April 1, Liquori tossed a three-hitter that included 14 strikeouts as Union scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 walk-off triumph at home against Immaculata High School. Union tied the game at 1-1 with a single run in the bottom of the fourth and again at 2-2 with another single run in the bottom of the sixth. The only time Union had the lead was when the Farmers won the game with a single run in the bottom of the seventh.

McMahon pinch-hit for the No. 9 batter leading off the bottom of the seventh, with sophomore Sofia Wadolowski coming through with a double. Leadoff batter Kaiya Simpkins was then intentionally walked.

Liquori bunted the runners over, putting them at second and third with one out. Anabella Farinha then hit a pop fly to right field that was good enough to bring Wadolowski home with the winning run. Wadolowski scored standing up on the sacrifice fly.

Liquori, who struck out 161 batters in 96 innings as a sophomore last year, is one of many key returning players the Farmers boast.

“She’s definitely a firecracker,” McMahon said of Liquori. “You don’t expect the heat she throws from her size. She comes in hot right from the beginning.

“Alexa loves to be on the mound and, with her mentality, we have high expectations. She’s looking for a little more consistency on her spins and hitting her spots when needed.”

Six returning senior starters include catcher Arianna Alvarado, second baseman Emily Arias, third baseman Ariana Moutis and outfielders Alexa Kemps, Kailey McDonough and Simpkins.

“Kaiya is our glue,” McMahon said. “She is quiet and leads by example. For a lefty bat, you expect a slap hitter, but she has power and can hit the ball to all fields. Defensively, she wants the ball hit to her. She just impresses me every day.”

Alvarado is Union’s cleanup batter.

“She loves to smile up there at the plate,” McMahon said. “She knows what to do and how to get the job done.”

First-year varsity players are outfielders Bridget Murphy and Bridie Orsini and catcher-outfielder Wadolowski.

Union’s other pitcher is junior Farinha. Liquori and Farinha also play shortstop. Farinha drove in 16 runs last season, scored 15 times and finished with an impressive batting average of .419.

“Anabella will be on the mound for us every once in a while,” McMahon said. “She has a nice changeup.

“Batting in the No. 3 spot, she finds a way to tattoo the ball. She is very content and confident at the plate with her swing.”

Simpkins and McDonough also had standout seasons at the plate a year ago, with Simpkins leading Union with 27 hits and a .474 batting average and McDonough pacing the Farmers with 17 RBIs.

Union moved back up into the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division after sharing last year’s Mountain Division title with Summit High School, both going 7-1 and splitting against each other in league play.

The Watchung Division this year includes Cranford, Governor Livingston, Elizabeth, Johnson, Union and defending champion Westfield, which won the league outright last year with a perfect 10-0 record.

Union won 10 of its final 13 games last year after a 2-3 start.

McMahon excelled on the mound at South Plainfield High School for three varsity seasons for head coach Don Panzarella, with the Tigers going 18-5 in 2011, 21-7 in 2012 and 20-8 in 2013.

As a senior in 2013, McMahon shut out Sayreville High School 3-0 in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship game. She struck out five and did not walk a batter, and at the plate produced two hits and one RBI.

McMahon had 155 strikeouts and won 20 games her senior season. At the plate, she slugged five home runs, drove in 22 runs and banged out 32 hits.

For her three-year career at South Plainfield, McMahon finished with 73 hits.

McMahon played for two years, 2014 and 2015, at Wilmington University, a Division III school in Delaware, before transferring to Kean University. At Kean, while playing for head coach Margie Acker, McMahon had many pitching accomplishments, including New Jersey Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week honors in April 2016. That year, McMahon won 11 games in 25 appearances, starting 20 of them, and finished with a solid 2.45 earned-run average. Seven of McMahon’s 11 victories came by shutout. McMahon played her second and final season at Kean in 2017.

This is McMahon’s first head coaching position and first coaching stint at the high school level. McMahon, 26, is in her third year as an English teacher at Union. Her previous coaching experience was with the Carteret Kraze travel team.

McMahon is assisted by Jessie McDonough, a 2016 Union High School graduate who played for Nunes and teaches elementary school in Clark. McDonough played collegiately at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.

Union was blanked at home by Watchung Division rival Elizabeth High School 6-0 on Monday, April 4. The Farmers were held to two hits.

“Their pitcher moved the ball around very well,” McMahon said.

Union is scheduled to play Elizabeth again, in Elizabeth, on Thursday, April 21. Union lost its second game of the year last season to Elizabeth, falling to the Minutemen, 7-2, in Elizabeth. It was the only time they played last year, as they were in different divisions.

Union was scheduled to play at Mountain Division school David Brearley High School on Wednesday, April 6, weather permitting, after press time, and, on Thursday, April 7, at 4 p.m., is scheduled to play at Watchung Division rival Governor Livingston High School.

Union’s first scheduled game next week is at Westfield High School on Monday, April 11, at 4 p.m.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity here,” McMahon said.

Photos Courtesy of Kristin Nunes