UNION, NJ — Sparked by the standout performance of senior college-bound catcher Elvin Espinal and some quality pitchers that he will be handling, the Union High School baseball team seems to be a prominent player once again in Union County and also in North 2, Group 4.
The Farmers have produced records better than .500 the past three seasons and have made the UCT semifinals two of the past three tournaments. Union reached the semifinals last year as the second seed, falling to eventual champion Governor Livingston High School. Then, as the top seed in North 2, Group 4, Union fell in the states at home to eighth-seeded Franklin High School 3-0 in the quarterfinal round.
Union won 11 of its first 13 games last year en route to a 17-6 finish. The Farmers were 12-11 in 2019 and 17-10 in 2018, which was the first time current head coach Angel Navarrete guided the Farmers to the UCT semifinals.
Union last won the UCT in 1993.
“We’re confident coming off the season we had last year,” said Navarrete, the 2000 Cranford High School graduate at the helm of the Farmers since 2014.
Key returning varsity players include seniors Ryan D’Addario in right field, Espinal behind the plate, Bryan Saiboo as pitcher, Daniel Gonzalez in right field, Guy Francis in left field and on the mound, and Xavier Walton as catcher.
Juniors in the fold are pitcher-first baseman-third baseman Anthony Magliozzi, pitcher-third baseman-left fielder Nick Cassandra, pitcher-center fielder Aiden Baiardi and pitcher-first baseman Michael DaSilva.
Leading the sophomores is Gabriel Gobbi.
Key newcomers include juniors Dylan Couto and Jayden Miller and sophomores Matt Perrotto and Matt Mendez. Couto is a second baseman, Perrotto plays shortstop and Mendez plays in left field.
Union, in the Union County Conference–Watchung Division, split its first two games of the year against teams outside the division.
The Farmers lost the home opener on Friday, April 1, falling to Union Catholic Regional High School, of the Mountain Division, 4-2, in eight innings. The game was tied 1-1 after seven, with the visiting Vikings scoring three times in the top of the eighth and Union once in the bottom.
Union bounced back to bop Valley Division opponent Plainfield High School 17-5 on Saturday, April 2, at Plainfield. The Cardinals won the Valley Division title outright a year ago.
Espinal was 1-for-2, with three runs scored and one RBI. His hit was a double.
Espinal will continue playing on the collegiate level at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.
“Elvin is a really good defensive catcher and really manages our pitching staff well,” Navarrete said. “We have him batting in the middle of our lineup.”
Tearing the cover off the ball for Union against Plainfield were Cassandra and Baiardi. Cassandra was 4-for-5, with four runs and three RBIs. He banged out three singles and one double. Baiardi was 3-for-4, with four runs, one RBI and three singles.
Gobbi was the winning pitcher. Union entered the top of the seventh with a 6-5 lead before scoring 11 runs in the top of the frame.
“A lot of our guys got their first taste of varsity last year and now know a bit more of what to expect,” Navarrete said. “Pitching and defense are definitely our strengths at the moment.”
Union lost to Mountain Division school Summit, 1-0, on Monday, April 4. On Tuesday, April 5, Union was to host Governor Livingston after press time in its first Watchung Division contest.
Union is scheduled to play at Ocean Township High School on Saturday, April 9, at 11:30 a.m. The Farmers are to host Watchung Division rival Westfield High School on Monday, April 11, at 4 p.m.
Navarette is assisted by Robert Thompson, with Alex Pedicini as the junior varsity coach and Thomas O’Reilly as the freshman coach.