Union High School’s new gym floor is installed in time for victorious home opener

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UNION, NJ — Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium is back in business, perhaps better than ever.

Union High School’s gym, named after the coach who won the school’s most football games ever, played host to a varsity boys basketball game for the first time in two seasons on Friday, Dec. 30.

In a game filled with suspense all the way until the very last shot was missed by visiting Pope John XXIII Regional High School, the Farmers came back from a 5-point deficit in the fourth quarter to prevail against the Sussex County opponent 50-48.

Elijah Blackwell scored the game-winning points on two free throws to snap a 48-48 draw with just 8.9 seconds left.

One of Union County’s top senior guards, Blackwell paced Union in scoring with 19 points, including a big 3-pointer he made from the top of the key midway through the fourth quarter.

Blackwell also assisted on teammate Bradley Emilzo’s basket that gave Union a 48-46 advantage with 1:50 remaining.

Union’s gym was ravaged and left useless by Tropical Storm Ida in September 2021. Union played its entire 2021-2022 season on the road while the gymnasium was put back together. After 28 straight road games, the Farmers were hosts on Friday, Dec. 30, for this season’s home opener.

“To be able to play home again on our home court means everything to us,” Blackwell said.

Union improved to 3-3 overall, while Pope John XXIII of Sparta Township slipped to 1-6.

Union was scheduled to play at Rahway High School on Tuesday, Jan. 3, after press time, and, on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 4 p.m., Union has a home game scheduled against Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, which will begin a stretch of 10 of its next 12 scheduled games to be played at home.

“Exciting games like this, we miss them being played here,” Union boys basketball head coach Kevin Feeley said. “Would we have won this game if it were played on the road? I don’t know.

“It’s been a long road, so it’s great to be back to playing home games on our home court again.”

Union closed the Pope John XXIII victory on a 9-2 run, after the Lions put together a quick 6-0 surge following a brief 41-40 Union lead on a Michael Roseberry layup from the left side.

“To get a win like this, finally playing on our home court and in front of our fans, is an amazing feeling,” Blackwell said.

Union trailed Pope John XXIII by 3 points after the first quarter, by 5 at the break and by 3 again at the end of three periods. The only quarter Union won was the fourth, by a 13-8 margin.

“To see our fans back here and their support for us is great,” Feeley said. “It helps us.”

Notes: Union’s 2-2 start in the Watchung Division of the Union County Conference, all four games played on the road, includes wins against Westfield and Plainfield high schools and losses to leader Linden and Elizabeth high schools. Union also lost at Somerset County’s Franklin High School.

Union’s girls basketball team opened its season at home with a 42-30 loss against Rahway High School on Thursday, Dec. 15, and earned its first win, 47-16, at home against Roselle Park High School on Thursday, Dec. 22. The Union girls team also defeated Montclair High School 45-29 at a neutral site on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

Remaining schedule for Union boys basketball

• Thursday, Jan. 5: vs. Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, 4 p.m.

• Monday, Jan. 9: vs. Union Catholic High School, 4 p.m., Watchung Division.

• Tuesday, Jan. 10: vs. Westfield High School, 4 p.m., Watchung Division.

• Thursday, Jan. 12: vs. Elizabeth High School, 4 p.m., Watching Division.

• Sunday, Jan. 15: vs. Summit High School at Kean University, 1 p.m.

• Tuesday, Jan. 17: vs. Linden High School, 4 p.m., Watchung Division.

• Thursday, Jan. 19: vs. Plainfield High School, 4 p.m., Watchung Division.

• Saturday, Jan. 21: vs. Essex County West Caldwell Tech, 11:30 a.m.

• Monday, Jan. 23: vs. Lincoln High School, 4:30 p.m.

• Saturday, Jan. 28: vs. Henry Snyder High School, 11:30 a.m.

• Wednesday, Feb. 1: at Union Catholic High School, 7 p.m., Watchung Division.

• Friday, Feb. 3: vs. Cranford High School, 5:30 p.m.

Region 4 wrestling back at UHS gym

Although the Union wrestling team will not host the Union County Tournament, which will be contested at Kean University for the first time on Saturday, Jan. 21, the Farmers will once again host a region.

For the first time since winter 2019, Union will host Region 4, which is scheduled this year for Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25.

“To be able to host the region again for us is big,” Union athletic director Ron Zieser said.

There are only eight regions around the state before the states commence the following weekend, so it’s prestigious for Union to once again be one of the eight sites.

Region competition is the last round for wrestlers to advance to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, which will be contested at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on March 2, 3 and 4.

Photos by JR Parachini