SCOTCH PLAINS — When two aces are dealing, runs are going to be at a premium.
So was the case when Union’s Zach Fernandez and Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s Patrick Cuccurullo dueled each other on the rubber in Scotch Plains Tuesday morning.
Fernandez and Cuccurullo each tossed complete games and pitched so effectively that they had this game wrapped up in 70 minutes. But only Fernandez was able to benefit from run support, as Union (3-3) scratched together two runs in the fourth inning and left Scotch Plains with a 2-0 win over the mightily struggling Raiders (2-6), who have now dropped five straight contests.
Fernandez, headed to pitch at Division I University of Rhode Island, may not have had the high strikeout total he’s become accustom to racking up during his career, but the righty was dominant as ever, retiring the final 18 Raider batters he faced. In all, he allowed just two hits and walked none while striking out five in his seven innings. Perhaps most impressively, he needed just 62 pitches to complete his masterpiece — an average of under nine pitches per inning.
Cuccurullo was nearly as efficient as Fernandez, needing just 76 pitches to complete his seven innings for the Raiders. The southpaw headed to Montclair State also allowed just two hits, while striking out two and walking a pair. However, what set him apart was allowing two runs in the fourth, which was the difference Tuesday.
Union’s Mike Velez ledoff that fourth with a single, advanced to second on a Dren Gocaj walk, and went to third when Rody Martinez flied out to center. Velez then came across when Matt Silvestre bounced into a fielder’s choice, breaking the ice and giving the Farmers a 1-0 lead.
Silvestre soon stole second, went to third on a Jalen Bryant base hit, and then scored on a two-out RBI single off the bat of Gio Zuena.
That was it for any form of offense, however. Immediately after Zuena’s RBI hit, Cuccurullo finished his afternoon by facing just the minimum of 10 batters.
Fernandez, meanwhile, did not allow a baserunner after Michael Dieu bounced into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the second inning. The senior quickly got the next two outs to end the second, then proceeded to retire the side in order for the final five frames.
Dean Kirian was the only Raider to advance past first off Fernandez. His first inning two-out triple gave the Raiders a good opportunity to break through, but Fernandez stranded Kirian 90 feet from scoring by inducing Cuccurullo to pop out to third to end the first.
This game was a bit of a costly one for both sides, who each endured an injury to a key player. Union centerfielder and pitcher Andrew Sanborn, the leadoff man, had to leave the in the third inning upon coming up limp while running out a grounder. Later, Scotch Plains second baseman Dean Kirian, who is swinging a scolding hot bat, exited with an apparent arm injury suffered on an infield play up the middle.
Union has now complete the first cycle of conference play, and opens up the second on Thursday when it visits Westfield at 4:00 p.m. Scotch Plains-Fanwood looks to avoid a further tailspin on Wednesday, hosting Bridgewater-Raritan in the Raiders’ third of four consecutive games this week.