ELIZABETH -- This was the type of afternoon, through the mist and cold in Elizabeth, that shows why Union is one of the most dangerous baseball teams in the state this season.
Not only did the Farmers receive countless contributions up and down their stacked lineup against conference rival Elizabeth, but ace right hander Zach Fernandez's gem on the mound further exemplifies Union's strengths in every facet of the game.
Fernandez was absoultely stellar despite the challenging elements, spinning a complete game three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, and Union’s bats took care of the rest in a dominant 8-0 victory over Elizabeth Tuesday afternoon. Dren Gocaj drove in two runs, scored two more and slugged two hits — a home run and triple — to lead Union’s offensive charge, while Mike Velez scored three runs and added a trio hits.
Six different Farmers had multiple hits, as Union scored in every inning but the second.
But while the bats were hard to ignore, Fernandez stole the show on the mound.
The senior, who is committed to play Division I ball at the University of Rhode Island, showed why he is easily one of the premier arms in the state. Mixing his fastball, breaking ball, and curveball to perfection, the right-hander absolutely baffled a perennial strong-hitting Elizabeth team. Sizzling through the cold April air, his fastball was said to be sitting in the upper 80s, and appeared even more fast when combined with his devastating offspeed stuff.
Despite an inconvenient delayed start time that pushed first pitch back about half an hour, the afternoon could not have gotten off to a better start for the Farmers. Just the third batter of the game, Gocaj connected for a solo homer over the left field wall to provide Union with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
That lead only grew as the afternoon went on. In the third, Andrew Sanborn and Mike Velez each worked their way around the bases after a fielder's choice and double, respectively, to make it 3-0. An inning later, Jalen Bryant ledoff with a double, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on an RBI single by Nick Saraceno as Union stretched it to 4-0.
Union would score four more runs down the stretch to break the game wide open. The surge was highlighted by RBI triples off the bats of Gocaj and Bryant.
The run support was more than enough for Fernandez, who now owns a 0.50 ERA through his first two starts of the season. In addition to Tuesday's masterpiece, Fernandez allowed just one run in seven innings, also with 12 strikeouts, on Opening Day against perennial power Westfield (a 5-1 Union victory).
Fernandez figures to now be on rotation to face another Watchung Division foe in Scotch Plains-Fanwood next Tuesday. Union's next game is on Thursday as the Farmers hose powerhouse Governor Livingston.