UNION — After struggling to get much going at the plate all afternoon against New Providence, Union finally began to heat up in the seventh inning Friday.
Unfortunately for the Farmers, it was too little, too late.
Union mounted a ferocious rally in the bottom of the seventh, scoring four runs and bringing the tying run to plate after entering the inning down eight runs. However, New Providence buckled down and never let the threat extend further in a 10-6 win over Union Friday afternoon.
If there was ever a trap game, this would be one for Union, as the Farmers can now solely shift their focus to Saturday’s Union County Tournament (UCT) quarterfinal against rival Scotch Plains-Fanwood. No. 3-seeded Union will host the game with a first pitch time slated for 2:00 p.m., weather permitting.
Mike Velez hit a grand slam in the seventh inning, while Matt Silvestre and Andrew Sanborn also contributed an RBI apiece for the Farmers.
New Providence, which collected 15 total hits, had six players with multi-hit games, including Thomas Friscia and Matthew Marchesano, who each had three apiece. Dylan Bedder went 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Chris Kubas scored three times. Five different Pioneers had two RBI.
With that Pioneer offense rolling, New Providence had built a 10-1 lead by the middle of the sixth. Despite getting a run back on Andrew Sanborn’s sixth inning sacrifice fly, things did not look promising for Union entering the bottom of the seventh, with the Farmers trailing, 10-2, and New Providence starter Jack Connor in a grove.
But after Zach Jones ledoff the inning with a single, Nick Saraceno worked a walk, and Gio Zuena also singled, Union instantly posed a bases-loaded, no-out threat with Mike Velez — arguably the team’s most dangerous power threat — at the plate.
Velez did not disappointed. He blasted a grand slam deep to left field — his fifth homer of the season — to bring the Farmers to within 10-6. Union didn’t let up there, and quickly loaded the bases again, allowing the tying run to be represented at the plate.
But New Providence reliever Jason Graham stopped the threat there, as the Farmers were never able to get the tying run on base. Graham’s save preserved the win for Jack Connor (6 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 K).
Up until that seventh, momentum belonged to New Providence. The Pioneers opened up the game by scoring four runs in the top of the first, and after Union added one in the bottom of the opening inning, New Providence answered right back with two more in the second. New Providence then scored twice in both the fifth and sixth, threatening to end this game short via the mercy rule.
But despite their dominant showing at the plate, New Providence does not have a tournament game to play Saturday. Union does, and it’s a big one.
The Farmers will gear up for No. 6-seed Scotch Plains-Fanwood and likely Villanova-bound left-hander Danny Wilkinson, who struck out 20 batters last time he faced Union. The Farmers, meanwhile, are likely to send ace Zach Fernandez, who has an 0.48 ERA in 29 innings pitched this year, to the mound. The Rhode Island commit has not allowed an earned run against Scotch Plains in over two years (14 1/3 IP unearned run streak).