By Warren Rappleyea
Old Bridge High School’s baseball team finished strong — winning three of its last four games — but was eliminated last week from the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament.
The Knights bounced back from a seven-game losing streak to win three straight before running into second-seeded Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s Joey DeChano in the quarterfinals of the state sectional. DeChano tossed a one-hitter May 26 to lead his team to victory over 10th-seeded Old Bridge, which finished the season at 14-13.
Still things were looking bleak for coach Jimmy Freel’s team as it prepared for the tournament. The Knights got back on the winning side with a non-conference win over Mater Dei Prep May 20. Carlos Lopez scattered three hits over five innings to pick up the victory. Joe Papeo was 1-for-3 with three RBIs, and Tom Giasi drove home a pair of runs with a hit. Zach Attaniese went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored as the Old Bridge bats came alive.
The win gave the Knights momentum heading into their opening-round matchup of the state sectionals against seventh-seeded Middletown High School North May 23. Freel’s team clung to a 1-0 lead, but the Lions finally got to Papeo to tie things up in the bottom of the seventh. Old Bridge scored three times in its half of the eighth, and Papeo closed the deal by allowing just one hit over eight innings. Luis Cruz was 3-for-4 and scored twice, while Peter Marattoli drove home two runs.
Old Bridge followed that up with a 15-1 success over Metuchen High School May 24, with Attaniese pacing the offense with two doubles, a triple and five RBIs. Junior Chris Kearney and Don Dugan were both 2-for-2 with a pair of RBIs, and Cruz scored three times. Billy Geiger, Andrew Heck and freshman Joe Krause split the pitching duties.
Despite being pitched around on several occasions, Attaniese led the Knights in batting with a .338 average and in RBIs with 18. The University of North Carolina-bound senior also banged out 26 hits and drew 13 walks. Although his pitching activity was limited this spring, Attaniese also won two games on the mound.
Plenty of talent remains, so Old Bridge is expected to build on its 14 wins next spring. Papeo, a junior, is coming off a .300 season at the plate and a 3-3 showing on the hill. Geiger and Jake Krudos won three games apiece. T. J. Angstadt (.273), Giasi (.267, five RBIs) and Rob Laconti (.238, nine RBIs) all showed promise with the bat.