As Paige Tidaback walked toward the batter’s box in the bottom of the third inning at Middlesex County College in Edison, she wasn’t shaking.
But she may as well have been.
The Bishop George Ahr High School freshman was super nervous. She even admitted as much after the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament softball championship on May 18.
“I was like…nervous,” Tidaback said. “It was bases loaded.”
You just never would have known that Tidaback was nervous based on the result of the play. With two outs, she ripped a single to center. Colleen Cronin and Megan Herka charged home to put Bishop Ahr ahead, and to break a scoreless tie.
After the hit, Tidaback’s nerves subsided. She turned toward the Trojans’ fans on the first base side and waved.
The freshman’s two run single held up in the end when top-seeded Bishop Ahr beat second-seeded John F. Kennedy Memorial High School, 3-0, to claim the GMC crown for the second straight year.
Since Tidaback is a freshman, she was not on the 2018 Trojans, who beat Old Bridge High School, 4-3, in the title game. So this moment was new for Bishop Ahr’s right fielder.
“Best feeling ever,” Tidaback said.
“Paige has been coming through all year,” said Bishop Ahr coach Missy Collazo. “She’s a freshman, but she rises to the occasion.”
Tidaback came through in that moment. But it was Collazo’s starting pitcher, right-handed junior Alyssa DeJianne, who gave the freshman that chance.
The junior is 18-2 with a 2.73 earned run average in 2019 for the Edison school. She also has 152 strikeouts in 122.1 innings. But the GMC championship was probably her finest performance of the spring.
DeJianne whipped fastball after fastball at Iselin Kennedy’s potent lineup, forcing late swing after late swing, and a ton of pop ups. She pitched a complete game shutout. The junior ace struck out seven batters and allowed just two hits.
She really only faced one jam, in the top of the fifth. The bases were loaded with one out and Bishop Ahr holding a 2-0 lead.
But DeJianne buckled down and challenged the next two hitters with heaters. She got them both to swing late and pop out on the infield.
Two innings later, DeJianne tossed a perfect seventh to close out the shutout and the GMC championship. She got the last batter to swing late and pop out in foul ground next to home plate.
It was a characteristic, virtuoso performance from the calm, composed ace. After the game, DeJianne even said it was her greatest performance ever.
“Definitely No. 1 right now,” she said, chuckling.
“I just said to myself that I need to give it 100 percent and not let them get hits,” DeJianne added. “I had to trust my team behind me.”
While DeJianne was talking, Herka, Bishop Ahr’s junior first baseman, snuck up behind Collazo and dumped the Gatorade bucket out onto the coach. Collazo shouted “Oh!” as the cold water soaked her body and her players howled with laughter.
It was the culmination of a scintillating campaign for the 19-2 Trojans. Except it’s not quite over yet.
Bishop Ahr is the No. 3 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A sectional tournament. The Trojans earned a firs-round bye and will play as the host in a state sectional quarterfinal on May 23.
“We’re looking to make noise,” Collazo said.