Ultimately, South Brunswick High School fell just short of winning its first Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament baseball championship since 2010.
But that didn’t take away from an impressive GMC Tournament run by the Vikings.
On May 19 at East Brunswick Vocational Technical High School, the third-seeded Vikings fell to top-seeded Old Bridge High School, 2-1, in the conference title game. South Brunswick had the tying run on third in the top of the seventh inning, but it couldn’t bring the runner home.
Like in most games this spring, the Vikings got tremendous pitching. Senior right-hander Justin Cross allowed just one earned run in six innings. Old Bridge’s go-ahead run, in the second inning, scored on an error.
“We were one big hit away from breaking it open,” said South Brunswick coach C.J. Hendricks. “But I’m proud of the way we played today.”
The coach was also proud of the way his team played all tournament, and all regular season before that.
As the No. 3 seed, South Brunswick shut out its first two opponents in the GMC field, beating North Brunswick Township High School, 6-0, in the first round on May 7 and John P. Stevens High School, 1-0, in the quarterfinals on May 10. Then the Vikings triumphed over Piscataway High School, 10-2, in the semifinals on May 15.
So they beat three opponents by a combined score of 17-2. Pitching was the constant.
Senior left-hander Jacob Ciccone threw a complete game shutout against North Brunswick, striking out 10. Cross and senior left-hander Mike Reyes combined for the goose egg versus J.P. Stevens, with Cross going the first six innings and Reyes closing it out. Ciccone and Reyes, who tossed five and two frames, respectively, surrendered no earned runs in the Piscataway victory.
South Brunswick has been getting that level of pitching all season. The 16-5 Vikings have used six hurlers for 10 innings or more this spring. They all sport earned run averages of 2.80 or less.
“This group is special,” Hendricks said. “This is the group we’ve been waiting for.”
It has been a successful final campaign for Ciccone, Cross, Reyes and their 12 fellow seniors on the Vikings’ roster. But it’s hard to deny that it would have been cool to end it with the program’s first GMC title in nine years.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have something like the county title to hang our hat on, but that’s just how it goes,” Hendricks said. “But at the end of the day, every coach just wants their guys to compete, and that’s what my guys did.”
They aren’t done competing, either. South Brunswick still has a chance to send its seniors off with a trophy and a banner.
The Vikings are the No. 5 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament. They beat 12th seeded Montgomery High School, … , in a first round game in Monmouth Junction on May 20.
Hendricks’ club is three victories away from a state sectional title. But a lot of good teams, including top-seeded Hunterdon Central Regional High School, still stand in South Brunswick’s way.
No matter what happens, Hendricks will be satisfied.
“I can’t be any more proud of these guys,” he said. “They’ve really lifted me up as their coach.”