Jason Gilman is only a sophomore at Old Bridge High School.
He didn’t pitch on varsity as a freshman in 2018.
But on May 19 at East Brunswick Vocational Technical High School, Gilman came in to get the most important out of the Knights’ baseball season.
It was the top of the seventh inning in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship, and Old Bridge led South Brunswick High School by a run. The Vikings, though, had the tying run on third with two outs.
Old Bridge’s starter, right-handed senior Matt Baker, had reached the NJSIAA’s 110-pitch limit. So he had to walk off and cede the moment to his sophomore teammate.
Gilman charged out of the dugout, picked up the ball and promptly fell behind 2-and-0. But then he evened the count with two called strikes. Finally, with the Old Bridge fans on their feet along the first base side, Gilman zipped a slider past the swinging batter for strike three.
The Knights piled on Gilman on the first base line. Old Bridge beat South Brunswick, 2-1, to win its first GMC baseball title since 2011.
Gilman did not have a slider in his arsenal last spring. He added it for this season, and it was a big reason why he jumped from junior varsity to varsity.
“I trust it,” Gilman said. “And I trusted it more than I’ve ever trusted it with that pitch.”
Old Bridge coach Matt Donaghue loves Gilman’s slider, but that’s not why he tapped the sophomore on May 19. Donaghue gave Gilman the ball because he’s even keeled.
“Nothing rattles him,” Donaghue said. “He knows how good he is.”
Gilman got to be the hero. But Baker, a tall, burly ace type, did most of the work in East Brunswick.
Baker allowed just one run in 6.2 innings. He struck out six batters and used his hard slider to get countless Vikings to chop down on the ball and ground out.
May 19, with temperatures in the high 80s, was the first humid day of the 2019 warm season. It didn’t matter to Baker.
He got better as the game went on. After allowing an early run, Baker retired 10 straight batters in the middle innings.
“In my head I was like, ‘I just have to bear down,'” Baker said. “And it came out successful.”
Baker’s performance was gritty and workmanlike. But his coach saw it in much loftier terms.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable,” Donaghue said. “His slider was on and he was hitting spots with it.”
The Knights didn’t have their best offensive game, but they did enough. Seniors John Cardile and Danny Chiofalo scored Old Bridge’s runs. Senior Mike Oliva drove in a run.
After the GMC title game, the Knights posed for pictures with their banner. It may not be the only one they win this spring. Old Bridge is the No. 6 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament.
Since he used only one pitcher for an extended stretch in the GMC title game, Donaghue has a full assortment of hurlers available for the state sectional tournament. The Knights have utilized six pitchers for 11 frames or more this spring. They all have earned run averages of 2.74 or lower.
“The guys have shown all year that they can pitch,” Donaghue said. “We just have to score runs.”