The Old Bridge High School baseball team is 9-3 in 2019, one of the best records in the Greater Middlesex Conference.
And if you ask the Knights what they are doing well so far, their answer will be basically everything.
“Our pitching staff is well rounded,” said Old Bridge right-handed pitcher Matt Baker, after the team’s 4-1 road victory over East Brunswick High School on April 17.
Baker was standing next to two of his teammates on East Brunswick’s turf field, right fielder Matt Herbstman and left-handed pitcher Ryan De La Cuesta, and they both spoke up for different parts of the team.
“Our defense plays a big part of it,” Herbstman said. “We don’t make many errors.”
“Our clutch plays at the end of games help us out usually,” De La Cuesta added, referring to the three runs Old Bridge scored in the top of the ninth inning at East Brunswick, breaking a 1-1 tie.
So these Knights, according to themselves, can pitch, field and hit, and that’s pretty much baseball.
But are they right? Basically, yes they are, though not fully. Old Bridge still has room to grow with about a month left in the regular season.
The squad’s second-year coach, Matt Donaghue, who went just 12-16 in his first season last spring, will be the first to tell you that.
As his players stayed positive on April 17, Donaghue looked on with a knowing smirk. Then he did what most good coaches do: brought his team down a peg.
“We have to get guys in when runners are on third with less than two (outs),” Donaghue said. “But we’re a tough group. They fight, battle and give everything they have.”
The East Brunswick victory was a microcosm of Old Bridge’s season. Pitching and defense gave the Knights a chance to win. Then finally, after some thwarted rallies, Donaghue’s offense got a clutch hit.
With two on and two out, Herbstman ripped a go ahead triple down the left field line.
“That’s baseball,” Donaghue said, laughing.
The coach was laughing because he had no explanation for why the clutch hit came at that time. He was just happy that the only struggling part of his team, the offense, finally broke through.
As Baker said, Old Bridge’s pitching has been great. The four hurlers who have earned victories for the Knights this spring, Baker, right-hander Sonny Fauci, left-hander Jason Gilman and left-hander Joe Krause, all have earned run averages of 2.50 or below. Fauci, the team’s senior ace, is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 20 innings.
All the pitchers have benefitted from clean defense, too. Old Bridge allowed 14 runs in its first 10 games, and 13 were earned. Allowing one unearned run in 10 games is impressive for a high school club.
“Everybody’s been doing their part,” Baker said.
“I played with almost everyone on the team before high school, so there’s chemistry,” Herbstman added.
There is literally one thing the Knights need to do better: drive runners in. They are scoring 3.2 runs per contest.
But of course, according to Donaghue, the Knights are actually terrible.
“We’re not perfect. We have to get better all around. Everything has to improve,” the coach said. “We’re not where we need to be and we have to keep working at it.”